There are dogs everywhere. They roam in packs through the villages and across the beaches. Searching for food or someone who will throw them a stick or scratch them behind their ears or another dog to sniff. They sprawl out to nap in the middle of streets, forcing cars to swerve around them, completely unconcerned with their seemingly immanent demises.
On cold days they curl themselves into the nooks created in the gutters between the street and the curb, they dig holes in the sand to create a nest of warmth and block the wind. On hot days they clump together in patches of shade under palm trees of against buildings. They are as a part of the landscape as the sand and trees and the ecuadorian sun. And why is coastal Ecuador glutted with an overpopulation of street dogs? Because… THEY ALL HAVE BALLS! They mate and mate, and make more and more street puppies that grow up to be more and more street dogs. I blame the balls.
The dogs come in every conceivable shape and color. There is one with the fur of a husky but the body of a wiener dog. There is one with the body and face of a lab and the marbled coloring of a boxer. There is a family of weird naked dogs with bare hairless black skin, a puff of white hair on the end of their tails, and a white mohawk that ends at the nap of their necks. The dogs of Montañita reflect what Montañita is, a place where a world of people of every shade and shape come to party and “mix” with the locals, creating a new culture that is neither completely Ecuadorean or Western. Montañita dogs are as diverse as Montañita people. And why is there such a wild and interesting melange of dogs? Because… THEY ALL HAVE BALLS! And dogs don’t know understand the concept of family planning and safe-“mixing.”
Living amongst packs of street dogs means constant exposure to the basic facts of life that one does not have to think about in the States on a daily basis. Beyond the fact that you just see balls all the time (that took me a month to get used too), the numbers of dogs combined with the fact that they don’t really “belong” to anyone, means they leave evidence of their bodily functions everywhere. I can’t remember how many times I’ve stepped in dog shit before it became second nature to keep my eyes on the ground in front of me as I walked. Dogs run in and out of the restaurants and bars all throughout the day, begging at you feet for scraps, licking your toes, and even running through the sweaty crowds on packed dance floors, wagging their tails to the Reggaeton. Dogs with open wounds, and crushed paws are daily sights, including a 3-legged dog and hops along with the agility of an adapted survivor.
Even beyond the defecating, pain and disease, this time of year has brought on a “mating season” that I hadn’t even realized that feral dogs had. The females are all in heat, which means not only am I a constant witness to canine sex in the streets, I also get to see the other results of the surging hormones and pheromones. Males have switched from their usual rough play, to all death-matches. I saw my first real dog fight last weekend. An enormous boxer-mix from my village in Manglaralto named Tigre followed a friend of mine to Montañita. As we were sitting in front of our favorite live music spot chatting, Tigre was confronted with a huge rottweiler-mix, who was not at all pleased with another Alpha male in his territory. Both of these dogs are usually sweet and docile. The rottweiler is the dog that like to weave around people on the dance floor at the nightclub, and I’ve never seen Tigre be aggressive before. But with the females around, and the hormones ragging… After a bit of growling and snapping, they attacked each other with a force and viciousness I’ve never experienced. They were trying to kill each other. There were at least six guys trying to grab them without getting bitten and smashing them with chairs and signs before they finally managed to pull them apart. Both dogs were covered in blood and missing big patches of fur and skin. A chuck of the rottweiler’s neck ripped off in Tigre’s jaws as they dragged him away. I BLAME THE DAMN BALLS!
There are 3 types of dogs on the coast. There are the completely solitary street dogs. With their open sores, bony bodies, skin diseases, and limps from accidents with cars and other dogs, they are the easiest to pick out. Luckily, there aren’t too many in this category. The second is the pets. These too are easy to differentiate from the others. They are clean and well fed and usually have collars. While they are pets and respond when called, most of their owners let them run free during the day. Tigre is in this category. He is free to do what he wants when Colo, his owner, not around, but he always comes home at night for his food and his bed. Colo pays for his vet bills and cleans him, and when she isn’t at work, he follows her around wherever she goes. There are not too many dogs in this category either. The vast majority of the dogs are the third category. They are neither completely street dogs nor pets. They are street dogs that have been semi-adopted by a person, or a group of people, or the whole village. The three-legged dog is one of these. She doesn’t belong to anyone and she sleeps in the street. But everyone loves her, gives her food, and based on the appearance of her stub, someone paid a vet to amputate her leg properly. The Rottweiler who likes to dance in Caña Grill does not belong to anyone either, but the staff at Caña Grill love him and take care of him and he is well fed. These can be picked out because you see them living wild in the streets eberyday, but they healthier looking, and sometimes are even wearing hemp or beaded necklaces that their human friends make or buy for them from the hippies selling handmade jewelry on the street.
The crazy thing is that I have become so accustom to the way the dogs are here that when an ex-pat friend of mine mentioned that he had neutered his dog, I felt terrible and scolded him. Not only are all there crazy dogs with balls everywhere, they’ve also gotten me to start feeling like maybe isn’t not so bad.
Original published December 12, 2011 on tumblr