The last time I visited Jamaica, I encountered lots of dogs and cats.
Reading all the buzz about the new Bob Marley Documentary has had me thinking about Jamaica all week. I think lots of people probably are, and they are probably thinking of what first comes to mind when Jamaica is mentioned: the beaches, the sun, the reggae, the … herbal refreshments. All of those things are wonderful, but I want to focus on something different altogether: the dogs and cats of Jamaica.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am in love with Jamaica. My father is Jamaican, so I have a certain cultural connection to it — but more than that, it’s probably my favorite place in the world. If I could live there safely, I would. Before my latest trip last March, I hadn’t been for about six years, and it killed me. Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay always has me crying like an idiot: in happiness when I land, and in sadness when I leave.
On all my previous trips to Jamaica, I have always stayed in either Montego Bay or Ocho Rios – big, bustling cities, by Jamaican standards. When I visited last March, however, I was on a mission to be pampered, and so I stayed in Negril at the Rock House Resort. Negril is very different from Montego Bay – it’s much more rural, wild, and isolated. As a result, people have more animals and pets.
Usually, third world countries seem synonymous with starving animals. Jamaica is notorious for their “maga dogs,” made popular by the Peter Tosh song, which are basically mongrel street dogs. It’s not uncommon, especially in cities, to see dogs that are so thin that their spines stick out, scurrying around looking for scraps of garbage to eat. At night, you can even hear them howling and whimpering out of hunger. It’s atrocious, and it’s one of the only things that I don’t like about Jamaica. Similarly, many Jamaicans really do not like cats. I think they suspect that cats are tied to witchcraft, which is a touchy subject in Jamaica. Cats also tend to walk on counters and furniture, and I think this bothers Jamaican neat-freaks.
During this trip, however, I was pleased to meet some of the most balanced, healthy, and happy dogs that I have ever seen. Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer,” talks about the dogs that he grew up with on his grandfather’s farm in Ixpalino, Mexico. These dogs were not pedigree, they were not purebred, and they were not pampered. They lived together in a natural pack, with his grandfather as the pack leader, and had jobs — from watching over the children to guarding the farm to keeping the workers company.
Pet dogs in Jamaica operate the same way, and while they are not indulged in the same way as dogs are here in the States, you can tell that they are still fulfilled, because they are allowed to simply be dogs. They know that they rely on humans for food, shelter, and protection, so they very rarely break the pack leader/follower bond. None of them ever use leashes, yet they are completely street smart: they understand to stay away from traffic, and to walk behind you, not in front of you. In the dog world, this is a sign of respect, as members of a wolf pack would never think of passing the pack leader when migrating together as a group.
Here are pictures of the dogs and cats I met during my last trip to Jamaica:
What I assume is one of the owner’s cats at the Rock House Hotel in Negril. This guy explored all the villas very in the morning, and was so happy that we offered him creamer from our room service breakfast. His fur is all bleached from the bright sunlight.
Another pet at the Rock House Hotel in Negril. This dog loved visiting the guests in the dining room, and greeting newly arrived guests at the reception desk.
A mother dog nursing her puppies. This dog belonged to a group of people that we met walking around Negril. Apparently, they are part German Shepherd. The guy who told me this seemed very proud of that, as any purebred dog in Jamaica is extremely rare.
Their homemade dog house. Total Jamaican masterpiece.
The nursing mother’s dog food: chicken, rice, and vegetables. This could rival the pricy fresh pet meals in the States.
Dogs on the street in Negril:
The puppy that followed me home from the bakery. He was one of a pretty large litter, and I was so tempted to take him home!
And last but not least, the grocery store kitten! She could be related to my Desdemonia.
The next time you’re in Jamaica, look out for four-legged friends — there are more around than you might think!