The “dog test” and the catch-22 of travel

dogsI once read that you can tell how “discovered” a place is by the dogs. If the stray dogs mind their own business, or are afraid of people, then congrats – you are officially “off the beaten path”. If the dogs follow you around, looking for the scraps they’ve been accustomed to receiving from travelers, then you’ve arrived in a place that’s on the verge of becoming touristy. If you look around and don’t see any strays because they’ve all been removed….well, you may as well be in Disneyland. That place is “so over” for the independent traveler.

Despite the inherent flaws in the theory (which just stirs up more traveler vs tourist debate), it has an element of truth to it. As I traveled around Honduras last week, I couldn’t help but think about the places I visited in regards to the “dog test”.

In Roatan, the dogs were eager to make friends and the cats purred as they rubbed against my ankles. But in Copan (a small town near the Guatemalan border known for its Mayan ruins, which is currently suffering from a staggering drop in tourism because of the overblown political situation) the dogs were a heartbreaking sight. With few exceptions, the dogs there were disturbingly skinny, the females with nipples sagging and swollen from recently nursing another litter. They trotted around town in search of anything edible, darting in front of moto-taxis and sniffing at passing food carts.

At one restaurant, I noticed a dog sitting in the shadows hopefully eyeing my plate. When I reached out to pet it, it took off with a quiet whimper, tail clamped firmly down between its hind legs. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Nearly every dog I tried to befriend ran away in fear. I wanted to help these poor dogs, but I knew there was nothing I could do. In a country that is the poorest in the region (second only to Haiti) dogs are pests and are treated as such. It’s understandable – when you’re working hard to care for your family, a dog is just one more mouth to feed – but no less sad.

Despite the poverty, the children in the area I saw were well-cared for and happy. But as an animal lover, it was hard to see the dogs so neglected and not want to take each and every one home with me. It was a painful reminder of the things we take for granted.

As a traveler, I always hope that the places I love don’t become overrun with tourists. I want to keep them “undiscovered” by mass tourism. But in most cases, with tourism comes jobs and money that will help local residents improve their quality of life. I don’t want Copan to become the Disneyland of Central America, but if I return to find the dogs a little more eager to beg for food, I can’t say that it won’t make me happy. The “dog test” may be one way to gauge how touristy a place has become, but I think, looked at another way, it’s also a measure of how badly a place may need tourism to survive.

Posted by | Comments (7)  | November 18, 2009
Category: General

7 Responses to “The “dog test” and the catch-22 of travel”

  1. Nicolaï Says:

    Lots of stray dogs in France, and they mind their own business. They seem oblivious. Most traveled country in the world!

    Interesting theory though, had never heard of it.

  2. FACT CHECK Says:

    Nicaragua and Belize are poorer than Honduras, at least according to this list.

    I’m surprised that Guatemala appears to be wealthier. I would have thought the opposite. Of course, I was in the country more in Guatemala, while in Honduras I mostly stuck to more famous destinations like Isla de Roatán and SPS, so my perceptions were probably skewed.

  3. Ann Says:

    very interesting thought, i’m afraid of stray dogs though

  4. Says:

    Interesting post. Never thought about paying attention to stray dogs and how they act towards people. Now wonder there are signs not to feed the animals when you travel to certain places. It’s a good way to make sure it doesn’t become touristy.

  5. JoAnna Says:

    It’s sad that such a thing as the “dog test” exists.

    “The “dog test” may be one way to gauge how touristy a place has become, but I think, looked at another way, it’s also a measure of how badly a place may need tourism to survive.” – I think there’s a lot to be said about this statement.

    Nice post Katie. Way to look at things from a different angle.

  6. brian from Says:

    So Athens, Greece is off the beaten path? There are stray dogs all over town that appear healthy, well-fed and don’t bother anyone from what I observed.

    Depending on what you read, many dogs were re-located to the countryside, sterilized, put down or some combination before the 2004 Summer Olympics to keep the dog population down.

  7. Nora - The Professional Hobo Says:

    Beautiful conclusion, Katie! Great food for thought.