The Island of Vieques is one big barnyard.
Paso fino horses, the mount of Conquistadores, roam roads and fields … chickens and roosters clutter both country lanes and city streets … residents keep goats, geese, parrots, cockatoos, peacocks and more.
And then there are the feral dogs.
Each Viequense family has at least one dog, most have several.
Martin Luther could have had Vieques in mind when he commented, “The dog would be much esteemed were it not so common.”
Puerto Ricans do not esteem dogs. In fact, they’ll tell you the dogs to whom they feed scraps aren’t theirs. The dogs are never allowed indoors … they aren’t neutered … they never visit a vet.
As a result, their average life span can be as brief as two years.
In Disney’s 1955 classic, Lady and the Tramp, the foot-loose and collar-free Tramp expounds on his lifestyle: “One family for every day of the week. The point is, none of them have me.
The Viequense word for the feral dogs is sato. Although they are mixed-breed, satos share a look – short in the leg, long in the body, big-eared and a bit bug-eyed.
If there are an estimated 9,000+ human residents on Vieques, the pooch population is two, three, four, five times that number. We’ll never get an accurate count because the population changes hourly.
Take Angel, for example, the Puerto Rican guy down the road from me. He started with a single male that had a lot of Labrador in his background. A female sato came around and stayed for the scraps – and the love. Within the past six months she and the Lab have spawned two litters – six new puppies in all.
North Americans who live here can’t get enough of the satos. Alex and Glen keep three, as does Dorothy. Beverly has a brace. Dottie has about 10 and Ingrid might have 20 at any given time.
North Americans adopt satos and treat them like their children – down to inviting them to sleep in their beds. There is only one part-time vet here, so it’s not uncommon for North Americans to fly with their dogs to the main island of Puerto Rico for veterinary care.
North Americans who own rescued satos say these dogs are intelligent and loyal beyond belief because they seem to comprehend that their new owners have taken them off the street.
Which testifies to Mark Twain’s claim that, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
Who’s to say what the dogs themselves think about it all? Disney took a crack at it:
Lady: It's morning.
Tramp: Yeah. So it is.
Lady: I should have been home hours ago.
Tramp: Why? Because you still believe in that “ faithful old dog" routine? Aw, come on, Pidge. Open your eyes.
Lady: Open my eyes?
Tramp: To what a dog's life can really be! I'll show you what I mean. Look down there. Tell me what you see.
Lady: Well, I see nice homes, with yards and fences ...
Tramp: Exactly. Life on a leash. Look again, Pige. Look, there's a great big hunk of world down there, with no fence around it. Where two dogs can find adventure and excitement. And beyond those distant hills, who knows what wonderful experiences? And it's all ours for the taking, Pige. It's all ours.
In my next blog: Tormenta!