The City and the Dogs

January 11th, 2014, 1pm

There are, walking and lying around in the streets of Lima, particularly in Barranco, a good number of stray dogs (unlike the stray cats, who lounge about in Parque Kennedy in the central square in Miraflores, all twenty-seven of them).

“Why are there so many stray dogs here?” I ask my friend.

“I thought they were all strays too,” she says. “But once I saw a door open and a dog go in. I think people just let them out during the day.”

Stray’s not right, anyway. These aren’t the defeated, mangy, starving, anxious animals that come to mind when I hear the word “stray.” They’re athletic dogs, lean but not frail. They get a lot of cardio. Some medium- but mostly short-haired coats, which stay decently clean and thus give the impression of domesticity. Also helps that being in a desert, Lima gets no rain, and hence, no mud. They’re not shy either, these dogs. They’re used to the humans and the humans are used to them. They walk among bipeds and stop at intersections and wait until it’s safe to cross. The one proper mutt I saw had a flowing golden mane and carried his chest high as if trotting at a dog show. No, “stray” is the wrong word. It’s more like: independent.

Take the fellow in the picture, for instance. Was ambling about twenty meters in front of me along the ocean. I followed him up the staircase and across the pedestrian walkway that stretches over the Costa Verde highway and leads up the side of the ridge where all the buildings are. Up another staircase to the plaza in Parque Barranco, where my canine friend stopped in the gazebo shade and had himself a siesta. I saw him again, the next evening, asleep in the same spot and kicking and chasing something in his dreams and finally catching it (the “it” being his own ass), unfazed by the pair of musicians playing guitar and upright bass next to him for the crowd.

Another dog, a few blocks up Grau. First time I saw him he was sleeping in the shade under the front end of a car. Second and third times it was on a flattened cardboard box that matched the brown of his fur, so it looked like someone had cut a dogshape out the cardboard then set the cutout back in its template.

They’re all amicable, these big, stray dogs. It occurs to me after the first couple days here that big and amicable might be the just right qualifications for the position of a stray dog in Lima—the aggressive get put down and the small can’t hold their ground to car traffic or human feet, or get scooped up by the vultures that perch ominously at sunset on the half-crumbling church in Barranco’s central square.

A third dog, a brown-gray pointer. He walks up a busy sidewalk near Larcomar and paces back and forth at an intersection, waiting to cross with everyone else. I see him stop at a fruit cart and the vendor sitting nearby gives him a piece of fruit. Aha! The owner! Or so I think. A few minutes later the same dog passes me going up the same sidewalk, stops and sits as though commanded in front of a woman in an expensive blouse who is talking on her phone near the valet entrance of a Marriott. She pays no heed to him, so after fifteen seconds, without whining or crying, he moves on, roaming from place to place in search of another bite, dependent on but not expecting the generosity of a few familiar faces and the occasional stranger and, when he is full and satiate, lying in the shade and dreaming chases under the warm desert sun.

David Wade, Cassie and Rian said thanks.

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Jack Cheng

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