The society of dogs is complex in Cusco. It roams in an out of human homes though seldom far from people. And, it raises controversy when its freedom runs up against notions of civilization and care for “pets.”
We have seen this argument swirl on our page after J.R Riley published “Misunderstanding the Canines of Cuzco” in which he argued for the freedom many dogs have, especially in upper Cusco, to roam and socialize as they will. Many people responded with concern for the “abandoned” dogs who did not have veterinary care nor, they felt, people who would care for them. The argument has often been intense, because the values of freedom and social adjustment, versus the place of people vis a vis dogs and the way they should care for “pets,” are strong.
I revisit the issue to add another nuance. In the US state of New Mexico a petition is circulating to name the Rez Dog as the state dog, to give it official recognition. These are not the pampered dogs found in many homes in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, or elsewhere in the state, rather they are animals that roam freely on Indian reservations where they have a time-honored relationship with the people who live there.
This made me wonder if in Cusco we are not facing an indigenous practice of being with dogs that is different from that of Westerners with their notions of pets. I do not know, but the issue is worth considering, since we are in the face of a phenomena that seems to extend throughout the Americas. Indigenous people have traditionally different relationships with their dogs than do contemporary Europeans and those influenced by their socially and politically powerful notions of pets.
Anthropologist Eduardo Kohn writes at length about how dogs and people interact in the forests of Ecuador among the Sacha Runa, the forest people. Like in Cusco, dogs are seen as intermediaries between people and the world of other animals, but more importantly the world of spirits and powerful, non-human beings. People may not coif their dog’s pelts but they do pay close attention to them to understand better the world they both inhabit. Dogs play a central role.
It is worth standing aside from the pro and con argument for a bit, without forgetting to worry about the well-being of dogs, in order to consider the indigenous relationship with dogs and its value. We should not be hasty in imposing Western ways and should grasp the relationships and society cultivated by the canines of Cusco with people, other dogs, other animals, and spirits.