Dead dogs help to feed the poor

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The Independent Online
POOR PEOPLE in the central Mexican city of Puebla are going after the dogs - literally. A controversial scheme to clear the clogged streets of strays and help hungry human vagrants promises a basic food packet to anybody who turns in an ownerless mutt, which local health officials will promptly exterminate.

Jesus Loreno Aarun, the Health Secretary for the state of Puebla, said that there were not enough funds to neuter or vaccinate almost a million abandoned canines that run wild in the cobbled streets. Many are carriers of distemper, hepatitis, rabies, or unhygienic parasites and, he asserted, can pose a health threat to Puebla's 1.2 million citizens as well as to their pet dogs - fondly termed "mascots" - which typically are tied up on rooftops or balconies on guard.

In Puebla, a venerable colonial town located just 60 miles from Mexico City, many packs of dogs roam wild and compete with the homeless in foraging for discarded food.

Since a powerful earthquake damaged the heart of the city in June, the total canine population has soared and dogs nearly outnumber humans. Government statistics show that just under half the Mexican population struggles to feed themselves and could potentially benefit from such a food exchange programme. But with only 5,000 food packets on offer in Puebla, the idea is still experimental.

Since the plan was announced, there has been an outcry from animal rights activists in Mexico. The Humane Society, which rescues injured and abandoned animals, struggles to raise funds in the country. "A disturbing sight is the large number of dead dogs on the side of the road. Provisions for dealing with dead or abandoned animals are minimal. We are desperate for donations," said Marta Arocha, a dog-lover in Mexico City.

There are fears that the new Puebla scheme will encourage hungry people to steal pets or to raise puppies specifically to be killed in exchange for food. But considering that the Aztecs used to fatten and feast on the native Mexican dogs before the Spanish conquest, hounds are not always viewed as man's best friend. "If it puts food on someone's table and gets rid of these dirty dogs, it doesn't bother me," said one housewife, Juanita Moreno.