Part of the Village

The trip to Costa Rica was an organized tour through a company called EF (Education First). They bill themselves as “helping students and teachers with International Travel”. My friend Joan Stone is the Spanish Teacher at Lewistown High School and every other year she takes Spanish students on a trip. She invited me along because she knew I would really enjoy the ecological diversity of Costa Rica. One of my roles on this trip was that of “friend”.

EF offers packaged trips and they lump all of the individual groups from various places in the country together thereby making it possible for small groups such as the 6 of us from Lewistown, and the 3 from Alabama to all have the same complete experience as that of a larger group. Our tour group (of 50 people) ended up with students, teachers, parents (and me) from 5 different schools and 3 different states. We had an assigned tour guide and an assigned bus driver. One of the schools we were traveling with was from State College, PA- which is only ½ hour from Lewistown. That group did a daily blog of the trip click on that link to go see more about the adventures of the trip (from a non-dog perspective).

During the first days of the trip when all of the people were getting to know each other, people would ask me, “are you a teacher?”- when I would reply, “no”- they would say, “oh, you are a parent.”- to which I would say, “no- I am part of the village, and I hope I am not the village idiot.” Of course this led to additional conversation. Personally, I do subscribe to “it takes a village to raise a child” and my secondary role on this trip was that of “non-parent, non-teacher adult”. The role of this person in a society is varied and wide, but on this trip it was one in which the authority is not defined, therefore is considered “safe”, and yet, as an adult, is still respected and opinions and permissions are sought. As an adult, there is a small amount of “authority”- and thankfully, our society has not changed so much that even in 2010, this is still true to some degree. My secondary role on this trip was that of “watchful adult”.

In Costa Rica dogs are also still part of the village. A preface:
When I was growing up we had “neighborhood dogs”. These were dogs that belonged to families in our neighborhood, but who were not fenced in or tied up. Two of them stick out in my mind. Pepper, a pure-bred German Shepherd and Zack, a large mix-breed. These two lived across the street from one another and were best friends. They were very friendly, both with people and with other dogs. They would frequently be at the bus stop, or show up while we kids were outside playing (and in those days kids actually had “unscheduled play” where our parents would say, “go outside and play”- and we did). I always gravitated to the dogs of our neighborhood. I would call them over to come play. I would greet them on the street. Kids, dogs-all enjoying the “community” of a neighborhood and a town; for me, those were the “good ol’ days” and something that I genuinely miss today. In keeping with my post titled, “Part of the Village”- I think that dogs and other animals have a lot to teach people. I think that it is very important to have a variety of species as “Part of the village”.

Today, in American Societies, loose dogs are seen as “dangerous”- and people make the assumption that they are “strays” and immediately call the “dog catcher”. Dogs are no longer part of our communities and one of the consequences is that dogs are not properly socialized- to people or other dogs. It is a vicious cycle- dogs are not allowed to be part of the “community” because they might be dangerous, so they are not socialized and learn appropriate behavior, so they respond inappropriately, and are labeled “dangerous”.

Dogs are social creatures. The biggest difference between “domestic” dogs and “wild dogs” (I don’t really mean Feral dogs- I do mean the genus Canis ) is that the social circle of the domestic dog is significantly wider and allows for other species (ie. Humans and often cats).

“Wild dogs” live in packs – a social group that has an established “territory” within which other packs are not welcome! During the “good ol’ days, when dogs were loose in the neighborhood, they didn’t exhibit the strong “territorial behavior” and their social circle was wide and deep. Of course there were exceptions- not every dog was as rosy as I portray, but those dogs were considered “anti-social” and everyone in the neighborhood knew who they were and gave them a wide birth. This included the “social” dogs of the neighborhood who also gave the “anti-social” dogs space.
The behavior of a fenced or tied dog is radically different than that of a loose dog. It was true then, and it is true now. I truly miss dogs in our Society at large and feel that people’s lives and tolerances’ have narrowed as a result of the systematic removal of dogs from the community. I was pleased to find it again on my trip to Costa Rica- but also VERY interested in the view of the teenagers with whom I was traveling.

In Costa Rica dogs also still part of the village.
I love dogs. I think that is obvious, but on my trip to Costa Rica I was reminded of how much American Society has changed when it comes to attitudes towards dogs, and community,-and in my opinion- for the worse. In every town we went to in Costa Rica, there were loose dogs. I wish I had begun photographing them when we were in La Fortuna. La Fortuna is a very pretty town with a large center square. This square is a park like place (may actually even be a park). There were gardens, and benches, and a bandstand. It was in the center of town with the business on the edges facing this town square.

Our tour guide told us this was a “safe town” and that our teenage students could be allowed to explore without adult supervision. All of the adults agreed that the kids needed to stay in groups of 4 or more. During our explorations, Joan and I bumped into students from our bus on many occasions as the town was a fairly small one.

I was pleased to find lots of dogs. They seemed to be allowed everywhere, and the locals didn’t even seem to notice them. I, of course, had to stop to say Hi to all the dogs I could. They would sniff my pants and then follow me. One dog stayed with me for about ½ hour- including following me in a grocery store- no one stopped him- or even seemed to care- except for the other Americans. Two the teachers who were out exploring with me and Joan seemed concerned. They worried aloud that the dog was a stray and was hungry. I thought he was in good weight and seemed healthy. I just thought he was “part of the village”. It turned out I was right. The 4 of us Americans went into another store, dog in tow, and as one of the teachers was wondering about this dog aloud, a person said, “that is my dog”.

In La Fortuna I saw a man standing outside a building with a miniature pincher and a crate with 4 small puppies. I can’t help it- I went over to talk with him. It turned out he was waiting to see a vet. I asked if I could see his puppies and he said yes. They were 23 days old. I picked each up and coo'ed over them. He was very pleased with his puppies. He told me about the mother and the father. These puppies were fat with nice sleek coats, and the mother was calm and in good condition. I enjoyed the interaction and it is one of my happy memories of the trip.

We visited a school outside of Monteverde. The school was grades K-5th grade and only had 26 students. There were also 4 dogs. When we arrived the kids were getting ready for our visit- 10 of the students were preparing for the traditional dance they were going to perform for us, and the other kids were playing on a swing and a jungle gym. The dogs were just snoozing. When we got off of the bus, and took our seats to watch the dance, only one of the dogs came to greet us- the others could have cared less that we were there. Dogs at school- just part of society.

Modern American Attitudes towards Dogs in Society
I began photographing the dogs in Monteverde. Again, they were just “there”, and again, it was the Americans who were the ones who seemed to notice.

It was in Monteverde that I really became aware of the “young Americans” view of loose dogs. Many of the students were concerned that these were “stray dogs” and needed to be “saved.” I did have one conversation with a student that REALLY concerned me about the state of our (American) society. The white dog in the picture had followed a group of our students from the ice cream shop to the bus- a distance of about 400 yards, but around a corner, so not in view of the store from which they came. The student with whom I spoke actually told me that he knew this dog was a stray because it was “covered in feces and mats”- WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!

Look at these pictures. Do YOU see feces? I was actually petting this dog- and this student’s statement made me VERY concerned about the attitudes of Americans towards dogs.

Another student piped in that this dog was thin. I felt the dog (he felt very good) and then felt the ribs of the teenager who made the comment – he was thinner than the dog. I asked him if he was a stray? Seriously though, every dog the American commented on, it was “oh poor dog- I wish we could take him home. “ I think that people today are missing out on the value role that “village dogs” offer. I think the role of dogs in society is also varied and wide, but mostly they teach us tolerance. In a society that increasing claims to be “more tolerant”- when it comes to animals, it seems to be less tollerant to me.

Nat  – (July 18, 2010 at 7:04:00 AM PDT)  

It's amazing how different North American society is from that of places like Costa Rica! Interesting perspective!

Sally –   – (July 25, 2010 at 2:53:00 PM PDT)  

What a great post. I do often wish that our dogs could be more integrated into our lives. Even shop and restaurant owners who are sympathetic can't break the "rules" (written and unwritten)and allow dogs to come on in. It must have been very interesting to see another cultural norm in Costa Rica. Thanks for this perspective.

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