The story of El Gabacho and the abandoned dogs at the Cozumel Dump

This is a story so touching; a character so unlikely to be found admirable and an environment so improbable to be the setting where such a sweet bond developed. Anastasio May, better known as “El Gabacho”, has lived twenty of his 49 years at the municipal garbage dump, in a little cardboard room surrounded by piles of garbage, pungent bad smell, hundreds of black vultures and millions of flies. He and two other men arrived there two decades ago hired by a private company to separate metal and other recyclables. The job didn´t last very long, but they stayed there, in a way abandoned by that company. All these years they have made a living from picking and selling aluminum waste and other metals. All these years, they have consumed cheap alcohol quite heavily.

Living there, they have witnessed countless times how abandoned, starved and fearful dogs come around the garbage piles looking for food. The garbage dump has always been an easy “option” for those who wish to discard their unwanted pets. Some just leave them and drive away, and some tie them up to make sure they will not follow them back home. Gabacho and friends tried to help many of these dogs, and they have also seen a lot of them die. During the last 6 or 7 years, we have visited the garbage dump every year or two, and rescued a few puppies that we could catch. Every time it was heartbreaking. Usually there would be a dozen or more dogs staying close to the cardboard house where the three men Gabacho, Don Pato and Coco Loco resided, but these too were generally in pitiful conditions.

Dogs dumped there don´t live very long, but they are quickly replaced by newly abandoned ones so there is always a large amount of them. Those who survive do so by dominating an area of the dump, probably stealing poultry from ranches in the vicinity, and also hunting wild animals. Last year, when we went there with members of IFAW, we found a much different situation for those animals closer to Gabacho and friends. They were not looking bad, really, relative to what we had seen before. We don´t know what allowed or inspired them to have this improvement; it may be that suddenly there was more food available, or maybe the fact that Gabacho was staying mostly sober. Whatever it was, most of these 15 dogs and 9 cats were in fairly good shape.

We offered to spay/neuter, vaccinate and de-worm them, and treat what was treatable. We did euthanize one male dog with horribly advanced transmissible venereal tumors. Having returned without him did not please them at all. After much explaining and showing them photos of the tumors, Gabacho understood we put the dog down to help him avoid a long painful death. After all, he had seen many more die slowly before. But what he deeply regretted was not having been able to bury him, right there where he had buried all those others that had touched their lives. It was then that we realized how deeply they cared for their dog companions. During the last 10 months, we have visited them about once a month and rescued the new arrival puppies before they got mangy beyond help. In the beginning, we asked them if they would let us find a home for Cirquera, a very small, Maltese type dog, who was actually quite sick with erlichiosis. Suggesting that she might be more fragile than the rest, we planted the idea of a new home for her, and Don Pato, the older guy, quietly said that if it was better for her he would think about it. When we returned Cirquera 3 weeks later and saw how happy she was to be home with Don Pato, and we watched this man´s face filled with pure joy when we handed her back to him, we realized that Cirquera was exactly where she was happiest. Found at ease there, she resumed her old habit of catching flies. That same time Gabacho told us that La Burra (not a donkey but a stubborn dog) had had puppies. We went with him to where she had her den. Obviously she found her own spot, but Gabacho had helped by clearing the broken glass around it, putting a blanket on the floor and a bowl with clean water for her. When she saw us approaching, she growled at us quite menacingly, but when Gabacho touched her she was totally comfortable. He held her and her babies very gently and lovingly, and she seemed to be smiling. It would have been hard to imagine that we would have ever wanted those dogs to continue to live there, had it not been for the sincere affection that we witnessed between all of them. These men have a deep connection, a healthy bond with their dogs that would be desirable in people who purchase expensive breeds and live with a lot more comfort. They watch them, enjoy them and share their lives, shade, water, food and space with them. But now they have to part ways.

In a positive effort to deal with the garbage situation, the City has given the concession of the garbage processing to a private company. There will be no pickings, no people living there, and of course, no dogs. Don Pato died of a stroke a couple of months ago, and the remaining two will have to leave the site in just a few days. At a time when he is about to lose a place to live and a way to make a living, Gabacho´s biggest concern is what will happen to the dogs and cats. He wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about it. Up until now, their future is very uncertain. Yesterday we learned that the new company could possibly hire them, which would be great but nothing is settled. We want to make their story known because we have watched them and developed appreciation for them. Through the way they care about those dogs, their sweet nature was made visible. We feel for them because they will lose their friends and we are concerned about how they will live. Tomorrow we will take their dogs and cats out of there and bring them to the shelter. We will try our best to work on making them adoptable. They are so adapted to a life in a pack and living in the open, that they will require a lot of help. They will miss their people and their ways and their freedom. This is a video to illustrate this story. We hope you enjoy it. l  

May 6th, 2010
The Dump. Part II.
As the imminent departure date of Gabacho and Coco approached, we scheduled to pick up their dogs and cats on Tuesday the 26th of April. We went that day, with the IFAW truck full of kennels and two camera people to document the rescue, but when we got there Gabacho and Coco were not there. They had gone to town, trying to find some answers to their many questions and uncertainties. We didn’t want to add stress to the situation by trying to catch the dogs ourselves, and we certainly didn’t want the guys to go back and not find their dogs.
So we re-scheduled for thursday the 28th and Gabacho met us at 7:30 a.m. to go with us. Our arrival at the dump was both sad and sweet. Most of the dogs were right there to receive Gabacho, near the old broken truck that had given them shade for so long and was being dismantled at that moment. Such happy dogs! Tails wagging rapidly, yelping, running around him, standing on hind legs, ears back, puppy gestures. What a relief to have their protector back! Things were changing fast around them and they were dissoriented, scared. Work at the place was advancing rapidly, as the formal inauguration of the private company taking over would be in only five more days.
Their old cardboard casita was gone, bulldozed and piled up to one side. Whatever belongings they didn´t take out before, were waiting for them at the Police department.  Gabacho quietly petted his dogs, comforting them and himself. He was facing the reality that had been crawling up for months and now was there before him. We walked with him and he pointed to where the casita had been; the table, the hammock, the only block wall. Then we walked to where the dead dogs were buried.
He looked around and saw Burra and Chel and a few others were not there, so he went to round them up. He came back with several dogs, happy to see him back. Now we had all his 10 remaining dogs. Cirquera was already at the place where Gabacho and Coco were given temporary refuge, somewhere in town.
-We are ready when you are- I said to Gabacho, while he stood there trying to digest his suddenly gone past and his uncertain near future. He nodded. The first one to be put in a kennel was Machín, a large male, son of Zacatecas the oldest dog. We all expected some resistance to being put in kennels, but there was none. One by one, Gabacho picked them up and they all acted like submissive puppies. Heads and legs hanging lose, they went in the kennels. Once in, they did get nervous if they couldn not see Gabacho. With ten dogs aboard, we were ready to go, and Gabacho chose to ride with them in the back.
At the shelter, we let all dogs out to cool off and relax a bit in the palapa area while we conversed with Gabacho. The dogs had water, but they stayed within 3 feet from their guy. I presented to him the possibility of working at the shelter temporarily, as a last resort, until he finds his feet. He looked at me and smiled, and said: -I would be with them!-. Having Gabacho with us helping to take care of his dogs would be great. But the fact is that our staff is complete and adding a salary is not a decision we can take lightly. If this turns out to be an option, we will need help and are trying to find it. 
A week later, we have not heard from Gabacho but we are not surprised. The dogs are safe and he must have many things to solve, and so does Coco-Loco. As far as the dogs, they get frequent socializing time together, and are slowly being introduced into the world of collars and leashes, and of temporary confinement. They have now been tested  for heart-worm and all but two tested possitive, so treatments will be necessary. Other than that, they are generally healthy.
We have had such a great response to this story that we are very hopeful we can find help for all the dogs and cats. This time, our plea includes two men.