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Man’s Best Friend II–the darker side

July 13, 2011

I was annoyed.  It had been a long and rather arduous day.  Setting aside the guilt that nags in my head whenever I’m less than perfectly thrilled while traveling, I set off with a friend to walk and rant and generally blow off steam from a thoroughly rough day…

well…it got weirder

We walked for a bit, shared a piece of tres leches and then came upon a scene that both shocked and disturbed me.   On opposing sides of a widely spaced corner off the main drag, people were clustered in small groups, talking quickly to one another and glancing into the street.  There, in the middle of the road lay one of the many stray dogs of Huanchaco convulsing and twitching.

At first my stomach turned, I saw a taxi driver who’d stopped and was out of his car talking to the woman who sells grilled meat at the corner and I thought the dog must have been hit by a car and was dying, right there in front of me.

I was disgusted, I turned my head away and thought desperately what to do.  Someone should put it out of it’s misery or something.  Suddenly a man came running up to the dog with a bottle of water in his hand.  I thought certainly he was going to kill it–images of a man bludgeoning it with the water bottle or snapping it’s neck rose to my mind and I had to fight the urge to feel nauseous.  I turned away again briefly but couldn’t not bear witness to whatever strange and hideous events were about to transpire though every fiber in me wanted to turn and run.  When I looked back, I saw the man was pouring water down the dog’s throat.  After a bit the dog sat up.  Clearly it hadn’t been hit by a car and was not severely physically wounded.

Turning to a man next to me I asked him what had happened, as more people came to join the first man near the dog and he gestured and indicated the dog had eaten something–poison.

As the dog began once again to twitch violently, legs thrashing and mouth foaming, a man picked it up by the legs and started to swing it around in a circle as the small crowd gestured and yelled instructions.  Once again, I was just sure he was going to try and kill the dog somehow but then he set it down again and several of the women began pushing on the dogs stomach and shouting encouragement at it.

They were trying to induce vomiting, trying to get the poison out.

There were about 8 people who ended up rushing to help the bedraggled creature, trying to induce vomiting in various ways (fanta, water, milk, oil, spinning the dog around, sticking a hand down its throat, pushing on its belly…).  Talking to one woman, I learned that they were pretty sure it had been poisoned deliberately.  Apparently that’s pretty common here and–everyone somberly agreed–incredibly cruel.

There was basically nothing to be done by the time we were there but we tried to help anyway.  By the time the dog was in convulsions, it was probably already too late.  Within ten minutes, a nurse was spearheading the effort to revive the dog with great intensity, even though it was progressively losing coordination of it’s legs and going into full body convulsions.

With all the efforts to induce vomiting in the middle of the road, the dog was filthy, shuddering and staring about with a bleary expression when it could hold its head straight at all between bouts of seizure like convulsions.  And yet for all this, despite disease ridden disgust of this poor beast, there the crowd came, holding it, rubbing it down with a rag to keep it warm, laying it on newspaper in the grass, trying their best to help it in any way possible–loathe to let the cruelty take its coarse to the bitter end.

We tried first to find medicine or liquids to help induce vomiting but when none could be found, strong pain killers for the dog, to help it out of it’s misery.  We tried to see if any of our co-workers had any hard core painkillers–no one did.  The nurse gave it a shot of atropine–a drug used to increase heart rate and treat organophosphate poisoning (think nerve gas and insecticides).  One of the women turned to me–I think she sells fried dough–and shaking her head said darkly that she doesn’t understand how people can be so cruel to animals.  She loves dogs.  It’s not Christian, she said, doesn’t anyone care?

After the atropine had been given, my friend and I knew that there was nothing left we could do and had no desire to stay and continue to watch this dog’s march towards what we were fairly sure was inevitable death.  So we headed back to our hostal, both of us lost in our own dark thoughts, and arrived back just in time to greet three new guests.  They had just arrived in Huanchaco excited and breathless from the flight-bus-taxi marathon that brought them.  Beginning a new and exciting stage in their respective journeys–talk about the strain of irony.

My mind continued to boil that night–hideous range of disgust, anger, fear–compulsion to both hate and love the human race with it’s cruelty and compassion.  There is something bewilderingly crazy about witnessing the everyday people of Huanchaco–the street vendors, the taxi drivers, the tourists, the passersby–stop, and in the case of the venders, leave their livelihoods standing empty, unguarded and come together to care a whole hell of a lot about even the lowliest of the creatures, the dogs who are shooed out of every space here in Peru, all the while knowing that this scene was set in motion by a singular act of decided, unmitigated cruelty from one of their fellow citizens.

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