Arcelia, Yoali and me on a boulder in El Chico

If you read my blog, you know about Yoali, the stray my husband and I adopted in El Chico, Mexico. Unfortunately, USA airlines stopped transporting pets when the pandemic started, so we canceled our tickets and rescheduled a Mexican airline’s direct flight to Ontario, California, in the evening during cooler temperatures. Too large to fit underneath the seat, Yoali traveled as cargo in a crate for a fee.

Vaccinated and spayed, and after hours of arguing with the airport staff, we watched her crate disappear through the rubber curtains. I imagined her cursing us for kidnapping, forced sterilization and restriction of freedom, and now torture. Finally, after landing an hour late, we found Yoali waiting for us in baggage. A kind woman used tiny blunt scissors to cut away the zip ties to free her from the crate. That night she slept in the hotel between us.

The next day we drove eight hours to Sacramento, where she met her cousin Ava, my daughter’s dog, then ten more hours to Portland, Oregon, where Canela, Luna, and my brother waited for us. Yoali is thriving and now part of our pack.

Ava and Yoali enjoying dog icecream

Yoali, Canela and Luna

There was no altruism. The money we spent bringing Yoali to the USA could have helped hundreds of dogs in shelters with vaccines and clinics. Instead, we brought Yoali because we love her. No other reason.

Those who don’t love dogs may not understand, but many fortunate ones enjoy enduring bonds with them. Besides companionship, protection, and years of fun, here are some other reasons dogs are beneficial to human wellbeing:

1. There is a biochemical connection between a dog and its human. MRIs and scans have shown that when we lock eyes with our beloved, the regions that produce oxytocin and dopamine in our and our dog's brains are activated, creating a bond similar to the one between mother and child.

2. Petting a dog will lower blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol, eliminating insomnia and prolonging life.

3. Pets provide companionship, and caring for them can extend an owner’s life, especially in western cities where the elderly tend to live alone.

4. Dog owners are usually more physically active because even the most sedentary dog must leave the apartment to poop.

5. Living with dogs increases humans’ immune systems by diversifying our microbiome because pets and owners share the same gut bacteria.

6. Dogs connect us to our wild side. They help us heal from our separation from nature and ground us, alleviating anxiety and depression.

There is a saying in Mexico “no tiene ni perro que le mueva la cola” which means the loneliest person doesn’t even have a dog to wag its tail for them. I am so lucky to have three who give me joy and love and will help us make a home in Portland because home is where the dogs are.

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Mineral del Chico, Hidalgo, Mexico

Like all things and beings, Mexico has a shadow. Corruption, cartels, murder, femicide, and machismo, to name a few. Nevertheless, I felt safe in El Chico and the rural communities I visited, even though my brother-in-law was murdered in December not far from there.

Las Monjas tower above the town.

Mexico also has a luminous side. Its people are welcoming, warm and joyful. The landscapes are mystical and the cultures are diverse and stunning, especially the arts, music, crafts, food, and architecture. In the town of Mineral Del Chico, the light shines brightly in its many instances of solidarity and gratitude.

Entrance to the mine Mina de Guadalupe

Semi-nomadic tribes first populated this rugged mountain town until the Spanish discovered silver and gold in 1565. For almost 400 years, all economic activity centered around mining. Then in the 1930s, the mines closed, leaving the residents without a livelihood. The men followed the work, and those who stayed starved.

Agapanthus or African Lilly

Hungry and desperate to feed their children, the town's women gathered every day at 4 AM with baskets (chiquihuites) filled with calla and agapanthus lilies and kiln-fired charcoal tied to their foreheads with an ayate or hemp sling. Daily, they trekked up a steep, wooded mountain trail, then down a dirt road to the city’s market to sell their wares and buy food and supplies before returning to town. Some walked the 16 kilometers barefoot with a child or two clinging to their skirts.

The sons, daughters and grandchildren of these women, now in their late seventies, have a unique way of commemorating their ancestors’ resiliency and resourcefulness. On individual trees along the trail of the Floreras, they have affixed a plaque with the name of the women who made the daily trek almost a century ago. Every year, descendants recreate the hike, placing flowers under the trees bearing the plaques with their ancestors’ names.

Caritina remembers accompanying her mother to sell coal at the market. The annual walk for her is a way to recognize how we can all contribute to the greater good, no matter how small our actions are. “Even the poorest can do good. They can help someone cross a street or pick up the trash from the tourists,” she says.

I will miss Mexico, its people, and marvels and I wonder if the brighter the light, the darker the shadows.

The trail up and over the mountain to Pachuca

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