I headed to Tulum, Mexico for some yoga and to reacquaint myself with the Spanish language. After having no response to a number of emails I had sent two separate local language schools, I decided to focus my efforts on a more informal method of language learning, simply conversing and hanging out with local people. It kills more than two birds with the one stone; I get to meet people, find out more about the place where I am (scratch the surface I refer to it) and improve my language skills. On more than several occasions, it also enables me to uncover more about the part dogs play in people’s lives around our world and within their environments.
As has been my experience, in the vast majority of cases, when people see you attempting to communicate and speak their language, they are far more likely and willing to open up, converse with you and/or help you. Like attracts like so they say……What it tends not to do, however, is help me with my less-than-average Spanish grammar!
On my first day in Tulum I dumped my pack, got changed and made the 30 second walk across the small paved road to the Caribbean sea to take a long walk along the beach. I hadn’t got far when I saw a man in the distance sun-baking with a small chihuahua. Is there anything but a ‘small’ Chihuahua? I positioned myself strategically on an elevated sand dune to take a picture with a long lens. Using my camera as binoculars, I looked and knew that I wanted to get closer; I was intrigued.
What harm could it do to introduce myself? I approached and used my universal opening line, albeit in Spanish, “Esta es su perro?” (“Is this your dog?”) Yes, he responded. I then used my second most utilised sentence when approaching strangers with dogs, “me encantan los perros”, (“I love dogs”). The combination of these words, along with a genuine passion and smile then seems to open me up to a whole new world of conversational (and learning) opportunities. Opportunities to delve deeper into the lives of local people around our world, to understand more about them and their connection with dogs. There is a universal love amongst those who share a passion for dogs and I have found very few owners who aren’t proud of their dogs.
I then asked him his name and where he was from. “Isaac and I am from Tulum” he responded. Isaac then told me he was a masseuse who worked for two separate, small hotels in the area. The hotels telephoned him when they had a client wanting a massage and he would cycle from the town centre to the beach for the work. Outside of that he hung out with his dog, Amadeus, and they often frequented the beach together. Isaac had a bike with a basket located on the front which was where Amadeus would sit when heading to and from the beach (and other places for that matter).
I asked if I could take his and Amadeus' photos, “si, como no”, (“yes, why not”) he said. I’m not in the habit of taking of photos of strange men on the beach but when there’s a sandy, happy looking Chihuahua involved, I will make an exception! Isaac and Amadeus had now been together a number of years and both man and dog loved hanging out on the beach together. Over my time in Tulum and on frequent occasions, I passed both Isaac and Amadeus on their bike, waving as we passed each other. Amadeus looked alert and content sitting up front, taking in the sights, two friends together, seemingly inseparable.
I love being close to the waves, with sounds, the colours, witnessing the changes in conditions each day, no two the same. I sat for a day watching a woman on the beach in a private house next door to where I was staying. She had no less than five dogs surrounding her and following her every move. They would bark and chase passing dogs and the odd person walking along the beach. Never was the intention to hurt any passers by, but rather, to mark their territory and flex their canine collective muscles. I was immediately curious but content to just to observe.
On day two of taking in the antics of the five dogs that accompanied her and late in the day, I decided to approach her. With my standard opening line she confirmed that four of the five dogs were hers and that the other was a local beach-cum-street dog. He would hang out with her and her dogs when they came to stay at the beach. Her friend owned the property and when it wasn't rented out, she took the opportunity to come from a nearby city and relax for a few days.
Ariane was originally from Germany but had been living in Mexico for the best part of the last ten years. All of her dogs had previously been street dogs which she had rescued. She had taken them in and they had which she had taken in and who had now become loving members of her family. We sat there talking for a long time about the role dogs play in family life, particularly the lives of non 'conventional' families. She like me, lived alone and had never had children. I did not ask what she did for a living, but she would travel to New York frequently and looking at her face and beautiful smile, I wondered if she had been a model at some point.
She talked me through the stories of how she came to adopt her four dogs over a number of years. One of her dogs, Lorenzo, was intent on flexing his muscles and making it clear to others that this was his turf (sand)! He would bark and chase dogs wandering by, and the commotion would, more often than not, incite others in 'his' pack to follow suit.
The most recent ‘adoption’ was Berto. Ariane found him on the streets around her city some four months prior. She knew she could not walk away from him and needed to help him. Looking into Berto’s eyes and instantly recognising his soft nature, I admired this woman even more. She saw what I too could see, that his nature was not the most conducive to a life on the streets. I have long come to realise that like people, some dogs are naturally far more resilient than others and therefore far more equipped for life on the streets than others. Berto, I believe, would have struggled, for he was too soft, too loving and far too humble to fend for himself and make it on the streets of Mexico.
Lorenzo, however, had been the only male in the group up until Berto’s arrival to the pack and was not handling the competition well. Ariane had been struggling with bullying issues since Berto came along, but her love was too great for Berto's addition to the pack not to succeed. It didn't help matters that Berto was significantly 'cuter' to the masses in comparison to Lorenzo. As a result, Lorenzo had to witness walkers-by approaching Berto gushing over how 'adorable' and 'cute' he was, oblivious to Lorenzo in the background!
Ariane had a huge heart, a heart and mind determined to keep her family together, but was struggling with strategies as to how to combat the issues with integration that she was having. The other two family members were sisters, Iva and Pippen, a short haired and long haired terrier mix. They went about their business seemingly oblivious to the evident bullying issues! They were females and based on gender alone, were safe from Lorenzo's ways! Berto, however, was a threat, not only because of his gender but also, I suspect, because of his nature and popularity with us humans!
As we spoke of the importance of never giving up, persisting and adapting, we laughed at Berto; now on a lead, he was watching us, seemingly knowing what we were discussing. It was also apparently clear that Lorenzo recognised his own bad behaviour.
After many interesting and insightful conversations we agreed that Ariane’s own sense of family, her love and resilience, would be the change Lorenzo needed to eventually accept Berto as a new found friend and family member.
Ariane was an amazingly inspirational woman to me and one who had a pure love and understanding of her dogs. They weren’t just pets, but members of her family. She shared a unique bond with each of them and individually knew them intimately well. This was a woman with a ginormous heart.
We exchanged details and left each other with hope; hope that Berto would be accepted by Lorenzo so that he could have a forever home, free of sibling rivalry and bullying!