Whenever I visit another country I see what one would expect- a large population of what I deemed ‘street’ or feral dogs and Peru was no different. My sister Laureen and I had the pleasure of visiting the cities of Lima, Cusco and the Pueblo of Machu Picchu as well as many small towns in between I cannot remember the names of, all home to a large number of free-roaming dogs in various degrees of cleanliness, though they did look well-fed (At the Machu Picchu site I saw a black dog napping in the middle of the plaza with an untouched sandwich next to him.) and surprisingly social, both to people and to other animals. And happy. (I asked quite a few of them.)
I had my pre-conceived notions about feral dogs. Short unhealthy lives filled with the strife of trying to find enough to eat, a safe place to sleep and socially deprived of human companionship. (We all know how dogs love to be spoiled, love to be touched.) But slowly I began to change my perspective, even if just a bit, and was educated in the local cultural attitude.
When asked about the ‘unfortunate’ lives of the feral dogs, two different people, in to different areas of the country pointed out that, though they do indeed have a feral population, most of the dogs I saw were family companions and lived and were cared for by their specific guardians. The people just have a different attitude about what it means to be a dog. In their view, they should be free to roam about, visit with other people and dogs and if someone else in the community feeds them or disciplines them for being too rough with the chickens, well that’s the way it goes.
While it would make me completely crazy and anxiety-ridden to have my dogs running hither and yon, getting into heaven only knows what; the lifestyle of the Peruvian dogs does have its benefits. The dogs we met were very social and calm in almost any situation- loud noise, traffic, mobs of tourists (most of which handed out treats) and the occasional wild or semi-wild animal had seemingly no effect on them.
As I said, it would make me nuts. But it does lead to a question of what effect our own concerns have on our US dogs. Are we overprotective to the point of creating neurotic, nervous dogs unsure of how to conduct themselves in canine society or unusual situations? And is it a reflection on our own society? Are we Americans wound just a bit too tight and it is reflected in the behavior of our dogs?
Dogs running about the street are not, in my opinion, the best idea for obvious reasons. Free-lance breeding, the spreading of disease and a high mortality rate serves the good of no one, but the social piece of this tale is very telling and worth looking at in more detail.
Are our dogs here at home in the United States becoming more mentally balanced or less? And before I get hundreds of e-mails from outraged guardians and breeders let me clarify I am speaking in general terms and do not condone creating a feral state. But one cannot deny there has been an increase in behavioral issues, need for medication to alleviate anxiety and upswing in unpredictable reactions in our dogs.
I’m just saying perhaps it may be in our dogs’ best interest to embrace a bit of the feral lifestyle, loosen the leash a bit and relax into some mental health. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for us either.
Next up on our journey- Cusco, Peru. Where our adventure turns to a bit of misadventure…