“If you have not loved an animal, a part of your soul remains asleep”
-SignPost Proverb, Yelapa, Mexico
In the heart of the jungle and along the seashore, in the Bay of Banderas, the Dogs of Yelapa tell a different story than your average, mangy, starving Mexican dog.
A few years ago, author, Michael Pollan theorized in his book, Botany of Desire that seemingly unconscious plants perhaps manipulate hearts and minds of humans in order to thrive and multiply. Turning our notions of control inside out! Pollan cites examples of tulips seducing with their beauty, apples intoxicating with sweetness and libation, and marijuana fascinating us with it’s heady states-of-mind. I was reminded of this theory as I witnessed a similar, suspicious scenario playing out on la Playa de Yelapa, between the enormous stray dog population, the locals and the affection-starved tourists .
I picked up the scent when I noticed that all the typical arch-Enemies of Dogs are vanquished and abolished! In Yelapa, there are no cars, no cats, no squirrels, no kennels, no leashes or collars. There were no masters, no silly names, no license tags, no territories, no aggression, no dog catchers, no starvation, no diseases, no fences, no doghouses, no tethers. And, NO PROBLEMAS!!
As I became aware of this canine “Cosa-Nostra” phenomenon, hidden in plain sight, I marveled at the stellar health of the Canidae. All the Woofs are well fed with shiny coats, white teeth, bright eyes, suggesting that they get plenty of guacamole, fresh fish and PIE!!! There is even a town vet that offers free services to the strays. Deworming and neutering the pupulation twice a month! Wait, that is more healthcare than Americans receive!
The locals rise in the early mornings to wash the sidewalks clean of doggy and donkey debris, accumulated from the day before. The Dog-Spotting Touristas y Locales provide hand-fed sustenance, while the pups crouch and pray to the local patron saint: OUR LADY of DOGGY BAGS…
These Good Boys share a variety of duties around the tiny Mexican hamlet. After an Initiation and a Vow of Silence, they are assigned a beat. They became the greeters, ground control, escorts, guides, clean up crew, beach companions, surveillance, fish dogs, cantina entertainment, plate patrol, port authorities, even bar bouncers. Most are generally employed in the garbage business. Surveillance and patrol are the most obvious and notable duties for the dogsters, and they will pass you on the narrow pathways in packs, on errands of business, without distraction.
I once got turned around in one of the labyrinthian Yelapa byways, trying to find the Yacht club. I stumbled upon a sleek German Shepard Mix napping on dried palm leaves at her post, in the crossway. She opened one eye, pointed an ear, rose from her nap, and began walking down the path, as I stood there perplexed. I followed and was then guided to the Yacht club by the shepherdess. I am still curiously unsure how she knew where I needed to go, and how I found the trust to follow her. But the fact is, I was lost and she led me all the way to the hostess station. I wondered if most tourists got lost, and she was merely performing a habitual task of guidance and kindness. I gave my guide some pats of gratitude, and she smiled and wagged and returned to her post in the crossway.
Since the dogs to not have official homes, they snuggle the sandy beach, under the cerveza tables or on the knoll to bask in the warm sunlight. The look in their eyes in the dawn light says: “Would cuddle you, intensely..”
On our last night, we dined at the BBQ joint, there were the dogs working the scene, methodically sitting under every table, to collect scraps and pats. This was a preferred eatery, and there were plenty of doggy bags on hustle. It was the obvious preference of the dogs working the joint to just have you skip the doggy bag altogether, and opt for the hand feed under the table. Mi Amor, Tim and I made friends with a silky, buff, male terrier with a blonde mustache and an underbite found sitting under our table. The Wiley Woof was suave and even perhaps psychic. We were noticing his polite and attentive demeanor, and Tim joked ” at least he is not begging..” On cue, El Suave sat on his hound hind, paws up, begging and posing for a pic, with a dead pan stare… Cheeky.
Later, at the nearby bar, I noticed a small black fluffle-weiner with a tough attitude and a golden snaggle tooth. He was the Heavy. Packin’ heat , as he was running a fast clip-to nip the heels of an unruly patron. He escorted the Wise-guy to the door. The success of the bounce sent El Doggo into a tailspin as he rejoined the fiesta in full wag. He accepted many a belly rub on the dance floor, before whisking away to the kitchen, and out of sight. He reveled and enjoyed the shakedown. I believe him to be perhaps, DonYelapa, the Hefe or el Capo…
There is a rumor that even “kept” pooches elect to stray, and go on the lam. Because, what dog doesn’t like to roam and comb the beaches and cantinas in search of friends and Scooby Snacks? The Yelaperros seem elevated in status – perhaps even, part Human, probably part Angel. They are self-possessed, un-mastered and self-mastered. By all appearances, they have achieved enlightenment and Doggie Nirvana. They roam free without tether or strangle. They do not bark, snarl, growl or struggle. They are fed and pat by many hands. These Doggy Boys have remastered the “mans best friend” idea and flipped it to make their bones. Akin to the Pollan musings about the Botanical Species, the Canidae have become road kings instead of road kill. In Yelapa, the old saying holds true…”All Dogs go to Heaven”.
Written under the Wolf Moon in the Year of the Dog.
This story was read to a live audience in August 2019 at the Corte Madera Book Passage Travel Writers’ Conference. In attendance were well known names in the field, including Tim Cahill ( editor of Outside Magazine), Erin Byrne, Christina Ammon, Anna Elkins ( Publisher’s of Deep Travel Anthologies) and many more. This story won ” Best in Show” and was printed in the Deep Travel Anthology: “Souvenirs from the Inner Journey” published in 2019.