Tag Archives: spay and neuter

Lament of the Dog Catcher

Butch came to me six years ago, joining Mamacita and Tia, to form a tribe of three. At the time, he may have been six years old, sleek, muscular, a commanding presence.  Today, he is an old man, thick in the middle, graying almost beyond recognition, limping from time to time on his back left leg, a sign of arthritis or just plain aging. I have sympathy for him and commiserate with his circumstances. Still, when the front gate is open, he can bring up enough energy to the chase the occasional moto-taxi that plies the dirt road in front of the property where I live out in the campo, in the outskirts of the village.  In that moment, he is fast, running like a two-year-old, and it is a marvel to see that he still has it in him. When he re-enters the property, he’ll stop to take a sip of water, then curl up like a baby and go to sleep for a while.

Once, this was all farmland, planted with crops of corn, squash, and beans that we call The Three Sisters here. Not too long ago, I took pleasure in watching the team of two huge bulls pulling hand hewn wood plows through the fields to turn up the rich brown earth fertilized with dung that would yield a year’s worth of corn, enough to feed a large family and a herd of livestock. Now, many of the fields have become homesites.

What remains has been given over to the cultivation of espadin agave, a cash crop that when mature in seven years can bring in much more income than subsistence farming provides. Row after row, field after field of these sturdy, tall, spiked plants line the paved highways and rocky dirt back roads throughout Oaxaca where mezcal production has skyrocketed in the last several years.

This is where the feral dogs roam. Many are born in the campo, but some are abandoned there when they are no longer cute puppies, when they grow to be larger than desired, when there are limited resources to feed and care for them, when they are born hembra (female) and owners don’t want to be bothered with taking care of generations of litters.  None are spayed or neutered, so the numbers of dogs increase exponentially each year. These dogs are hungry. Chickens, turkeys, and wild rabbits are fair game.  Farmers don’t like their henhouses to be raided, but the dogs elude attempts to be captured. To control the population in the campo, sometimes they are poisoned, the fatal pill wrapped up in a tempting piece of meat.

Mamacita dropped two puppies in the field behind my casita seven years ago. Who knows how long she had been living in the campo. She was starving and could not hunt because she was nursing these two. I took her in, fed her, and found homes for the two cachorros when they were old enough. It was during this time that Tia showed up, at first hanging around on the periphery, then tempted to come inside the patio with a bowl of food. We named her Tia because she was extra attentive to the puppies, nurturing them when Mamacita was disinterested. We assumed she was an offspring from an earlier litter, which is why she was connected to Mamacita.  A couple of years later, we found Mamacita in an adjacent field, lifeless, likely poisoned by a neighbor who would have accused her of being a chicken-killer, though I don’t know this for a fact.

It was last October that a young, sleek, black, long-legged dog showed up in the patio. My neighbor told me then that she had recently birthed a litter of pups, likely her first, but all had died of starvation in the campo. Butch and Tia adopted her as a playmate, and I was ready to take her in, though two dogs seemed like just the perfect number, and three would be a hand full.  The color of raven, I named her Zopilote, and nicknamed her Zopi. To adopt her first meant that I would need to get her spayed, but she was illusive. I made a veterinarian appointment, trapped her in the patio and locked the gate, but she squeezed through the metal bars and escaped. I called the vet to cancel, and shortly thereafter returned to the USA.

Zopi showed up in January, four months later, with nine puppies in tow, all about a few weeks old. She didn’t enter the patio but hovered nearby. As the puppies grew, I reminded myself that this dog has years of breeding ahead of her, and each dog then will beget others.  Zopi was now coming into the patio periodically during the day to sleep with the other two, and I knew it was time again to try to capture her.  I talked to a village friend who operates a spay-neuter clinic about how to get Zopi to the next clinic. The friend recommended tranquilizers to capture her and gave me two, with instructions to put them inside a piece of cheese or meat and feed this to her.  She would then relax sufficiently for me to be able to lift her into the car and transport her to the clinic.

On the morning of the clinic, Zopi showed up. I wrapped the pills in a pocket of beef and held it out to her. She demurred and backed away. The other two dogs were in the patio and came up to sniff the meat, which I then held higher than they could reach. Zopi was now outside the patio beyond the gate. Impulsively, I decided to throw the packet of meat outside the gate and quickly close it before Butch and Tia could escape.  I threw the meat, closed the gate, but not before Butch wiggled through and in one fell swoop, gulped down that packet of tranquilizer laden meat. I grabbed the scruff of his neck, trying to shake it loose, but to no avail.  Zopi ran away. Soon, Butch began to collapse and did not come to his senses for twenty-four hours. His eyes glazed over, then closed completely; his breathing was light and barely perceptible. Zopi was nowhere to be seen. Butch was zonked. I was back to Square One.

In the meantime, I have gotten two more pills and I’m ready for the next attempt. But it’s been days since Zopi has shown up again. It’s as if she knows what I have mind for her. I’ve learned my lesson and think I can succeed with a new plan: first close the patio gate, then lure Butch and Tia into the house with a tidbit of cheese and close all the doors of the house so they can’t get away. The next step, with Zopi trapped in the patio, is to throw her the pill infused meat packet. She is too skittish to allow me to get close enough to her to feed her directly. Hopefully, then, she will relax before she has the strength to break through the river reed gate reinforcement. I would then capture her and transport her to the clinic.

If I am successful, this is only a small start to nab and fix those other nine puppies before they can reproduce. A daunting task.

Do you want to help dogs and cats in the Oaxaca campo? Donate to Teo Tails. They need support to capture feral animals safely and to get them spayed and neutered.

Note: I just published this essay on my creative writing Substack site. We organize a Women’s Creative Writing Workshop/Retreat in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, from January 2-8, 2025. Perfect for all levels of writers, from beginners to experienced. We invite you to participate! Writing takes practice. We aren’t born with these skills, they develop just like practicing a golf swing or tennis stroke or doing yoga!

Saying Goodby to a Good Dog: RIP Mamacita

From time-to-time, it happens here in the Oaxaca village I also call home. A good dog dies. Not from natural causes but most usually from poison-laced meat. It is the fastest and easiest way. Others are hit by vehicles or cut loose from tethered ropes when feed becomes too costly, to fend for themselves. Most dogs here are disposable. I do not know how Mamacita was killed or by whom or for what reason. I can only surmise.

Mamacita. She is a tender, loving puppy mommy and becoming very loyal.

I was in transit between Durham, NC and Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, when the news came to me via text: Mamacita died and was buried the day before. I needed time to process this. To absorb the shock and sadness. To reflect on the culture I come from that considers animals as pets and trusted friends, who are cared for as well as humans in many cases. How can I make sense of this?

You may remember Mamacita as the dog I rescued and adopted in June 2017 after she dropped two pups in the tall grasses behind my house. She was skin and bones, incapable of providing sustenance. I am reminded that without my intervention, she would have likely died. Caregiver friends came to housesit and feed Mamacita in intervening times when I was gone. They took her to get spayed, along with Tia and Butch, who also came along and formed an extended family. I am eternally grateful to them. I’ve written to each and they know what happened.

Tia and Mamacita, always happy to walk with me

Could it be that Mamacita was killed because she was unjustly targeted as one of many marauding dogs, starving, homeless and roaming the fields in search of a domesticated chicken or turkey? Campesinos can live a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth life. Poultry is food and an important source of income. There are a multitude of campo dogs; they reproduce because they haven’t been spayed or neutered, and are out of control.

TinType Photo of Mamacita in the campo, Tia in the distance

Was it a random act? Two other dogs were found dead that day on the same country road, I was told later. Was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is this inevitable? Are all dogs here disposable? What about my two dogs? Some here, though not enough, are sympathetic to the life of dogs. Maltreatment is not universal.

Mamacita at the presa, spring 2019

Mamacita was first and foremost a campo dog, bred in the wild. I adopted her but could not contain her in a gated patio. She lived a life of freedom, sleeping during the day, running with the pack at night. Sylvia reminds me that while she was nursing, Mamacita would disappear for hours. She came home for meals and belly rubs. Sometimes she wouldn’t show up. I worried, but I was confident she would return.

Mamacita in foreground, Butch, then Tia.

We are heaving deep sighs, me and the two dogs. They now sleep on the patio, closer to me. They sense the loss. Their bond was primal.

Mamacita (left) and Butch on our afternoon walk

I will miss her circle dance on the patio in anticipation of her meal bowl. I will miss her nuzzle and her companionship on evening trail walks. I trained her to sit and wait for treats. She wore a collar. She looked well-fed and cared for. She took to everyone who gave her a pat. She was spayed. All signs that she belonged to someone. Why did this happen? Answers escape me.

This is yet another reminder that to live here requires me to suspend judgment. To understand. To puzzle out how something like this can happen to a sweet dog that was an integral part of my life. Suspending judgment is a practice. I cannot overlay my own values on an 8,000 year old culture. They have survived this long for a reason. Sometimes cruelty and heartlessness figure into that. This is human nature everywhere, no?

Our daily walk in the campo. Butch at my side, Mamacita out front, Tia leading.

This is, I am coming to understand, another perfect lesson in cultural competency. Es la vida, it’s life, is a common saying here. Things just happen. There isn’t always a reason. It is not for me to ascribe fault or blame, only to accept what is. I have learned that it is not my role to change anything, to make it better in terms of my own acculturation and values.

It is so quiet here. The absence of ONE is noticeable. The other two are sleeping on the patio. We all move with a heaviness, the two dogs Tia and Butch, and this human. Today it will be 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here’s to Mamacita. May she rest in peace.

In the dog house, Mamacita, summer 2017