From Rooftop Dogs to Airplane Flights
Intro by Victoria Schmidt
As a long-time resident of Lakeside, I can attest to many changes of the treatment of stray animals. At first my husband and I were introduced to the commonality of people putting dogs on their rooftops as protection. The dogs were kept fed and given water, but they received very little, if any care or attention. They were territorial and were there to scare off anyone who may dare to cross the roofs.
We were told that before the first shelters were established here, the stray dogs would eventually develop into wandering packs which put fear into the hearts of many children and pedestrians. When the problem got to such a proportion, the police had no choice but to resort to drastic measures, using baseball bats to euthanize these strays.
Slowly, animal shelters started to crop up, and animal angels would save bags of kittens or puppies left in the road or thrown in the stream. Foster families and various programs began to develop. Now we have many shelters, and groups who help these animals and they often work cooperatively. Sheltering, educating, rehoming even flying them to new homes in the USA or Canada, the animals became a focus of much of the volunteer work. But the real solution, decreasing the population, remains a problem.
As the Editor of the Ojo del Lago, I saw an opportunity and asked that the Ranch Ramblings column be expanded to feature most of the rescue groups and explain their individual focus.
Christina Bennett did a wonderful job in our July 2023 issue.
Ramblings From The Ranch
By Christina Bennett
“As Susan Watkins reminded me the other day, we can’t adopt our way out of this problem,” Ranch Board Member Corrine Kelly said recently when we were discussing the overload of dogs being cared for at The Ranch. The answer, of course, is spaying and neutering pets, street dogs, and feral cats. This is the only hope to prevent the suffering and abuse of animals. We decided to use our Ranch Ramblings this month to tell you about the various spay and neuter options available in our area. A handy reference guide will be at the end of the article if you want to skip ahead … but please don’t!
Lakeside Friends of the Animals
One of the largest and most visible local animal organizations is Lakeside Friends of the Animals, located in Riberas. The organization has been around for approximately 20 years. In 2014, they purchased the pet store that bears their name and this store funds their animal welfare activities. To support them, they ask that you buy your pet supplies at the store—the money goes directly to these efforts.
Lakeside Friends of the Animals offers free spay and neuter services to Mexican nationals of limited means. All of the services we mention today are for this group of folks; we foreigners need to pay for our own animal care, please. They conduct the surgeries at the Riberas location and also have veterinarians in Ajijic and Chapala for those folks who can’t get their animals to Riberas. Friends of Animals also provides sterilization for ownerless animals. Even we foreigners can avail ourselves of this service because, as organizer Sue Hillis says, “Street dogs are Mexican dogs.” They have a cat shelter on-site, and provide puppy vaccines and trauma/emergency services to the pets of Mexican nationals of limited means.
Sue Hillis has observed more puppies this year than in the rest of her 18 years in the area. It is more important than ever to get out the message about pet sterilization. “In 2022, we performed over 2,000 sterilization surgeries, provided 494 vaccines, and handled 357 veterinary emergencies. We also donate pet food to the Pet Food Bank and to the local Fire Fighters,” Hillis added.
Tails of Mexico
Another huge provider of spay and neuter services is Tails of Mexico started in 2014 and led by Susan Watkins. This organization provides services in the Jocotepec municipality, which includes the town of Jocoteptec itself as well smaller towns such as San Juan Cosalá, Zapotitan, and many others. Tails of Mexico conducts about six spay/neuter clinics a year in various Jocotepec locations, with occasional forays to Ajijic or Chapala.
“We do between 1,500 to 2,000 sterilizations a year,” Susan Watkins said, “and provide an even greater number of vaccines.” When asked about the clinics, Watkins said, “Of course the clinics are important, but about 70% of our sterilizations are now provided in a more hands-on knock-on-the-door way with local volunteers.” Watkins said these efforts happen weekly. A local volunteer will organize a pick-up of pets in a town plaza. Up to 40 can be treated in a day by using four different veterinary offices. Volunteers pick up the animals, deliver them to the vets, and then drive them back to the town later in the day. Most folks in these areas do not have transportation to take their pets for the surgeries, even when the surgeries are provided at no cost. “We really need drivers,” Watkins emphasized. “A lot of folks like to volunteer at the clinics, but every week we need people to drive animals to the vet, too”
A side benefit of these programs is overall pet health education for owners. Not only do the clinics provide a chance to talk about the benefits of sterilization, but also about other pet concerns. For many owners, this is the first contact they have had with a veterinarian about their animals. One educational example is information about TVT, transmissible venereal tours. This disease, while generally uncommon, can be an epidemic in some areas. It is spread by pet sexual activity and travels through unsterilized animals. “It’s a horrible disease and can be expensive to treat, so prevention is the key,” she added. Pet owners can find out about this through their contact with Tails of Mexico.
Feral cats are also welcome at Tails of Mexico through a trap/neuter/release program. About 30% of the sterilizations provided through this group are cats—domestic and feral.
This Chapala-based group began in 2011 to conduct spay/neuter clinics in the municipality. During the pandemic, organizer Cameron Peters stated that the group cancelled clinics and began a model they call “Pet Taxi.” They pick up animals from owners, take them to the vet the day before the surgery, and then return them the day after the surgery. They provided about 400 sterilizations a year before the pandemic. With the “Pet Taxi” model, they are now providing about 1,000 per year.
Operación Amor largely operates by word of mouth. Currently they are focused on outlying and impoverished communities underserved by veterinarians. “Generally, once we spay a pet in an area, that person tells their neighbors. It’s the best way to spread the word in these communities,” Peters stated. “And people want us to spay or neuter their local street dogs, too.” She said Operación Amor is very small, consisting of only four volunteers and a contract veterinarian.
El Proyecto Pancho
The newest addition to the local spay/neuter scene is a group formed by long-time animal rescuer Carolyn Cothran, local veterinarian Dr. Laura Medina, and Oregon-based rescue partner Amanda Wheeler. Dr. Medina and her husband own a goat farm in the indigenous community of Mezcala. The group was created when she saw a desperate need for pet sterilization and general veterinary access there.
The group started in January 2023, and Cothran named it after a dog that she fostered during the pandemic. Their plan is to offer three general veterinary clinics per year in these communities to provide critical care and vaccines, and one spay/neuter clinic per year. The clinics will also provide food for animals and their owners. At their first clinic, they spayed and neutered 106 animals. “We’d love to expand if we can raise more funds,” Cothran stated.
Barriers to Sterilization
All of the spay/neuter warriors quoted in this article talked about the barriers that local people of limited means face in sterilizing their pets. The first is the lack of consistent government efforts in this area. The State of Jalisco has a sterilization trailer that travels the state and provides sporadic services in many areas. However, this government service will not spay females in heat or pregnant females, which or course makes their efforts less effective.
Funds and transportation are other barriers. Many who would like to sterilize their pets don’t have the funds to do so. Even with free services, they don’t own cars to be able to access the services. Or they are unable to lose a day of work to take their pet to the surgery. The importance of bringing the services to the clients cannot be overstated.
Tradition and culture can also play a role in the lack of acceptance of the idea of pet sterilization. “Many folks say they just want one puppy from their female dog before they will spay her,” Susan Watkins says. “I ask them what they will do with the other seven puppies from the litter.” Of course, those are the animals we see abandoned on the street, or dumped at a shelter. They largely go on to painful deaths from disease or violence. Sue Hillis says that a common misconception is that it is “healthier” for a female dog to have at least one heat. This is no longer thought to be true, and of course, by the time the female has one heat, it may well be too late to prevent an unwanted litter.
Stereotypes about neutering male dogs abound as well. They won’t be as protective. He won’t do his job herding at the ranch. Or, even, the dog will become gay! Of course, none of these things is true. Neutering will help those dogs focus on their tasks as they won’t be running off to chase females, and it will help prevent testicular cancer and TVT as well.
“My dream is to live in a community where no animal needs to be rescued,” Susan Watkins of Tails of Mexico said. “We accomplish a lot, but need the active support of local governments to broaden our impact.”
“Attitudes are changing,” said Cameron Peters of Operación Amor. “It takes a few caring people, a few animal advocates in each community. They talk to their friends and neighbors, consciousness is raised and the culture around animal sterilization is changed.”
As The Ranch and other shelters are bursting at the seams with dogs and puppies, we need pet sterilization services more than ever. Please speak to your Mexican friends, neighbors and acquaintances about these services. Help them make an appointment. If they don’t have a car, maybe you can offer to drive their animal and pick it up again. And do your part by donating to the group providing these services in your area.
Local Spay/Neuter Organizations—Information at a Glance
Lakeside Friends of the Animals
Services: Mexican nationals of limited means in the Chapala municipality can make spay/neuter appointments at the Riberas location (Hidalgo 212, Riberas del Pilar) Monday through Friday from 9 to 3 or Saturday 9 to 2, or by calling 376-765-5544. Call for emergency treatment or vaccine information.
How to Support: Do your shopping at the Friends of the Animals Pet Store (Hidalgo 212 in Riberas) and donate through the Foundation for Lake Chapala Charities at: https://lakechapalacharities.org
Tails of Mexico
Services: Spay and neuter and vaccination in the Jocotepec municipality for Mexican nationals of limited means. You can find out more on the Tails of Mexico Facebook page or by phone at 333-247-6944.
How to Support: Donate through the Foundation for Lake Chapala Charities at: https://lakechapalacharities.org
Services: Sterilization services currently focused on the underserved and isolated areas of the Chapala municipality. Contact Cameron Peters at 33-2052-3116 if you know people in these areas who need services.
How To Support: Donate through the Foundation for Lake Chapala Charities at: https://lakechapalacharities.org
El Proyecto Pancho
Services: Vet services and pet sterilization for residents of Mezcala and San Pedro. To access, send a message through their Facebook page, El Proyecto Pancho.
How To Support: Donate through the Facebook page link, El Proyecto Pancho.
Thanks for reading this month’s Ranch Ramblings. We appreciate your support for 100+ dogs at: https://www.theranchchapala.com
The transformation in the treatment of stray animals in the Lake Chapala region is truly remarkable. Thanks to the efforts of various organizations, the well-being of these animals has improved significantly. However, the issue of overpopulation remains a challenge that requires continuous attention and action. By supporting spay and neuter programs and promoting responsible pet ownership, we can make a significant difference in the lives of these animals and contribute to building a compassionate and humane community.