Mexicans Debate the Fate of Stray Dogs Blamed in Four Mauling Deaths

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Marco Werman: This next story from Latin America is about something people anywhere tend to feel passionately about: dogs. Authorities in Mexico City say that stray dogs were responsible for the deaths of four people whose bodies were found recently in a city park. Police in the Mexican capital have rounded up a pack of 25 skinny strays they suspect mauled a young woman, her baby, and a teenage couple. The details are hideous, but many people have also gone online to support the dogs. Demanding that officials not euthanize any of the captured animals. Freelance journalist Jennifer Schmidt was based in Mexico City for four years and just recently returned to the U.S. So Jenny, you know well the conditions that dogs in Mexico City have to endure. During your time there, you were involved in rescuing stray dogs. Does this story surprise you?

Jennifer Schmidt: Not at all. There are literally hundreds of thousands of stray dogs in the city. I've read estimates of up to two million. I don't think there's any way to do a count, but they're everywhere. You can not go to that city without seeing starving dogs in the streets, sleeping in alleys, sleeping under people's cars. It's an atrocious situation that seems to only be getting worse.

Werman: Why are these dog populations so large in Mexico City and growing?

Schmidt: The biggest problem is that Mexico City does not have any kind of effective sterilization campaign. There are volunteer groups that do some sterilization. There are some government run programs, but they're minor and ineffective and, you know, the street dogs of Mexico the people worry that they are diseased. That they carry rabies and so people don't want to get near them. They don't want to touch them. They don't want to deal with the street dogs of the city and so there is no one sort of controlling the population.

Werman: But isn't that fear of these feral legitimate? Especially after this story where four people apparently have been mauled by strays.

Schmidt: The fear is legitimate. I think it is an issue. I mean I can tell you that sort of the main park in Mexico City, Tultepec Park, has huge populations of stray dogs and many of those dogs really are becoming wild dogs. They sleep in caves. They roam in bands. There have been attacks. The recent alleged attacks occurred in Iztapalapa, which is a huge, very poor part of the city and also an area where people dump dogs which is a big issue too. People adopt, or not adopt, buy puppies. Pure bred puppies. When they get older, they just dump them and absolutely I think it's something that has to be addressed. The issue is that in Mexico what in Mexico City what they do is they have a squad of trucks that are called Anti-Rabico trucks. That means anti-rabies and they go around rounding up dogs and then electrocuting them en masse and in a fairly inhumane manner I might add, but that's effective for an individual dog but it really doesn't address the larger issue which is that for every one dog that you kill in an Anti-Rabico, you have thousands and thousand more breeding. Ready to replace the dogs you've picked up and what the city need is an effective sterilization campaign.

Werman: Now Mexicans who feel strongly about the story have been vocal on social media that the hashtag for their campaign to prevent any euthanizing of these dogs #yosoycon26. Con being short of Latin for dog. That was trending big time on Twitter yesterday in Mexico. Take us into Mexico City's culture of dogs and why this has become such a polarizing issue.

Schmidt: I think what's happening in Mexico is that there is a very small emerging dog culture. You'll see in some of the parks and in the more affluent parts of the city. You'll see signs about how to be a good owner. To walk it, walk your dog, on a leash. To feed it. They'll have some sort of basic instructions on how to be a dog owner and so there is some growing sense that the country has to do a better job in taking care of the animals that are domesticated and that are people's pets.

Werman: Jenny, full disclosure here. I know you and you do care about the plight of animals a lot. How does Mexico City rank as a dog city compared with other places you've been?

Schmidt: As a dog city, I would say it ranks fairly low. Lots of people have dogs now in the affluent classes. They are almost always pure bred dogs. They can be decked out very beautifully. There are little treat stands in some of the more popular, hip parks of the city, but nonetheless dogs still are living in terrible conditions on people's rooftops solely for security. I have personally found many dogs with collars embedded in their necks that are basically going to die of infection because people put the collars on a pups and didn't take them off. I have picked up dogs that have been walking down busy sidewalks in the city with broken legs and people just haven't noticed that the dogs are there. They don't seem to recognize that there are dogs in need of assistance. So I would say it's low, but I see hope for the future if you're a dog person.

Werman: Freelance journalist Jennifer Schmidt was based in Mexico City for four years. She recently returned to the U.S. Jenny, thank you so much.

Schmidt: You're welcome.

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