Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dogs of Barichara

This dog is often seen following its owner around much
of Barichara and is a common type of dog for the area;
medium size, mixed breed, longer hair.
The Colombian treatment of dogs is an interesting study in the difference between this country and the United States and how Colombia is changing. While this subject is about dogs, it really does relate to all aspects of both pets and agricultural animals in the two countries.

For many years, a dog in Colombia was just something that ate the scraps of food thrown down (to help deal with the issues of garbage) and were used to keep property guarded, but their scrawny, dull-hair appearance confirmed the struggle the domestic dog had (and still has in many locales) here. However the increase in rabies and mange caused some people to take a more active role in vaccinations and gradually some of the health issues for dogs are reducing.

I was invited by the owner to view the ledge
on which this dog is perched in order to keep
track of city activities, dog and otherwise.
However, the overall attitude about animals in Colombia is still very different from that of U.S. animal owners. A butcher was seen to take his extra-sharp carving knife and lay into a hungry dog that was hanging around his meats and probably snatching some when it thought the time was right. That dog still is seen in the streets, with a very nasty, hairless gash across its back. Dogs are kicked, beaten, starved, and left for dead. Neutering still seems to be a rarity.

Horses, cows, cats, dogs, really all the animals in Colombia have a tougher time than those same creatures elsewhere, except perhaps India. Just a few days ago I saw a horse tied up in a field. It had eaten everything within reach and could not get to the green grass beyond its tether. Cows, donkeys, mules, horses, goats and chickens are left on the side of the road to graze and the roads are narrow enough in some places for the creature to be at serious risk of injury or death, not to mention the hazard to the driver who hits one.

Recently the yellow Labrador at Corasoma got pregnant by a Santanderano mutt and she dropped a litter of 10 puppies. All very cute, and clearly the early ones down the chute were the biggest and best of the litter. It is not a judgment against owners with female dogs who are faced with unwanted litters or dealing with the cost of neutering. Although the cost is considerably less than in the U.S., it is still equal to - for some - a week of groceries and so it is postponed or never done, letting the female - and the owner - deal with the consequences.

One of the 10 puppies from Corasoma's Moosie, a yellow
Labrador who got mixed up with a "Santandereano."
They were all irresistably cute like this one!
I agreed to help my friends at Corasoma by making a poster for the town bulletin board showing what the puppies looked like, as it is a good two kilometer walk to the finca. There were six males and four females and within a day of putting up the poster, all the male dogs were spoken for. Easy to see why since neutering males is seldom an option in this macho culture.

The other aspect of whelping puppies is that many owners may not feed the female any specialized lactating-mother-foods, so the pups could be without sufficient nutrition to even make it to 6-8 weeks before weaning, leaving them with less-than-ideal immune systems. So the cycle of disease gets a foothold in the next generation. Fleas on dogs are a huge problem, flea collars are expensive, and most of the natural remedies don't work all that well.

There is a veterinarian in Barichara, but she doesn't get much business on a daily basis, it seems, so she started baking bread for sale. The next nearest vet is in San Gil, 24 kilometers away and taking pets on the bus is frowned upon. That means a taxi to and from the vets plus whatever the visit costs are - so for those with reduced incomes, having a pet and caring for it the way people do in the U.S. is an expensive option.

But by the same token, having a dog in Barichara is the norm. There are fewer restrictions about casa rentals allowing dogs and dogs often walk with their owners around town without leashes, running up to dog buddies and chasing each other around the park while the owners have a tinto and chat with each other. Dogs are better behaved here (they seem to know they are d-o-g-s), fewer situations of dogs attacking other dogs, and less issues about people, including children, being bothered in some way by the dogs.

When I first arrived in Barichara, I was quite surprised at the number of dogs who would accompany their owners to work, often arriving well before the worker did. It is also likely you will see on the back roads a moto with a family of three on it, or a pair of workers, and the dog(s) running along behind it to the next destination.The dog(s) who lived at the finca seemed to understand that these were dog visitors, not incoming residents to be challenged... quite fascinating.

Dogs and their owners are regular attendees in the various churches, too. It is not uncommon for the family dog to sit in the aisle during the entire service, following the owner up to the communion rail and then trotting back to the place where the family was sitting. A friend of mine takes her large Lab-type dog to all the outdoor concerts she goes to, another owner takes all four of her dogs to town whenever she goes shopping.
Dogs often lie outside the home casa simply watching the
goings-on. This one didn't move at all as the crowds of
Palm Sunday parade watchers walked past it.

The most common recognizable breeds found here are Labrador Retrievers in the colors of yellow, black or brown, along with the Rottweiler. There are just two Weimeraners here, one of whom I cared for and wrote about in another blog in January. The longer haired types like the German Shepherd, setter breeds and the Golden Retriever are either not as popular or just not found here.  I have not seen any Dobermans, either. But there are increasing numbers of Chihuahuas and Miniature Pinschers of all colors.

Some restaurants or cafes - not all - allow their guests to bring canine companions in to lie under the table while dining. Well-behaved creatures are welcomed back. I suppose if you were not, your dog could return and you would have to go someplace else.

I think the biggest challenge is that if you have a dog and want to travel around Colombia with it, the busses are not dog-friendly and I don't know how you would get from place to place without a car. But with the changing attitudes about caring for animals, albeit slow, perhaps some of the same businesses that flourish in the U.S. will be accepted here: kennels for pet care for owners going away, grooming, training-the-owner camps and more affordable neutering programs.


  1. I have to confess I am nuts about my dog and would love to be able to take her everywhere with me. It's funny how we can take our dogs on trains and buses in the UK, but when we get to where we are going, have to leave the dog outside.

    That dog on the ledge has a very familiar look about him, that is just what Toni does from the bedroom window.

  2. What about the dog poop issue? Is it everywhere? Do people pick it up? In France, dogs poop everywhere and no one ever picks it up.

  3. Yes, there is a dog poop issue here. Because of all the recent rains, it is less of a problem right now, but during the dry season it is most unpleasant. There is a trend in Barichara for people to be more responsible about their dogs (an influence from some of the out of country residents and visitors), but not in the rest of the country. And with all the chaos from the horrendous flooding throughout Colombia, dealing with dog poop is a very low priority item, even though it is part of the reason the parasites have such a hold in animals here.

  4. Hi Sandy! Oh, how we miss having a doggy. Our old gal, Trouble, passed away just weeks before we made the 6 month move into the city for the Stem Cell Transplant. It was as if she knew what was happening. Being a German Shepherd mix.... 15 years old and arthritic.... also diagnosed with "Canine Dementia", (puppy Alzheimers!!!) we had decided to have the vet come to the house and put her to sleep. It's been almost 2 years... ANYWAY... I could kiss that puppy's face off! xoxo Nan

  5. It would be so nice to see a traveling veterinarian! Such simple issues that could be dealt with through education and funding.

  6. Nice! Really cool stuff and very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

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