A Dog’s Life in Guatemala
by Susana Raymundo
The vast majority of families have at least one dog at home here. When they are small, like a stuffed animal that moves, humans are dying to touch them, to hold them, and pleased to satisfy their every need – almost always choosing the best snacks money can buy for them. The families’ homes are usually open, and so the dog comes and goes as he pleases, especially if they live in a rural community. When they are new to the house they are tied up in the yard to prevent them from escaping, but when they get bigger the way they are treated changes a bit. The dog has several functions within and outside the home.
Partner. A dog is a man’s companion when he goes to the countryside to work the land, collect firewood from the mountains, to care for animals like sheep, goats, cows or horses.
Friends. Dogs are faithful friends of humanity from birth to death – they don’t have any preference for gender, ethnicity, religion, social standing or political party. In short, they don’t complicate life.
Watchman, caretaker and guardian. The dog stays next to the woman as she weaves clothing for their children, her husband or to sell. When a stranger appears, he barks, sometimes bites, to defend his territories and possessions or to defend his master.
Messenger. When the farmer returns home from the field the dog goes ahead of him to tell his wife that her husband will soon arrive home. She then leaves the loom and puts on the atol (a hot drink made from oatmeal) to boil so that when the husband arrives home he has a hot drink awaiting him.
Clairvoyants. It is said that dogs can predict when a human neighbour or relative will die and will bark in a special way, especially at night, because they can see the death approaching.
Means of transport for the soul. It is said that when people die their souls travel the corners of the earth and when they come across a great river that they find too difficult to cross, the dog will help to transport them to the other side.
Free spirits. There are different reasons why a dog becomes a street dog. Some suffer from abuse at home. They also suffer as the family gets tired of them when they are not trained and are not taught the rules of the house so they are expelled by their owners onto the streets. However, Guatemalans say that they enjoy their freedom and roaming the streets at will.