Pets and Vets in Yucatan
Editor's Note: It has been awhile since we wrote this article, so we updated it with newer information. We hope that those of you who are new to the Yucatan and who have pets will find this helpful. If there is anything you need to know, please ask us in the Comment section.
Pets Are Inevitable in the Yucatan
Inevitably, as an expatriate living in the Yucatan, you will probably own a pet or rescue one. There are few of us who are able to live here without adopting a homeless dog or cat, and many of us bring our furry friends when we make the big move to Mexico.
The Working Gringos have two sets of furry dopplegangers, so we speak from experience. We brought our cats, Penguin and Byrd, with us from California. It was surprisingly easy to import them to Mexico. The vet in California knew the correct form to fill out. We took them on the plane in cat carriers and presented the form in Cancun when we arrived. It took the bureaucratic wheels about 45 minutes to spin out a permission and voilá! we had Mexican cats. Much easier than importing a car...
We were soon to learn that our homegrown cats are about twice the size of a typical Yucatecan cat. Cats here don't generally eat as well as ours have all their lives, and we think their DNA makes for a smaller cat as well. Our office (a small colonial building in the centro historico) had roof access, so we were adopted by about ten neighborhood cats who realized that if they came around and looked hungry, we might feed them. Soon we found ourselves arranging for them to be fed when we went away, and discovered that their numbers began to grow. One black cat in particular that we call Sbu, (for short, black and unattractive), brought us her two kittens one day. We found homes for the kittens, had Sbu sterilized, and she was a permanent fixture in our office back yard for years afterward. She earned her position through tenacity and because she was an affectionate animal. The other dozen or more cats were demanding and typically unaffectionate... in other words, feral. When our two dogs arrived in our lives, we were not unhappy to see that the majority of neighborhood cats no longer seemed interested in hanging around.
Dogs of course, are a different experience altogether. Both of our dogs, URL and Mali, are street dogs. That is, we found them on the street. URL was a dying puppy laying by the side of the highway outside of Taxco in the state of Guerrero. That's him at the beginning of this article, two days after we found him. Mali was a six-month old lost soul wandering in Santa Ana Park here in Merida.
We Love Our Malixes
The Mayan word for dogs of uncertain breed is malix (ma-LEESH), and that's what the locals call our dogs. But we suspect there's a bit of cultural bias in their appraisal. Our dogs are (mostly) the coated (hairy) version of the Mexican hairless dog, called Xoloitzcuintle (show-low-eets-KWINT-lee), depicted in pre-Hispanic art as the "dancing dog". These dogs are thought to be the oldest breed of dog in the Americas. While the hairless variety are carefully bred for show, the coated variety are commonly associated with Native Americans, hence the cultural bias. A lot of Mexicans prefer razas finas (breeds) and we have often found ourselves suggesting to a local Meridano that they considering adopting a dog instead of buying one. Finally, this idea seems to be getting some traction in the Yucatan. Still, most Yucatecans look down on street dogs... and when we walk our dogs, they ask us, "Que raza es?" (What breed are they?). We gently reply that these are their much-maligned street dogs (perros de la calle or callejeros) and that when you love and feed them, they look like this!
The Xoloitzcuintle does seem somehow ancient. The coated variety does not have fur, but they have very short hair like a deer or horse. They have almond-shaped eyes ringed with black "eye-liner", traces of a mane around their unusually long necks, bat-like ears and rubbery skin exposed on their bellies. We consider them the essence of dogness and they are probably the most wonderful dogs we have ever known: gentle, sweet-natured and incredibly hardy. They don't shed much and they don't smell, but they can wolf down an entire chicken from Pollo Brujo - bones and all - without taking a breath.
Caring for Pets in the Tropics
Caring for pets in the tropics can be a bit different than up north in more temperate climates. The most common ailment for dogs and cats here are problems with skin and ears due to the heat and humidity. Allergies are also an issue, again because of the humidity and also the polvo (dust) that's kicked up in building and renovation. Even if you aren't renovating, a neighbor a few houses away can kick up enough dust to cause a problem for your pets. The youngest of our cats developed a terrible allergy after being here for two years, which manifested as heart-wrenching coughs and sneezing. The vet eventually put Byrd on a monthly schedule of shots (delivered at home) which kept the nasty allergy at bay.
Pulgas (fleas), garrapatas (ticks) and parásitos (parasites) are also more of a problem here. A monthly regimen of Frontline or the equivalent treatment seems to keep our dogs flea and tick free. Our cats don't get out of the house much, so they don't have those problems.
Another thing that a pet owner needs to be more aware of here is the heat. There are months and months of the year when we just can't bring our dogs anywhere in the car if we have to leave them for more than a couple of minutes. The heat is just too great, even with the windows rolled down. They are better off at home where at least they have a cool tile floor to lie on. And for those same months, we get up at 5 in the morning to walk them, because walking them any later in the day would be punishing to both dog and human.
Pet food is easier to come by than it used to be, but there are not as many varieties available as you might be used to. For months, we shopped at one particular store because it was the only one that carried the cat food that our cats would eat. In the States, a can of salmon Friskies was easy to find... but not so here in Merida for many years. Dog food that is easily available is sometimes not nutritious enough for a dog with certain ailments. Specialty dog and cat food is only available at a few pet stores and through your vet. There are a few good pet stores now (every major shopping mall has one) and the ability to buy supplies is getting easier all the time. But you can't just drive to your local store and find your favorite organic brand of dog or cat food, and the range of toys, clothes and pet accessories is more limited.
Vets in Yucatan
One of the most important people a pet owner needs to know, as you can imagine, is a veterinarian. There are many veterinarians here in Mexico and we've put a short list of our favorites at the bottom of this article. Apparently, it isn't as difficult to get into veterinary school in Mexico as it is in the States. That means there are more vets, but their skills and experience vary. If your pet is a member of the family (like ours is), it is important to find a vet that you and your pet can trust. We have found some wonderful vets and can vouch for the care they have given our animals. One of the things we LOVE about vets here is that house calls are a common practice. So the cat gets her allergy shot at home. And when our dog, URL, had his backside visited by a tourist bus, our vet was at our house within an hour to care for him - on a Sunday!
Vets provide the grooming services that are often a separate business in the States, and they often have a small shop set up in their office selling collars, leashes, medicine and food. Your vet can put you in touch with a trainer for your puppy, should you be so inclined. Vets will also occasionally board your pet, but don't expect five-star accommodations. Medically, pet care is the same here as anywhere else in the world, but boarding services are more basic. Fido just needs a place to sleep that is safe and dry, a good meal and ample water. Air conditioning, play time and a down pillow are out of the question. The best place in Merida to board a pet that we know of is Perro Paraiso, on the highway from Merida to Progreso.
We have found a few good vets who speak English and some who don't, because what matters more to us is how well they communicate with and care for our animals. We certainly welcome your recommendations to add to our list. Feel free to send us your vet's name and number if you have found one you like.
Sadly, there are far too many dogs and cats in Mexico in relation to the number of people with the resources to be able to care for them adequately. Anyone who has traveled in Mexico has seen street dogs that look too neglected to be happy or healthy. The Yucatan presents an even more difficult situation for an animal living on the street, because the heat is punishing and water is often hard to find.
If you see a dog or cat in need of rescuing, what should you do? First of all, be careful. Some animals are feral and may be dangerous if you approach. If you have determined that the dog or cat is friendly, and you want to help, the first thing is to take the animal to a vet to be evaluated and vaccinated. If you choose not to be that involved, we know of two places that rescue and care for stray pets in Merida and they are listed below. (We have also listed similar shelters on the Mayan Riviera.) If you want to adopt a pet, we encourage you to visit these shelters and adopt an animal from them. They will have given the animal the required vaccinations and sterilization. In our experience, the shelters are full of friendly, healthy animals deserving good homes.
Some Meridanos let their pets roam the streets freely... especially on Sundays, because there are fewer cars in the city then. This is not something we would recommend. But this means if you find a dog on the street, it isn't necessarily without a home. As a pet owner, you should know that the city of Merida (and most other big towns in Yucatan) do their best to keep the stray pet population to a minimum. In Merida, this involves rounding up stray dogs and routinely euthanizing them. A dog wandering the streets without a collar is liable to be picked up, taken out to the Perrera (dog pound) on the Periferico and destroyed if it hasn't been claimed in a week. So always keep a collar on your pet, just in case he or she gets out of the house and finds itself on the street.
If You Lose Your Pet
If your pet does get out and is lost, try not to panic. We have heard stories of many pets that have escaped for one reason or another and been found a few hours or even days later. One of our cats decided to explore after we moved into a new house in San Sebastian. We were heartbroken because she was gone for days. But on the night of the third day, she came strolling back in, hungry and tired, and she never left again. We suppose she figured out it was nicer at home. Dogs have often gone missing too, and most of the time, they are found within a day or two. We have found that the best results come from putting posters up around the neighborhood where they were lost. Usually, some kind family has taken them off the street and once they see the poster, they contact the owner. Certainly, it also does not hurt to let your expatriate friends know when your dog or cat has gone missing by announcing it on Facebook as well.
The Love You Make...
If you rescue a stray dog or cat and give them a loving home, we can't say there won't be times when you'll wonder what you were thinking. When Mali chews a hole through a precious article of clothing or URL tracks mud through the house, we are not pleased. But precisely at these times, they turn on their charms and look up at us with their big, brown eyes and wry smiles to remind us that, while they may occasionally be burdens, they are also our teachers. They teach us that playing, walking, resting, eating and simply being can be their own rewards. Through our pets, we learn unconditional love of life and our complicated human hearts are softened. Honestly, we cannot imagine living without them.
Pets and Company
Location: Calle 17 #222, Depto 2 x 20-C
Colonia Jardines del Norte near the Periferico
Sandra (for cats and dogs) and Jose (for horses)
Jose speaks English
Pets and Company carries Science Diet and Royal Canin food
Location: Calle 10 #344 x 3 y 3C
Colonia Gonzálo, near CostCo
Nelson and Tony (both speak English)
Dra. Beatrice Carajal Garcia
Location: Calle 29 # 98B between 66 & 68, Progreso
If you see an animal that needs rescuing badly or if you want to adopt a rescued animal in the Merida/Progreso area, please contact either of these two organizations:
AFAD (Albergue Franciscano del Animal Desprotegido)
Director: Lidia Saleh (she speaks some English)
Location: Just off the Periferico on the road to Cholul, on the left hand side.
About AFAD: Lidia and a very tiny staff work very hard to provide the dogs (mostly) and cats (some) that they rescue with the best care. They are always in need of donations in money, food, medicine, blankets, towels, leashes, toys... you name it.
This International association has a spay and neuter clinic in Cancun. They also help ship adopted animals to the USA and Canada.
The place of last resort if you've lost your dog.
Location: Periferico at 34.5 KM Poniente