perros peruanos

* originally published with more pictures on The Literate Nomad

One of the things I dislike the most about traveling in developing countries are the number of street dogs. Some places, many of the street dogs I’ve met were intimidating, lurking in the shadows or staring you down from the middle of a path. In Peru, I found dogs everywhere I went to be pretty people-friendly and the people pretty dog-friendly. There are dogs on the streets everywhere. Some of them wear clothes: bandanas, hoodies, sometimes even pants. I assume those are the ones that belong somewhere. The others, the naked ones, live on the streets and run around in rag-tag packs. And people were kind to them. More than once I saw a Peruvian hold a dog by the forelimbs and have a dance. Every single dog I encountered in Peru had character and personality, as if they were scripted into a Disney movie come to life.

But living on the street of a congested city is dangerous, even for a dog who knows to wait on the corner and look both ways before crossing the street. My first full day in Cusco, I was walking down a sidewalk just off the Plaza de Armas when I saw about six Peruvians gathered around a dog lumped on its side up against the curb. She was white and gray and beautiful and looked like an Australian shepherd. She was barely moving. Her breath was imperceptible. The humans around her had their arms drawn tight across their chests or buried deep in their pockets.

I don’t know what had happened, but the assumption was she’d been struck by a car. From somewhere, a plastic bag manifested in a young man’s hands. He pulled her paw. She came to life, startled, disturbed, scared. Retrieved her paw. Resumed her awkward slumber. There was no blood. But this dog was dying. I walked away and let a crowd envelop me before the young man gathered the courage to end her suffering.

A few days later, I heard barking behind me on the busy Avenida El Sol. A brown mutt, maybe 30 pounds, was running down the middle of the street like Usain Bolt chasing gold. But this idiot was chasing a car and barking maniacally. He was a daredevil adrenaline junkie having the time of his life.

When he ran out of juice, he’d trot up on the sidewalk panting, quite pleased with himself. After relieving himself on a shrub, he’d summon the energy to do it all over again, braver and more daring than the last time.

I knew it would happen. I hurried my pace so maybe I wouldn’t see it. On his third run, he bit at the tire of a small, white car, but got his foot stuck underneath it and hit his head on the wheel.

Shocked, he turned to come back to the sidewalk holding his right forepaw up. He looked confused, like he didn’t understand, and then he let out one of the most awful sounds I’ve ever heard. He tenderly put his foot back down and limped toward me, past me, to a bench. He laid down underneath it in front of a line of police officers standing against a fence in riot gear. A man on another bench said something to the police in Spanish. Something something “este perro” something something. An officer hesitantly stepped forward and leaned down, patted the dog, talked to him sweetly in Spanish. But what could he do? There wasn’t any blood. Where was the injury?

I don’t know if that dog ended up okay. He was gone by the time I walked back down the avenue. I felt gloomy for the rest of the day. For the rest of my trip, every time I saw a dog cross the street, anxiety gripped my stomach like it was juicing an orange. I couldn’t heal them, I couldn’t feed them, I couldn’t bring them home. So I photographed them. For the most part, they were willing participants, though one small mutt wearing a sweater in San Blas was quite perturbed.

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