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I have been living in a tiny town in central Mexico for a few months now. High up in the forested mountains of Hidalgo, we have been enjoying the beauty and the respite from the Pacific Northwest’s rainy cold, and the safety. We leave the doors unlocked and, on Fridays under the starlight, we walk home from a little bar where we’ve spent the night listening to live music and indulging in woodfired pizzas and smokey mezcal.


El Chico, however, has a dog problem. People from the nearby cities often abandon their dogs in the surrounding forest. The mountains and foothills are populated by packs of emaciated dogs. Some make it to the town and eke out an existence begging for food on the doorsteps of the small cafes and shops. Many Mexicans do not spay or neuter their dogs, which in turn reproduce unchecked among themselves or with the well-fed canines owned by the residents that roam the street freely, creating a significant sanitary problem.


Hualumbo


El Sueco begging


El Chico’s main street is populated mainly by male dogs who drive out the competition aggressively and bark and chase after cars and motorcycles. My partner and I befriended some of these pooches. One we call Hualumbo, likes to place his head on my lap, making it impossible to resist his sad eyes, so I share my dinner with him.


Huevos


Our favorite is a white boxer we call Huevos. Muscular and fit, he swaggers about the streets and often follows us home, playfully howling and vocalizing until we get to our rental house, where I give him leftovers or a bowl of kibble. We feed them away from the bars and tourists to avoid confrontations. Huevos can be mean to other dogs but tolerates a black female with honey-colored eyes we named Yoali, which means night in Nahuatl.


Yoali, the day we met


Yoali was, for a time, the only stray female in town. Although most street dogs regularly sleep under the church’s portal, Yoali preferred to rest under a bench by one of the three stores in town; maybe because she rejects organized religion. That’s where we first spotted her. Bouncing around us everywhere we walked, she stole my heart by nipping me playfully on the butt as I strolled to buy tortillas.


One evening, she was deep in sleep when a shopkeeper threw a bucket of dirty water at her to shoo her away. Jumping up startled, she shook the grey, greasy water off her dusty coat and slunk away from the safety of the bench. Cruel as it was, I can understand the shopkeeper’s frustration with stray dogs and the irresponsible strangers who dump them in the town.


After breakfast one day, we found Yoali prone on the cobblestones in front of the bakery, panting and unable to rise. She saw us, but all she could do was thump her tail weakly. We went to her only to learn from the baker that a teenager had kicked her. She lapped the water we offered and lay her head back down. The town doesn’t have a veterinarian, so we wrapped her in a cloth and took her to the town doctor. With more than a hint of sorrow, the doctor could only offer to call the pound that collects strays for the medical students to practice on and then when done and if they are still alive, gasses them to death.


As we walked away, I started sobbing, and my husband rushed back and retrieved Yoali. We drove an hour and a half to the nearest city to a veterinary hospital—the diagnosis: broken ribs, intestinal parasites, mange, and malnutrition.


Yoali is cared and loved by Regina.

Willie Melano



El Guero



Junior


A month from that fateful day, Yoali is doing great; her black coat is shiny, and the mange has disappeared. She is slowly putting on weight. Yoali is bright. She learns commands quickly and is so bonded with us that we cannot go anywhere without her. We canceled our return tickets on Delta since the US airlines will not allow dogs on planes as cargo ever since the Covid pandemic began. I do not know why. So instead, we purchased tickets on a Mexican airline on a direct flight from Mexico City to Ontario, California, and rented a car to drive home to Portland.



Yoali is feeling better.


We look forward to incorporating her into our pack of two golden retrievers and my brother, who is a kind dog sitter.

Yoali visiting Huasca de Ocampo


This week, we tried leaving her with the caretakers of our rental home to drive to the city for business. She obviously escaped and tore after us as we drove away, overtaking our car. We stopped and chased after her, calling her name hysterically. Finally, she turned and jumped into the open car door. I stayed with her in the hot car while my husband visited the bank and stores. I can only imagine what the people of the town thought as they saw two crazy Americans chasing after a stray with a surgical sleeve in the 80-degree heat. We didn’t care, we love her and will never leave her again.



Canela in Snoqualmie waiting to meet her new sister


Luna in Portland


Puppy love. Some people have a huge heart and their love never runs out.

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I’ve been traveling through Mexico since March 17, studying indigenous psychology and researching my new novel which takes place in El Chico, Hidalgo, a magical town described in a previous blog. I expected to learn a few new things but not the profound lessons that have changed me in unexpected ways. These are my takeaways:



1. True friendship lasts forever.

After a 21-year absence, family and friends welcomed me with enthusiasm and open hearts. We took up as if we’d seen each other only the week before. They taught me that time and distance cannot destroy love. The bonds of friendship, kinship, and community endure and are ever-growing.




2. Some things in Mexico are changing in a positive way.

I witnessed a beautiful and revolutionary wedding. The couple are young lawyers that advocate tirelessly for Mexico’s disappeared. Their wedding ceremony broke gender stereotypes and celebrated diversity in all its human forms. It was beautiful, moving, and inspiring.



3. Mexico’s economy is supported by the undocumented.

Most workers would prefer to live in their hometowns with their families but are forced by the economic circumstances perpetuated by the US and global corporations into risking life, limb and freedom to make sure their families and communities survive and thrive.



4. I need few material things.

I don’t miss hot water, internet, Amazon, tv, phone signal, shopping. Not having a scale to torture myself every morning, a magnifying lighted make-up mirror, and fancy clothes have been liberating.



5. I am stronger than I thought.

I overcame heatstroke, diarrhea, over fifty mosquito bites at once, five-hour walks up a mountain and back in full sun.



6. The only way to heal from trauma is in community.

Western psychology cannot heal us when the causes of our distress are poverty, racism, discrimination, sexism, greed, lack of resources and our modern way of life. We heal when supported and accompanied while working together to transform the structures making us ill.



7. Happiness cannot be attained as an individual pursuit.

The more we chase it, the farther it becomes. Happiness cannot be pursued as an individual accomplishment but is created with others when we transcend ourselves and contribute to the greater good.



I look forward to the next month of writing and exploring El Chico and wonder what I will discover.



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