The crime of dog kidnapping
Mexico City, Mexico
By Edgard Garrido
A woman approached me while I was taking pictures of a leaflet with information on a purebred dog that had gone missing in Parque Mexico. She was on a bike and she had a dog with her whose head easily reached my belly. She asked me if I was doing a story and she introduced herself as Mariam Luzcan “a protector of dogs and a true dog lover”. She was dressed in black and covered with what I suppose was dog hair and lots of dirt, she smelled like dog too. But I liked her so we agreed to meet again in a couple of days and do a story together on missing dogs.
In Mexico City, dog kidnapping has become another way of making an illegal, but quick, buck. It is becoming more common as many of the capital dwellers own lots of dogs. And I mean lots – not one or two, but four or even six or seven pooches at a time. Of course there is a wide range of businesses dedicated to the well-being of man’s best friend. There are dog hairdressers, dog clothing lines, specialty food stores, dog hotels, companies that arrange adoptions for “orphaned” dogs, security for dogs, massages for dogs, crematoriums for dogs, you name it.
In a country where half of the population lives in poverty and where drug violence has killed more than 70,000 people so far, I find this overwhelming love towards an animal which I have never been able to relate to, a bit disturbing.
Mariam told me that at some point in her life she decided not to have children but instead dedicated herself to the strays she picks up from the streets. When I visited Mariam at her house, I understood perfectly what she meant: the moment I entered the house, 42 dogs of all sizes raced towards me and started jumping on me while barking all at the same time and generously drooling over my face.
I have to admit, I’m afraid of dogs. It’s the only thing I’m really afraid of. All my friends and family members know this, as I’ve been terrified of dogs since I was young. I was petrified when Mariam left me alone with them while she went to fetch some water from the kitchen. The 42 dogs were playing around me, barking, covering me with slobber and in general behaving like I had become their best pal. One even put his paws on my chest to lick my face, completely ignoring my state of horror. When I caught sight of the beautiful painting of a tree on the wall opposite me, I started to regain some serenity but I kept on asking myself what I was doing there?
Mariam told me that one day she got a call: they had Doggie. She was summoned to the metro station Tacubaya where a gang of dog robbers operate openly. When she arrived they demanded 2000 pesos mexicanos (some $160) in exchange for the dachshund. The same Doggie has been stolen three more times. Mariam said she must have paid a total of 10,000 pesos (some $800).
“Wouldn’t you do the same thing for a son? But this is a crime without punishment; the police don’t get involved when humans get kidnapped, much less when it is a dog.”
When I went to the park to photograph dogs, I realized it was a much bigger problem than I originally thought. Every time I tried to photograph one, within seconds I was asked by their owners why I was taking pictures of their dogs. I could feel the worry and fear in those people.
According to an animal care and control organization, robbery and kidnappings of breed dogs have quadrupled during the last few years in Mexico. Criminal gangs which operate mostly in public parks threaten owners with guns or use dogs on heat to lure their pets and kidnap them. A vet told me that ransoms for these breed dogs can go up to an estimate of seven-fold the value of the pet. If the owner doesn’t agree to pay or negotiate a ransom, the dog might be sold, abandoned or even sacrificed.
Some companies are already offering a microchip with the information of the owner and the dog, which is then implanted into the dog. But they’re not satellite tracked chips and only vets who have a special scanner to detect and read the chip can effectively identify the dog and its owner. A database of the encrypted information is shared among all the vet clinics who have implemented this service.
A Canine Advocacy Program suggested having the pet spayed or neutered as prevention and implemented with the chip. Dog robbers lose interest in the animal as it can no longer reproduce and thus generates less money.
It’s been a while since Mariam has taken her 42 dogs out so they can roam the Parque Mexico. She now takes them in her battered Volkswagen van to a desolate forest on the outskirts of Mexico City. But even there one of her dogs was stolen. “There were a couple of lovers behind some bushes, I was walking with my dogs and it never occurred to me that they could be thieves. Suddenly they were standing in front of me and threatening me with a gun to take my dog.” Days later she was called by the same gang operating at the Tacubaya station.
Despite my better judgment I decided to board the van with Mariam and her 42 dogs. Mariam and an assistant loaded the dogs in groups of 10, but despite their intention of organizing the unruly crowd, the dogs escaped through the house door the moment it was opened. Some jumped into the car, others jumped out, it was a total commotion. Mariam’s assistant checked the numbers of dogs like a flight attendant checks passengers and after what seemed to be an eternity, all the dogs were inside the van. The dogs were restless with anticipation as they already knew that they would be running around in the open shortly. They were barking, squealing, biting and crushing each other. There were dogs on the seats, under the seats, near the pedals, on the steering wheel and on the dashboard.
“You will have to sit in the back with the dogs,” Mariam told me. I climbed into the back, thinking that this was some sort of therapy I had to undergo.
When I settled into a seat, some of the dogs immediately stuck their noses against the camera lens, while another one persisted in kissing me. The smell was foul and one of the dogs peed on my backpack. I was quickly covered in hairs, and people passing in cars watched this unique and unusual scene in amazement. We stayed in the forest for around an hour. After that it was easy to get them into the van. The dogs were exhausted from running.
This time I sat in the front with the smallest ones, I counted 14 dogs lying and sitting on my shoulders, lap and feet. The usual one was trying to kiss me and the rest were sound asleep. I looked at Mariam and I was impressed by her energy and suddenly I remembered the recording on her answering machine “Hi, this is the canine kingdom, this moment we are on our four paws, but if you want to leave your mark, we will sniff you out later, woof, woof, woof….”