“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” – Cesar Chavez
The name Alejandro had come up many times before meeting him since I first moved to Pto. It is a small place, yes, but Alejandro I discovered is actually a low key local hero. In the cliche sense, we could say he’s the dog man here in town, but this guy has dedicated his life to his passion for helping animals. And, even cooler, he has understood on a broad level that the way to do this with efficacy is by educating people.
So, amongst my time spent here in one of México’s gems, I’ve connected with the tatted up Oaxacan dog man, also a generational coffee rancher. We are off the Pacific coast in a small town, Puerto Escondido, meaning Hidden Port. It feels ironic, teetering on taboo, to write about a place with hidden as part of its name, but I’d like to think Alejandro is one in which to pay homage. He is the true epitome of nonprofit service. So often we hear or say terms like “nonprofit” that we almost become auto-piloted and numb to the meaning of what we are even saying. Let’s put it this way, this man is a coffee rancher by day and a man of community social work 24/7. This is not his business; this is his blood, his heart, his life. He helped me during a crisis with my own dog, and I soon learned that for so many here, he is all they have. I was able to sit down with Alejandro over a cup of coffee, claro, as a muffled Rolling Stones jammed in the distance. I listened as he shared his story, his message, his dream.
His Puerto journey began eleven years ago, a move well-made for the heat and warm water to heal some of his ill perros. His attention quickly took to the surplus in ubiquitous grim conditions of the local animals. After attempts to create an organization to help the animals — but with interference from differing views on how to actually do so — his experience has instilled strong belief in prevention. He believes the only realistic way to stop the overpopulation of neglected, malnourished animals that run rampant is by educating people about sterilization. But, also providing healthcare for a multitude of reasons and needs, such as for animals of people that care, yet the so many that can not afford it. So, around five years ago was the birth of his clinic, Esteriliza y Educa, a nonprofit organization centered around donation-based campaigns with its message of prevention & accessibility.
The planning and logistics of the campaigns are arduous. The volunteer’s time, knowledge, and space are all available to the community. Donations from the community, and from the pockets of the volunteers themselves, are the only way this clinic stays alive. Alejandro affirmed, “People think because it’s free that we have everything, but we need to buy everything. So, it’s not that easy. We are not rich people.”
As he also insisted several times, none of this would exist without the help of a divinely ordered team. He said, “You can’t do this work alone, and that’s something very important to say… It is very difficult to find the right people to work with… It takes time, but animals are very smart. Somehow they introduce you to the right people.”
This small team of heroes opens up shop to sterilize and treat animals in need on Sundays, as long as supplies allow it. We’re talkin’ 25–40 surgeries in a day. I spent one afternoon observing the surgeries at Alejandro’s house. There was a line of people outside with an array of dogs and cats needing various attention. There were scheduled surgeries for sterilization, and walk-ins such as a street dog whose tail had been run over, amid others. A prevalent issue is often poisoning. Rescuing a small, helpless dog as it stumbled cross-eyed in the street one day was a hard memory to knock. Alejandro and I had also discussed unethical campaigns by the government. Unfortunately, a cat came in need of treatment for this reason. It was suffering from an infection from the use of cheap supplies and botched internal work. This is a large reason why trust has been crucial to establish within the community. These government campaigns have battered the locals’ trust. Through word of mouth, awareness about the clinic and its accessibility has spread, in turn providing opportunity and movement for their underlying message of prevention.
Alejandro pointed out, “It’s not only the street dogs that need help. We need to educate the people to stop this problem. So, for me, it’s always been in the prevention area. The main goal is to stop the overpopulation. We do this by educating people to be sensitive, to respect, to love and care for the animals.
We have to make them understand [sterilization] doesn’t change the character of the animal… some understand, some don’t. But more male dogs are coming than before, so it is changing. But, this is with ten years of work.”
It did not take long to realize that this man’s daily life has been completely bombarded by his sacrificial service. Sundays are for surgery, but it never stops there. The Rolling Stones and our conversation were interrupted three times in an hour by unannounced visitors asking for his help. So I, of course, had to inquire, “How do you sustain? Where do you draw the line? Or, do you ever say no? (We both laughed).”
Alejandro cool and calmly declared, “It’s hard to say no. I mean, I have a life… I used to have a sign, ‘from this time to this time’, but people show up anytime. People don’t read. If I put up a sign that says no service, they still come. But, it’s really hard to say no… I need to get out of my house; that’s the only way.”
“So, where did this begin for you? What’s the early memory?”
“I just love the animals. I don’t like them suffering… if I have the ability, the knowledge, the heart, and if I don’t do it… I would not go to sleep in peace… the payment is the satisfaction of doing something good for an animal who can’t talk, can’t express, who can’t ask…”
“And the balance is…?”
“I don’t have the economy, the tools to help them all… I have to be clear about this,” he said, “I have to keep focused on what I can actually do to help. And, it’s hard because you always want to help all of them. But there has to be a balance… so, I love the Stones (as they play in the background and we laugh again), that’s why I listen to the Stones everyday… and I like coffee.”
During my short time spent with Alejandro, it seems he relates to animals because he relates to the art of energy, or to nature rather. As hectic as it seemed from my perspective for a day in the life of the dog man, Alejandro seemed right in his element. On his off days, he drives through the winding roads of Oaxaca, always ready with a bag of food and water which, by the way, likely means several stops. If that’s all he can do for the day, then so be it… until tomorrow, claro.
- I invite you to help in supporting this amazing grassroots organization, and its message of education & prevention for the wellbeing & healthcare of animals. <3
- You can help by donating to fund supplies for sterilization & an array of treatments for street animals & families of animals in need.
- A year’s worth of supplies is typically arranged into four campaigns a year with a goal of 75,000 MXN Pesos per campaign (= around $3,600 USD).
- That is less than $15,000 USD to cover a year’s worth of supplies.
- $12 USD = sterilization for an animal