The Dogs of Guanajuato

A friend who is a recent resident of Guanajuato said she had needed to talk to us, to someone, anyone. She had looked over her balcony and watched an adolescent Mexican boy strangle puppies, one by one, that had been kept in a bag. She had screamed down that he should stop it. He ran away, past our house. We saw none of it. We don’t know who it was, though we have ways of finding out.

A lot of people in my town treat dogs as beloved pets when they are small and love to carry puppies through the streets as some kind of cultural statement I don’t really understand. It would be like a culture that got a kick out of carrying parrots around on its shoulders. We occasionally see that here, but it’s rare.

A lot of other people in my town place dogs on their flat concrete roofs to scare away thieves. Often there is no shelter from sun, rain, heat or cold. The dogs are prisoners; and that why Guanajuato is famous for its howling by night—prisoner dogs seeking connection—and for its crowing roosters by morning—or perhaps all day long. For us, both sounds have become white noise and we don’t hear it.

Once, a few years ago, I was looking for a place to paint behind the Olga Costa Museum beside a lovely shaded creek when I came across a large dog hanging by its neck from a tree and very dead. It had taken two people to perform the execution: one strong person to hold the dog up and another person to tie the green string around its neck. The dog must have trusted them enough to let them hold it up in the air. Then they let it down, so that its feet didn’t quite touch the ground. And then watched the results of their work while the animal struggled and died.

What do we call that? Cruelty? A perverse, sick curiosity to see an animal die of asphyxia. I think it is like a hanging. Murder by sociopaths. We know that people do this, and some of us find it horrifying. I have a piece called “The Darkness in My Stories” which addresses this elemental horror in me.

I also wrote about the dog and the green string in my novel Playing for Pancho Villa. I quote the passage below.

“Frank climbed down from the boxcar. Doña Mariana and Manuelito were coming back from their walk along the arroyo. The boy spoke to her in short bursts and kept watching her, as if expecting a response. Doña Mariana answered him, but did not look at him. She saw Frank, but gave no greeting. Frank descended the slope and helped her up to the tracks.
“We  saw  a  dog,”  said  Manuelito.  “It  smelled.”  They walked  toward  the  passenger  car.  “It  had  a  green string  around  its  neck,”  he  said.
Doña Mariana gave Frank a look. They climbed the iron steps at the front end of the car. She made a pillow out her canvas riding hat and had the boy lie down on it. She and Frank chatted a bit about the village, its poverty, the dusty paths and the possible reasons  for  the  train’s  stopping.  The  boy’s  lids  grew   heavy and soon his mouth relaxed, and he was asleep.
The  señora’s  eyes  rested  on  Frank.  “How  is  the   wounded  man?”  she  asked.
“He  needs  a  doctor.”
“I  think  he  has  one,”  she  said.
“He  needs  a  hospital.”  Then,  after  a  pause,  “You walked up the arroyo?”
She said, “Yes,” then looked out the window and said nothing else.
“And  the  green  string?”  Frank  asked.  Then  he   looked out the window toward the arroyo, as if he might see the dog.
“Farther  back,  at  the  base  of  an  old  wall,  there  are trees and shade and pools of clear standing water. I listened  for  the  train  whistle.  We  didn’t  want  to  get   left behind. The place reminded me of arroyos when I was a child. Peaceful, enchanted places, out of the hot sun, with just the barest sound of water. We always looked for pools to swim in. The perfect pool, in a spot of sun to warm us when we got out.
“When  we  started  back  toward  the  train,  we  saw   the dog. A large dog. And probably friendly, because someone had been able to lift it up and hold it while someone else tied the rope, string really, to the tree. It took two people to do it, at least one of them strong. Its rear feet were able to touch the ground. The green string tightened. The creature struggled to hold itself up, but left alone, eventually slowly choked  to  death  from  its  own  weight.”
Frank looked at her.
“There  were  two  men  watching  us  from  up  above, where the houses are. As if they were waiting for our reaction. I looked back at them longer than I would have ever done with strangers, let alone men. I wanted  to  see  if  they  were  the  killers.”
She paused again.
“I  could  not  tell.  There  was  nothing  in  their  eyes  to   indicate  whether  they  had  done  it.”  She  stopped   again, as if considering.
“That  is  what  troubled  me.  That  you  couldn’t  tell   one way or the other. All you could see was indifference. I called up to them and said there was a hanged dog and that they should bury it before it brought disease to the village. There was no reaction at  all,  as  if  that  didn’t  matter.  At  that  point,  I  did  not   want  to  be  there  any  longer,  so  we  left  quickly.”
Frank  didn’t  know  what  to  say.  Instead,  he  took  his Winchester from the corner by the window and laid it across his lap.”

One thought on “The Dogs of Guanajuato

  1. Nice story about the dog strangling kid. Cruelty towards animals seems to be a basic human characteristic. Not much to be done.

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