I wanted to take this time to introduce a new member of my family. She’s about thirty pounds and six-years-old, likes to eat scraps of food off of the street, and sunbathe all day after her morning run. Please meet Ruby Ray de la Calle (of the Street).
This past Sunday, we adopted Ruby from Animal AWARE, an animal shelter located near the town of the kite festival I attended in October. Founded in 1998 by three women from Guatemala, England, and the United States, AWARE now has over 300 dogs in their care. According to their website, AWARE’s “principal activity…is (the) rescue and rehabilitation of domestic animals. We have a permanent on-site spay and neuter clinic, and plan to build an education centre to provide free environmental education to local children, eventually including basic literacy and numeracy, and perhaps English language teaching.”
If you haven’t yet had the chance to journey to Guatemala, one of the first things that many people notice (beyond the overwhelming influence of corporate United States) are the herds of stray dogs roaming the streets. AWARE is the only organization in Guatemala whose mission heralds the importance of spaying and neutering dogs, which is crucial for animal welfare.
After we spent hours in and out of dog pens, and decided on Ruby (formerly known as Zula), we took her to one of the fanciest restaurants in Antigua. There we were awakened to the culture of street versus purebred dogs. Just as in the United States, it’s a status symbol to have a purebred dog. The wealthier Guatemalan families that have dogs are purebred—most commonly Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Chihuahuas, and German Shepherds. What’s a bit different here is that it’s socially acceptable to mistreat animals that live on the street—and there are no laws against cruelty to animals. There are countless stories of pointless cruelty to these animals, which I won’t go into here. (Sidenote: Earlier this year, volunteers from AWARE organized the country’s, and perhaps the region’s, first march against animal cruelty in Guatemala City.)
Even when street dogs have been adopted by a nice, loving couple from the United States, people tend to shower you with scorn for having adopted something so lowly. You should have seen the looks people gave us while we were drinking our milkshakes—shocked and disgusted Guatemalan women on the way to the bathroom were gaping at our innocent and well-behaved Ruby.
After living for the first five years of her life at AWARE, Ruby took a mere day to grow accustomed to living in a house. Although we’ve had to do very little in terms of house training, one of Ruby’s favorite pastimes is eating scraps out of the trashcan (you can take the dog off the street, but you can’t take the street out of the dog). It was incredible to me to see her transition from living in a pen of around eight dogs to now having the reign of our house and backyard. After spending a fair amount of time walking around AWARE, Ruby’s disposition makes sense. The staff and volunteers take incredible care of their animals and provide for them an option to become adopted into a caring home. While running a no-kill animal shelter isn’t exactly the most sustainable venture, it certainly has inspired many others in the community to think about the fact that all animals have rights.
Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.