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Los Dog Whisperers

Chilangos, Mexico City residents, love our dogs. But who keeps them happy while we are at work?
By The News · 03 of August 2016 11:57:28
Eduardo Arredondo shares a moment in Parque Libanés, Colonia Polanco, No available, photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

LA CHILANGA BANDA

Two dogos argentinos soak up the sun after their morning training routine. Photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

Two dogos argentinos soak up the sun after their morning training routine. Photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

According to the latest census, there are 18 million dogs in Mexico, making it the country with the most dogs in Latin America.

The News met a handful of these dogs this week, and the “chilangos” (Mexico City residents) who train and care for them. Known as “entrenadores” — trainers — or “paseadores” — walkers, they congregate in affluent neighborhoods of Mexico City, where residents can afford their services and pedigreed canines.

On Tuesday morning, Aug. 2, 19-year-old dog lover and trainer Ángel Martínez is beginning his working day in Parque España in the Condesa neighborhood. The park, at the confluence of several tree-lined avenues, is a popular spot for dog walkers and trainers, along with the larger Parque México 150 feet down the road. The park provides an oasis to those, like Ángel, who are training the day’s group of four-legged friends.

Ángel Martínez, 19, with two of his charges in Parque España, Colonia Condesa. Photo: The News/Peter Appleby

Ángel Martínez, 19, with two of his charges in Parque España, Condesa. Photo: The News/Peter Appleby

At 8:30 a.m. most of Ángel’s dogs are yet to arrive. He works for his father, alongside two other colleagues, who are out picking up the other dogs from their homes. Their classes, which include obedience training and exercises to improve the dogs’ confidence, usually run until 1:30 p.m. Ángel works Monday through Saturday.

Ángel took courses at the Federación Canófila, or Canine Federation, before beginning to work as a trainer. The courses, taught by trainers from across the world, include animal law and safety. But it is Ángel’s passion for dogs that ensures he enjoys his job everyday. His love of dogs began at home, where there was always a dog present. “Dogs are different,” he said. “Dogs were the first domesticated animal. They’ve spent the most time with humans of any species.”

Working dogs like German Shepherds and Labradors are the easiest to train, says Ángel. Smaller dogs, like Chihuahuas, can be difficult because they tend to be less intelligent and are too-often used as “accessories,” accustomed to constant attention.

He’s never worked with a dog that was too difficult or dangerous, but there can be sadness associated with his work. Sometimes owners send their dogs to Ángel’s school and simply never return to pick them up. In this case, the school cares for the dogs until they can be found a home.

Cabo, a blonde mutt who is waiting patiently with his trainer today, used to be a street dog who would hang around Condesa looking for food until a kind owner took him in. However, one day the owner did not return to pick Cabo up.

Over in Polanco there’s a different story.

Chok, Buffy, Dólares, Chewbacca, Sanka.

Cabo (left) was abandoned by his owner in Condesa. Photo: The News/Peter Appleby

Cabo (left) was abandoned by his owner in Condesa. Photo: The News/Peter Appleby

Those are just five of the 32 dogs roaming Parque Libanés, at the meeting point of Paseo de la Reforma and Periférico, in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City.

Three trainers accompany the dogs. They start work at 6 or 6:30 a.m. everyday, picking the dogs up from their homes. They arrive at the park by 8:30 a.m. and the dogs start their training for the day. By noon they have finished the training routine and the dogs have a chance to rest, relieve themselves and sniff in the sparse grass of Parque Libanés.

The dogs are enrolled in Escuelita Libano, a dog training and care school based in Polanco. In addition to the 32 dogs at the park today, other dog owners pay a premium for their dog to be trained individually.

Eduardo Arredondo, who has been with the company for a year, says that each dog has a distinct personality. “It’s sort of like kids at school. They make their friends and cliques,” says Eduardo. “And, yes, we have had bullies too.”

“I know all the dogs’ names except that little one; he just arrived today,” says Manuel Castañeda, pointing towards a tiny puppy. Castañeda has worked as a dog trainer for a year and a half.

Manuel Castañeda shows some of the tricks dogs learn at Escuelita Libano. Photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

Manuel Castañeda shows some of the tricks dogs learn at Escuelita Libano. Photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

César López and Josua Avalan round out the training team.

When new dogs arrive to the class they are tethered to a more experienced dog so they do not run off. They lead each other around the park, occasionally stumbling over the leash or snapping at other passing dogs. Yet the 32 dogs are remarkably well-behaved. One dog makes a break for it, running towards Campos Elísios and the interior of Polanco. A taxi driver waiting at a taxi base near-by grabs his leash and shouts to Eduardo to come retrieve him. Eduardo explains, “That one lives really close by, so he tries to go home on his own.”

Manuel says Buffy, a pitbull with smooth, grey fur, is one of his favorites. Manuel has a pitbull of his own. He says that the best part of the job is the companionship that comes from being with the dogs all day.

Chewbacca (front), a Lhasa Apso, is another Escuelita Libano student. Photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

Chewbacca (front), a Lhasa Apso, is another Escuelita Libano student. Photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

It is almost 1 p.m. and Josua heads off to bring the first group of dogs home. The others wait patiently for their turn. Dog school has ended for today, but tomorrow morning Chok, Buffy, Dólares, Chewbacca, Sanka and their 27 friends will be back.

Escuelita Libano can be found on Facebook and the Federación Canófila is online at www.fcm.mx.

This is the first edition of a new column, La Chilanga Banda which unmasks the lives of the people who live in Mexico City. The column will interview people like the “Viene Vienes,” who park countless cars everyday and shoeshiners who keep us looking sharp.

Peter Appleby is from Liverpool and assures the readers he is not personally responsible for Brexit.

Martha Pskowski is from Washington, DC and always looks for excuses to ask complete strangers personal questions.

Josua Avalan leads a group of dogs out of the park. Photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

Josua Avalan leads a group of dogs out of the park. Photo: The News/Martha Pskowski

PETER APPLEBY
MARTHA PSKOWSKI