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The beguiling dogs of Yelapa

dog lounging at a pharmacy
Customers never seemed to mind stepping over a dog to get into a shop.

The night before I left for Mexico, my 58-pound-dog climbed onto my lap and trembled because he had seen me packing my suitcase. It was almost as if he knew I was heading for a village full of adorable dogs that would compete with him for my affection.

During my week in the Mexican village of Yelapa, I was charmed by many things: the caring way neighbors greet one another, the local museum where artifcats are catalogued as “found in Mark’s yard,” or “by the high school.” But my heart was absolutely stolen by Yelapa’s dogs.

dog in doorway in Yelapa Mexico
Some dogs could be seen napping in the same spot every day.

The first canines greeted our boat upon arrival. A couple of black pug mixes marched officiously up and down the stone pier, seeming to say, “Papers please!” Then I met the blue-eyed husky (who I worried must suffer here in summers), and the solid looking lab mix that liked to sleep in a certain tienda’s doorway. The dogs came in many varities — shepherd mixes, poodle mixes, hound mixes, cattle dogs.

When I was walking back from Playa Isabel one morning, a small white poodle mix brushed my bare leg with its fleece. Thern there were a couple of pit bulls who our local trip leader, Brisa, told us did not like each other. Because Yelapa’s dogs roam the village freely, the owners avoided conflict between the two pitties using scheduling. One family kept theirs inside during the time of day when people greet each other with “buenas dias.” The other family kept theirs in during the “buenos tardes” hours.

Dog sitting in front of a basketball court
Cattle dog mix hanging out at the basketball court

None of the dogs appeared aggressive, toward other dogs or humans. On the other hand, few displayed overt friendliness either. They most often appeared to have their own agenda, trotting along the puebla’s concrete-and-river-rock paths at a good clip, as if on their way to canine appointments.

There were exceptions. If a dog noticed me admiring it, it would occasionally stop in its tracks and turn toward me hopefully. One even wagged at me. Obviously, that dog had scored a treat from a gringo before. Well behaved dogs that I know of in the US are usually quite focused on humans, because we train them with treats. Yelapan dogs’ behavior appeared to be much more self-motivated.

Yelapans I asked scoffed or shrugged when I asked how they trained their dogs.

They all told me some variation of: “They just know how to behave.” 

They learn from other dogs, Harry, the waiter at Santuario, told me.

I confessed that I am about to spend $1,500 USD for two weeks of training for my 4-year-old German shepherd.

“You could use that to rent a room here, and let the dogs here teach her,” he suggested.

I shuddered to think of the trouble my 70-pound GSD, with her out-of-control prey drive and dog reactivity, would stir up in this genteel canine community.

My other dog, the one who’d climbed onto my lap the night before I left, is well behaved, and I think he would love Yelapan life, roaming freely and hanging out with doggo buddies.

Only once did I see a dog in any kind of trouble that needed human assistance. While walking toward the Cascada de Yelapa outside of town, we came upon one little guy stuck in a hole in a wire fence. One of my companions gently pushed at the wire, enlarging the hole, until he was able to back out. One of us yelled to the homeowner that their dog had been stuck in the fence but was now freed.

“Not my dog!” the homeowner replied.

While most Yelapan dogs appeared indifferent to humans, La Gorda was the opposite. This chubby mongrel came galumphing through the jungle into our circle during one of our writing classes, and barked hoarsely, urgently, at each one of us in turn. She sounded so distressed that it broke up the class, and we looked to a staff member to see if they knew what might be the matter.

“She needs a hug,” he said, laughing. He bent toward the dog, who immediately flipped onto her back to display two rows of nipples and and ample gut. As soon as the belly rubs started, her barking stopped.

Her barks were hoarse, I realized, because she spends so much time crying out for belly rubs.

But my favorite of all Yelapa’s dogs was the fisherdog. We came upon this midsized terrier standing belly deep in the pool at the Cascada, the waterfall about 2 miles from town. It turned his head this way, then that, tracking the fish flitting below the surface, ears flicking at their underwater sounds, tail metronoming with concentration. Fisherdog looked coiled to spring into the water at any moment to catch a fish, but during the hour I spent swimming and lounging around the sandy pool, it never went in for the kill. When we put our sandals back on and left, fisherdog was still in position, looking just as focused as it had when we’d arrived.

I had so many questions. All the dogs in Yelapa have owners and are well cared for, we’d been told. Was fisherdog at the waterfall with its human? Or had it just decided to walk two miles to go fishing that day? Or maybe fishing at the waterfall was part of its everyday agenda?

wet dog on beach
I was tickled to spot the fishing dog from the waterfall on the beach, two miles away, on another day.

Two days later, I saw fisherdog on the beach two miles from where I had seen it last. Its fur was wet, probably from swimming through the lagoon adjacent to the beach. It was after 5:30 p.m., and it curled up on the sand. Tuckered out, I imagined, from hours of fruitless fishing. Charmed, I reached out to scratch its ears, but fisherdog got up and walked away. Time for its next appointment, I suppose.

If you’d like to contribute to the veterinary care for the animals of Yelapa, including spay and neuter clinics, check out the Yelapa Animal Project.