I recently took a vacation and visited a place I have always wanted to go…Costa Rica. I rarely take my own dog-free vacations because, well, I enjoy the company of my dogs and if they can go with me I take them. But this was not a trip for them, this one was about me. Luckily, I had family and friends willing and able to care for my dogs while I was away.
As is normal, even when travelling without my dogs, I am drawn to, curious about and seem to attract dogs and cats to me. I found the dog culture in Costa Rica very interesting. Much to my delight, there were dogs everywhere we went! I first noticed them wandering at the side of the road while driving from the airport to the hotel the first night. They kept their distance from the cars and roadways. Even though they were clearly strays they seemed to have a group hanging out together under the trees at the side of the roads. I don’t know how these dogs survive on the streets but they have obviously figured out a way to find food and don’t have to worry about freezing cold weather.
There were dogs in restaurants and although it was never clear to me if they belonged to the owner, a staff member or a patron but they were all well-behaved, not begging or mooching, simply taking a wander every now and then under the tables at your feet licking up anything that might have been dropped. I did notice dogs that had owners, for the most part, were wearing a collar and even saw some dogs tied up outside houses or businesses; one was a very beautiful female pit bull who was pregnant and I assume she was tied up to ensure the delivery of her puppies went well when it was time. Dogs were allowed on the beach. Some of the dogs got together briefly and had a little game of chase with some play-bowing back and forth. Then they carried on their merry ways back to their owners who did not have to call them or leash them to break up the play party. The dogs were just content with a quick play or sniff and then moved on. I didn’t see any dogs fighting, pulling at the end of leashes, lifting their legs and marking anyone’s belongings lying on the beach, and only once I saw dog waste.
Unfortunately, I was not able to visit Territorio de Zaguatas, also known as Land of the Strays, as I had hoped. They have a visiting schedule that just did not jive with my travel plans. I had really hoped to learn about the system of catching and adopting out the dogs at their sanctuary as well as see their facility and learn more about their fundraising and donation process. I guess I will just have to go back to Costa Rica in the near future 🙂
Is it because they live in paradise that these dogs seem so happy and carefree and their owners trust them to make good decisions like not peeing on someone’s beach towel? Do we put too many expectations on our pets that makes them act out, needing all kinds of training devices, doggie Prozac and behaviour consults? Or are we the ones who are just not happy with our dogs being dogs that we project all these issues on them such as needing to have friends and learn how to socialize by forcing them to meet every dog in the neighbourhood, wear harnesses and head collars so they don’t pull us down the street and so on. We do have a tendency to put human emotions on our pets but I really don’t believe dogs or cats feel guilt, spite or jealousy. They are very smart animals but quite simple at the same time.
Yes, of course, in North America our way of life is very different and it would not be safe for dogs to roam freely and very few of them would be savvy enough to avoid a mishap with a vehicle. But what about just trusting them a little and letting them be dogs and figure things out…for example the tour guides on my trip had a newly adopted puppy they had brought back to Costa Rica from another country nearby. She was so happy with all the different people in our group and joined us on our 28 km hike up a mountain. Yes, I said it, she was with us every step of the way – off leash, running ahead with the group up front then darting back to check on the stragglers in the back. When we stopped to rest, take a drink and have a snack she immediately hunkered down, curled up in a ball and literally POWER napped. As soon as we were ready to go she jumped right up and off we went. Her owners never taught her but she figured out that a certain type of plant called a Bromeliad held water at its base, between the leaves and she would stick her head in there to get a drink – amazing that she figured that out on her own!
As for cats, I only saw 3 on the whole trip. Two were at restaurants maybe hanging around for a meal or as pest control for rodents? The other cat was at the office of one of the tour operators. Again, they were not a nuisance or a problem. I have heard that near some resorts stray cats and dogs are poisoned as a way of controlling nuisance strays.
I will admit I’m completely guilty of having high expectations of my dogs without giving them much freedom. I don’t leave them out in the yard alone unsupervised, if they wander out of sight I immediately call them and am always thinking for them “it’s too cold outside I should take them in” or “this walk is far enough, I didn’t bring enough water, I should take them back” without consulting them or allowing them to let me know when they’ve had enough. I do suppose in North America if we had a more lenient attitude and outlook when it comes to our pets as I witnessed in Costa Rica, I would probably not be working as a dog walker/pet sitter 🙂