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.”