Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
By Jose Luis Gonzalez
As a photojournalist living and working in Ciudad Juarez I’m used to seeing dead people being picked up off the streets.
The last few years have been brutal, with violence and shoot-outs every day and dead people everywhere. But it is much calmer now and corpses lying in puddles of blood are not as common a sight as they used to be. Nevertheless, some weeks ago I drove through a neighborhood and saw a couple of men dressed in hooded, white coveralls picking up another kind of corpse: a dead dog. They threw it into a container pulled by a truck and when they took off I started to follow them.
They stopped every so often, picking up another dead dog from the streets and throwing it into the container. They were collecting a lot of dead animals and when I approached the truck, I could see that there was a whole pile of them.
Maybe we have become so used to seeing death around us that we have become desensitized to the enormous number of dogs that die daily in the city. Local authorities believe that up to 100,000 stray dogs roam the streets of Ciudad Juarez. Recently, local workers have been picking up the remains of between 40-60 every day, with 4,970 dead dogs retrieved in 2012, according to the city’s head of clean-up efforts. Authorities believe the dogs died of starvation, extreme temperatures, from being hit by vehicles, or simply expired next to their owners former homes.
I decided to follow the “levanta perros” (“dog picker-uppers”) as the municipal workers who collect dead dogs are commonly called. I went to one of the low-income neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city where hundreds of empty houses stand abandoned by some of the estimated 200,000 residents who fled the city at the height of drug-related violence in 2010 and 2011. I saw so many dogs with terrible signs of malnutrition wandering around or lying outside empty, vandalized homes. They seemed to be waiting in vain for their former masters to come back.