My neighborhood in New York City is very dog-friendly. Within a few blocks of my apartment, there are 2 pet supply shops, 1 groomer and 1 veterinary clinic. There are 3 dog parks within walking distance and leashed dogs walking along the sidewalks all day long. The dogs themselves are groomed and fed, wear personalized collars and are loved.
And all of it — from the shopping convenience to the unparalleled care these pets receive — is completely foreign from my experiences with dogs in an underdeveloped country.
After 2 years of interacting with the pups on the island nation of Grenada, I brought home 4 lessons about our relationships with dogs.
1. Don’t Take for Granted What You Can Offer
Dogs have certain basic needs that should be met: shelter, food and water.
In fact, the law states that you must provide your pets with at least those necessities. In our society, you’re also expected to provide:
- Regular medical attention
Dogs in an underdeveloped country, however, are fortunate if they get the first 3 items on the list. Many Grenadian dogs are tied to a stake 20 feet from their home from the moment they’re big enough to wear a collar until they die in that same collar.
Most dogs are not pets in Grenada; they are security. They’re fed what food is available or scavenge for rodents and garbage. They aren’t loved, and they aren’t valued.
Seeing the state of the dogs in Grenada, I became immediately aware of how fortunate our pets are and how wonderful their lives are. And being able to provide my dogs with that level of happiness is something I’ll never again take for granted.
2. Animal Control Saves Lives
There have been problems with roaming packs of stray dogs in the United States. But most major cities have animal control officers that capture stray dogs. Thousands of animal shelters across the country take the strays and try to reunite them with their humans or adopt them out to new families.
Animal control is a luxury (yes, I said luxury) that we don’t realize until it’s gone.
On the island I began carrying bags of homemade dog treats to feed all the strays I found. Seeing their bony frames and sad little wagging tails made me realize how important it is for an entire society to take the responsibility of caring for these creatures.
3. Compassion Is a Gift
On a group trip in Grenada, I came across one of the skinniest dogs I’ve ever seen. Her fur was patchy from mange. She had fleas and probably worms. The worst part was that she was obviously nursing puppies somewhere. She’d come to our group to beg for food.
We gave her our lunches — sandwiches, crackers and granola bars. But we couldn’t take her and her litter with us, and there was no one to save her. The sad reality is that she probably starved to death, like so many other stray dogs on the island.
You want to help, but there’s so little you can do.
I realized after coming across a few dogs in her situation that even the smallest act — giving her our food, for example — was an act of compassion that she clearly rarely received.
A ham sandwich and fistful of cheese crackers weren’t going to make the difference between life and death for her that day, but I hope our compassion was contagious and that others are filling in where we left off.
4. Dogs Are Masters of Unconditional Love
Even that bony girl, barely alive enough to beg for food, was sweet and gentle. However much abuse she’d received, if someone had opened her home to her, I know she would have been the perfect family pet.
I met dogs who had been burned with hot oil or attacked with a machete yet were still willing to cuddle and trust me.
That’s the greatest lesson that I learned. Dogs will love unconditionally, forever. It’s easy to forget how devoted they can be when they have such pampered lives in our homes. But even the starving, desperate stray dogs of a Caribbean island are willing to love, no matter what.