THE DOGS OF BELIZE
I had quite an experience last month when I visited San Pedro, Belize, an island very close to the Belize Barrier Reef System. San Pedro’s town center is fairly small and quite busy. The main form of transportation for residents and visitors is by golf cart, though pedestrians, bicycles, and taxis also navigate the very narrow streets around the community. One of things I enjoyed most during my visit was watching how the island dogs join in this mixture.
I had braced myself, as I had heard that I may encounter hungry, stray dogs in Belize. This was not my experience at all. I was struck by the role that dogs have in the community on the island. Most were wearing collars, were well fed and were connected to people. They rode in golf carts, hung out in shops and restaurants, and were active participants in the community.
It is hard to describe what I saw as their culture. They were neither coddled nor ignored. They navigated the streets with the same ease that people did. A dog might join our group on the beach, at a café or for a walk through the town. And yet it appeared they were just being friendly, never begging or asking for anything.
I found the situation fascinating and began to watch how other people interacted with the dogs. There appeared to be equality and respect in their interactions. It seemed that people acknowledged the dogs, and vice versa — the way you would nod or smile at someone that you passed on the sidewalk. The dogs are valued members of the community. I never saw anyone yell at, hit or chase away a dog. One afternoon, while sitting in my golf cart outside a store, I watched as a scruffy little dog, who had apparently been cooling himself off in a muddy puddle, greeted customers at the store. In spite of his appearance, I was delighted to see how many people paused to speak to him or rub his head.
There was a sense of dignity with these four-legged community members. They were polite and nonintrusive while appearing comfortable with their place in this society. Even though none of them appeared to be neutered, I never saw a standoff or fight between dogs. It was an incredible scene to watch. These dogs had complete autonomy and fit comfortably into this culture.
When we first arrived at our home-away-from-home, we were greeted by a sweet little dog wearing a colorful collar. She was not interested in coming into the house, quite content to lie in the threshold and watch the activities of our group. We were nine, dog-loving people and she received plenty of attention from us. At some point, I asked her what she was doing there and she replied, “I like to visit when people come to stay in this home.” Later that day the caretaker pulled up in his golf cart with his two little dogs. I asked him the story of our friendly visitor. The caretaker told us her name is Barney. She is his son’s dog and lives next door. He said she likes to come over and visit when people are staying in the house. We all enjoyed Barney’s visits during our week there. She would stop by in the morning and then she would appear in the evening as we began to gather for dinner. I could almost see her smiling and joining in the laughter from the threshold of the room. We invited her in though she always chose to stay on the threshold and observe.
The culture in San Pedro was fascinating for me to experience and I wonder if this is how life used to be for dogs before our world became so crowded and had so many rules and restrictions. The only dogs I saw on leash were those with their people in restaurants or riding on golf carts. The rest of the time the dogs seem to be able to run their own life. What a gift! Just like the people of that area, they did not have a lot of frills or luxuries but they were healthy, happy and very balanced! It was a wonderful experience for me to observe a different way for dogs to be respected members of a community.
New Service Offering
Many of you work closely with rescue and foster organizations. In my continuing effort to prevent lost animal situations, I am exploring the idea of complimentary 20-minute talks to rescue organizations. I would like to share information about how to successfully transition animals to foster homes or to their new permanent family home. This can be a confusing time in an animal’s life and can sometimes result in them running from their new home in search of the old foster home. If you are involved in a rescue or foster organization – such as Carolina Poodle Rescue, Buddies of Bully Breeds or Bassets Forever, etc. — and think that an informational talk would be helpful to your group, please let me know. It may be possible for me to travel to your area, and I would like to coordinate with you to talk at an upcoming gathering of your fostering or rescue community. My mission is to help turn what can be a confusing and stressful time for an animal into a positive, happily-ever-after story.
Asphalt becomes very hot and can do serious harm to your animal’s feet. Please be aware of where you are standing with your dog on a leash. He doesn’t have the freedom to move to a safe place to stand. Imagine how you would feel standing barefoot on that surface!Be aware of the change in temperature if you regularly exercise with your dog. Remember, they are wearing a fur coat! If you are starting a dog on a “training program” of running with you, start him out like you would a rookie runner. Start slowly and build your dog’s fitness level. It is very easy for dogs to over heat and die from heat exhaustion.This is not to discourage exercise for animals! We all need exercise. This is just a reminder that they vulnerable to the heat and can’t monitor themselves if they are on a leash and keeping up with you on your jog.
I am offering Animal Communication, Levels 1 and 2 the weekend of Saturday, August 23rd and Sunday, August 24th, in Black Mountain, NC. (Black Mountain is 30 minutes from Asheville.) These are fun, experiential classes that provide you with the skills you need to communicate with your animals. The classes also offer the opportunity to meet like-minded people. Often people who have taken my classes continue practicing their skills via email with other class members. Other Upcoming Classes and Events – Go to the Classes page on www.animalsmith.com for details.