Pet Peeves

Pet photo credit: Google images

Pet photo credit: Google images

Cats and dogs are the most popular pets in every country we have visited.  In many Latin American countries, stray dogs were common.  They were not feral, so they were most likely abandoned.  In some cases the dogs would form packs.  While gathering in packs may have provided social contact, it did little to provide sustenance.  It was still every dog for itself. 

Some expat communities have helped fund spay and neuter services.  We observed this in some locations in Chile, Panama, and Mexico. There are now branches of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a number of countries.  They do wonderful work, but they are vastly underfunded for the scale of challenges they face.  Although I think citizens of emerging nations appreciate the benefits of animal controls, I do not think it is a priority.  Locals who live on sustenance-level incomes cannot afford to consider animal welfare ahead of their priority of feeding and caring for family members first.

Here is my rant.  Many expats bring their dogs with them when they relocate to another country.  Particularly in Spain, I have noticed few people, locals or expats, clean up their pets’ poop.  There are stinky little land mines everywhere.  You would not dare walk on the grass in a park for fear of stepping in a pile of poop.  A picnic blanket on the grass would be a ridiculous fantasy. 

I love animals.  They are not the problem.  Their owners are the problem, a serious enough problem that a national campaign to get dog walkers to pick up after their dogs is underway in Spain.  Posters in bus stop shelters show dogs imploring people to do the task the dogs cannot do for themselves – pick up their poop.  Some cities have employed local ‘poop patrols’, service workers who have acquired the unfortunate nickname of ‘brownshirts’, a reference to Hitler’s pro-Nazi storm troopers.  Just last week the local papers reported the first fine levied on a dog owner for failure to pick up after his pet.  This was a second offense.  I believe the first offense is a warning and subsequent offenses carry a €100 fine equivalent to $137. 

In most cities in Spain, stray cats are an issue.  These mangy, dirty and often diseased felines can be spotted under parked cars around markets, dumpsters and places wherever people toss scraps.  One local here in Torrevieja found an injured cat that had obviously been hit by a vehicle.  He mercifully took the cat to a local veterinarian to have it put down to end its suffering.  The vet performed this task and then billed the guy €160, over $200.  When he protested the cost which he grudgingly paid, the vet’s receptionist told him, ‘We are not a charity.  If we did not charge for this service, we would be inundated with animals.’ 

I can wring my hands and feel indignant about the poor treatment of cats and dogs in some countries.  However, the fact remains that not all societies think of domestic animals as members of the family.  To many they are just animals, and if they do not have a caring owner they are nothing more than a nuisance.  It is sad to think about, but it is not something that will go away anytime soon.  The best we can do is to encourage responsible pet ownership.  That is true in every country including our own. 

The Geese of Selva Negra

Selva Negra is a paradise-like eco-lodge and organic coffee plantation in the mountains of Nicaragua between Matagalpa and Jinoteca. Their lodge restaurant sits on the edge of a huge fish pond that mirrors the surrounding alpine jungle. Among the inhabitants are a flock of about a dozen white geese that live and feed at the site and that appear daily as they make their rounds of the estate.

Like childhood images of farm animal illustrations, the dozen or so geese of Selva Negra line up like a single file of wibble-wobbling soldiers as they exit the water in perfect cadence to an unheard beat and march in a perfect line on one of the paved pathways that interlace the resort. Their mission, known only among their flock, includes marching past manicured flower beds, guest cabins, and decorative gazebos in search of a midday resting spot before returning to the pond. All humans in their path quickly step aside as if to acknowledge that the geese have established their supremacy over all they oversee.

It is obvious this flock of geese spans generations when the size of the largest goose, their leader, is compared with the smallest goose, which has grown its all-white plumage but still paces much more quickly than its superiors to hold its place at the end of the line.

The animals at Selva Negra include, but are not limited to the typical inhabitants of this self-sufficient farm estate. There are chickens, dairy cows, beef cattle, horses and pigs, all of which are fed organically and help sustain the residents and visitors of the resort with their food products. In addition to domestic animals, there are two troops of howling monkeys in the jungle forest overlooking the estate. Their chorus of hoots and hollers echo back and forth across the hills like a raucous alarm clock at first light, drowning out any roosters who maybe thought their crowing to welcome the new day was their exclusive right.

Beyond the captivating beauty that makes one reluctant to ever leave Selva Negra, there is the other important offering – their coffee. It’s not just good coffee; it is world class great coffee! Each morning is made more pleasurable as we roll out of bed in anticipation of wandering over to the restaurant for an exquisite cup of freshly brewed coffee, espresso, or cappuccino. I still sometimes wonder if the coffee producing nations of Central America have perhaps passed federal legislation banning a bad cup of coffee. The coffee adds a little something extra to all that makes every day living here special.

Note – The title for this story was originally conceived as inspiration for a children’s book, a work still in progress.
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