Written by Rebecca MacDonald for the Baja Citizen, December 17, 2017. Still relevant.
Spend any time at all in Baja and you see them: trotting alongside the highway, roaming the streets of Baja’s cities and towns, even waiting patiently for a traffic light to change before crossing a busy intersection. They are the street dogs of Mexico, what locals refer to as “Baja dogs.”
Of course, the first thing to understand about these dogs is that “Not all who wander are lost.” Many of these “street” dogs actually belong to someone, but are allowed to roam free. A well-meaning visitor who scoops a dog up without trying to find its owner could be “rescuing” that dog from its familiar home. Understanding the culture and how animals live in this society is a key component in helping Baja dogs.
That said, we have all seen far too many dogs that are obviously abandoned, starved and barely surviving on their own. Some are injured or sick. Many are pregnant females, or nursing mothers trying to teach their young puppies the ways of the street, if they should be lucky enough to survive.
Maui was one such dog. A tiny dachshund mix puppy who was born with deformed front legs, Maui was found on a downtown street in La Paz, along with his mother and siblings, struggling to survive by lapping up some water from a mud puddle. Molly, a wire-haired terrier mix, was found trying valiantly to keep her four young puppies, and herself, alive in the summer desert heat. Many, such as Doroteo, a goofy, friendly black lab mix, are left to fend for themselves when their owners can no longer afford to care for them.
While it may be obvious that these dogs need help, many of us simply don’t know what to do. Others assume that if they “save” a dog from the street, they can bring it to a local shelter.
“One of the biggest misconceptions we deal with is that there is some magic place for these dogs to go where someone will take care of them,” says Charlene Angelo, a volunteer at Baja Dogs La Paz, Inc., a U.S. based non-profit charity with a network of dedicated volunteers and foster families here in Baja, and throughout the U.S. and Canada. “The hard truth is that there is no magic place. There are very few shelters, and the moment someone does open a shelter here, it’s full.”
However, Angelo says, there is good news. “If you are willing to foster the dog temporarily in your home, or can find someone who is willing to foster it, that’s where we can really step in to help get it adopted.”
“When my husband and I bought our La Paz home, we did what we could for many of the street dogs. We always carried a huge bag of food in our back seat to share with any dog that looked hungry,” says Michelle Gaylord, who founded Baja Dogs La Paz (BDLP) back in 2008. “We donated money to our vet to use to spay female dogs, and to help those that were injured or sick, but most were then returned to the streets. We started Baja Dogs La Paz to help these dogs find forever homes.”
The organization operates on a 100% foster model, meaning all dogs are rescued by local individuals, called “rescatistas,” who live or have vacation homes in and around La Paz. Many are local Mexican families who take in multiple dogs to foster. Baja Dogs La Paz then works tirelessly with the foster to find the dogs their perfect “forever” homes, some here in southern Baja, others in the U.S. or in Canada.
The foster model is working. Since January of this year alone, over 150 dogs have been adopted through BDLP’s efforts, including Maui, the puppy who was born without the use of his front legs. He was recently adopted by a family in Seattle, Washington, and now happily wheels himself around in his shiny new cart, playing and snuggling with the family’s other dogs, also adopted from La Paz.
“We have learned that the foster model works so much better, because the dogs are living in homes where they are socialized and loved,” says Linda DiMeglio, a volunteer with Baja Dogs La Paz. “In a home, the dogs are able to learn the things they need to learn to become more adoptable, like how to walk on a leash, play with other dogs, and behave around people.”
For those who are able to foster, BDLP has intake forms on its web site (available in both English and Spanish), that the foster can fill out to list a dog for adoption. It’s important to note that the organization does not have “foster volunteers” waiting to take in dogs. You must either be willing to foster the dog yourself or find a foster home in order to list it for adoption.
Baja Dogs then engages with the foster and helps with vaccinations and food. Dogs that are being fostered, and have been sterilized and vaccinated, are evaluated and photographed by a volunteer, and listed on the Baja Dogs web site (www.bajadogslapaz.org/adoptions) for adoption. Interested adopters can view a dog’s profile on the web site, complete with pictures and video. When an interested adopter fills out an application, a volunteer matches them with a dog that fits their needs, while another interviews the family and makes sure the home is suitable for the dog.
Baja Dogs La Paz then reaches out to find volunteers who are traveling north and can act as “pet escorts” to take the dog to its new home city. Volunteers meet these pet escorts at the airport with the dog to help with check-in and getting the dog boarded for flight, at no cost to the pet escorts. More volunteers, and/or the adopting family, then meet the dog and pet escort at the destination airport to receive the dog.
Of course, every now and then, the organization experiences what is affectionately called a “foster fail.” One volunteer recently decided to foster Tess, a female terrier mix found on a local beach with a litter of puppies. With three dogs of her own, the volunteer worked the phones to find a good home for Tess. In the meantime, Tess wriggled her way into her foster pack and into the volunteer’s heart. “She fits so well into our pack, and she’s such a sweetheart, we just decided to keep her!” her foster announced on Facebook. Becoming a foster fail is one of the risks of getting involved, but as one local rescatista says, “Los perros de Baja son los mejores. No cambiaría nada. (Baja dogs are the best. I wouldn’t change a thing!)”
Rebecca MacDonald is a volunteer for Baja Dogs La Paz and has a home in La Paz, BCS.
Want to get involved? Here are a few ways you can help:
- Foster a dog: If you decide to rescue a dog, make sure you have a plan. Are you able to foster the dog temporarily until it gets adopted, or know someone who can? Baja Dogs La Paz averages 63 days to adopt. If you can’t foster the dog yourself, use social media and your network to find someone who can.
- Volunteer as a Pet Escort: If you are traveling north to the U.S. or Canada, you can volunteer to bring a dog to its adopters up north. Baja Dogs La Paz will handle all the arrangements to get the dog on your flight, at no cost to you.
- Donate: Baja Dogs La Paz is an all volunteer organization. 100% of donations go to help rescued dogs, and your donation is tax deductible.
- Volunteer at Home: BDLP has volunteers in the U.S. and Canada who help find homes, interview potential adopters, and do home checks in their home cities.
- Spread the word: You never know when someone in your network might want to adopt!
Rebecca MacDonald is an impassioned volunteer with Baja Dogs La Paz, Inc. She currently makes her home part time in La Paz.