I spent my first day in Peru mostly asleep - it’s a permission I grant myself whenever I arrive in any new country. However, despite my relative isolation, I noticed something that seems very unique to Peru, or at least Arequipa: dogs live on rooftops.

Three dogs live on the roofs of the houses next to mine; when I saw them, I asked my supervisor if someone knew they were out there, in the hot sun, seemingly without food or water. He responded that, as a matter of fact, their presence there was not only known, but intentional. As it happens, dogs on roofs is as common here as dogs in homes, and it seems reflective of Arequipa’s shifting values in regards to the purpose pets serve.

Life on the roof seems to vary by household. The dogs next door remain without shelter under Arequipa’s three hundred days of sun, run around in piles of feces, and are occasionally fed with takeout. I don’t know if they have water or not. Furthermore, these dogs go without much company - something that breaks my heart is when I’m washing dishes and one of the dogs whines for my attention. Conversely, I’ve seen dogs here with some pretty lavish setups, including lean-tos and piles of toys.

The reason for this location of habitation? I’ve surveyed my Peruvian coworkers and have gotten a few responses. One was that the dogs are too cute to lose and thus keeping them on the roof helps them stay safe. This is an interesting one, as it’s true pets get lost all the time here - as in Ireland, dogs and cats often have free reign of the streets, but Arequipa is also bigger and with a more complex layout than Cork. It’s easier to accidentally disappear. And it’s true that there are a wide variety of breeds held in the rooftop position, as opposed to there being a dominant breed (such as the pitbull mixes outside homes in rural Hungary). But I also know families who simply keep their pets in the house with them. It’s an interesting mix.

The other answer I’ve heard is that the roof is a useful place to keep guard dogs here. For those who haven’t spent time in cities in other countries, frequently buildings are packed tightly on narrow streets with narrow sidewalks. Every available space has to be utilized effectively, and so things such as rooftop gardens and kitchens are common sights. More homes and businesses have balconies than in the United States. Upward development is a necessity while yards are a rare luxury. In this way, families that might keep their guard dogs outside - such as in rural Nepal and Hungary - don’t have the option of tying them to a fence in the yard, and so the roof becomes the de facto place of residence. In terms of effectiveness? I’m not sure, because if there ever was a real intruder, not much could be done from the sky, and the dogs bark at almost everything anyway.

This is something I’ve seen to the point where I can comfortably say keeping dogs on roofs is an Arequipenean thing, but not all families do so. Many of my friends have pets who stay within the home - one friend has a beagle she picked off the street for whom they have to cook homemade meals. It’s a pretty familiar situation.

Has anyone travelling abroad noticed something similar? What about in other Latin American countries?


While generally I don’t go on my trips as a tourist, I do sometimes partake in touristic activities. I have complicated feelings about tourism; on the one hand, I recognize it’s a powerful economic driver, an important source of income for many countries. I also am a huge believer in cultural exchange. But. I think tourism industries can lead to exploitative situations and can often get in the way of cultural exchange,

I’ve had hours-long conversations about this, party economies, and more. But, because this is a blog about animals, we’ll talk about tourism as it involves them.

Full confession: I have participated in both elephant and horseback rides, one being in Nepal and the other in Cuba. Addendum: I am not terribly educated about animals in tourism, but I know there is a strong faction against the use of animals in entertainment. I lean that way because of what I’ve seen with my own eyes.

Cecilia sees the world from the back of an elephant.

It’s easy to understand why people engage in elephant (and other) rides. Seated on what was essentially a caged table on the back of an elephant, I saw the jungle in Nepal from impressive new heights - things I’d been nonplussed about on the ground (particularly the leech-infested waters we waded through in sandals). The elephants themselves were gentle and easily distracted, pulling up long grass in clumps and whacking off the dust on their shins. I was also told that the nature conserve providing the tours was one of the more compassionate to the animals involved and one of the more effective at conservation.

Yet I’m not sure this is saying much. For one, the implements used to train the elephants looked dangerous, more like weapons than tools. The trainers themselves hit the elephants, hard, with sticks between the eyes, and scarcely did we finish our trip than the elephants went back out again with new groups of tourists on their backs. The final sad point was, when we were introduced to the facilities, we saw the elephants kept on chains. The only two elephants who interacted with each other were two babies who stretched the chains to their full extent to make contact. The rest slept or drank water from pails adjacent to piles of hay.

So it’s this I don’t get: if conservation is another purpose of these tours, then why aren’t the elephants allowed to have some semblance of life in the wild? Why aren’t they participating in the natural ecosystem of the jungle there? Mind you, this wildlife reserve also called itself home to rhinos, boars and other wild animals that were allowed to roam free.

Riding horses on the beach.

So while the experience itself was fun, I was overall left with a negative impression. I felt the same horseback riding in Cuba - the sights were incredible, the stars like freckles, and the bats were plentiful. But our horses frothed at the mouths, walked slowly, and were, again, beaten into submission with whip-like sticks. Mine kept veering off the path to eat and refused to return. Once again, they seemed exhausted and depressed. Animals in these situations are often thought of as tools, and not always tools that are taken care of.

I understand the economic purposes behind everything, that in Cuba and Nepal, wages are very dependent on bringing tourists to an area and providing them an “exotic” experience. A higher volume of tourists means more money. But, like many things in life, I wonder if it’s worth it for us, the tourists, to participate.

I’ve yet to do any such thing in Peru, though there’s an alpaca petting zoo near my home. I’m not sure if would be any different than what I’ve seen in other countries, though I’m interested to know more.

Tell me, what do you know about animal conservation? Have you ever purchased an experience that depended on animals?


Dalmation in Nepal.

Once again, I’m in mind of the podcast I listened to about the history of the domestication of the cat. Another fun fact discovered during that listen is that mixed breeds of cats are far more common as pets than are mutts - essentially, there is a higher percentage of dog owners with pure breeds.

This isn’t actually a surprise for me, as I’ve seen all kinds of dogs held in different environments for their designer qualities. For example, the stray dogs in Nepal were largely different than the dogs kept as pets - but being a pet didn’t necessarily guarantee a better life.

The German shepherd and Dalmatian at my home in Nepal were designer breeds, certainly, definitive status symbols, but they lived in a small uncleaned cage, sleeping in their own feces. Whenever they were let out, they rushed around the vicinity creating general chaos until the family couldn’t put up with it and returned them to their quarantine. Meanwhile, the dog up the hill had been taken from the streets and had of her house free reign and the furniture.

Huskies in the tropical climate of Cuba.

In Cuba, on the other hand, I met two huskies in a town where their thick fur was wildly inappropriate. They lived in a luxurious home with a wealthy family, and wanted nothing in terms of affection and food, but when the days reached over a hundred degrees, they could do nothing but lounge in the shade.

I’ve also already mentioned village life in Hungary, with the preferences of families there to arm their homes with pitbulls. The purpose there, of course, is more functional than decorative, but one breed has been singled out for certain qualities.

In both Cuba and Nepal, I saw exemplified the desire for designer - foreign - dogs; many stray dogs were native to the area, mutts, smaller and more narrowly built. I’ve wondered for some time about the nature of breeding in other countries, as in the United States, breeding dogs can be complicated, and often problematic.

That being said, it was also incredibly common for families to take dogs off the streets and integrate them into their households. Stray dogs might also adopt families, as while I was in Cuba, several stray dogs had homes they stayed close to, even if another dog was already in the home. In turn, they might be fed by the family and familiar faces in the neighborhood. This process was fascinating to me, as it meant attached stray dogs participated less - even intact males - in the ganglike behaviors of dogs on the streets.

Now that I’m in Peru, I’ve seen some of the designer dog desires (the occasional Saint Bernard happily lagging behind its owner, dachshunds in coats, and furless dogs with tufts of wiry hair on the tops of their heads), but I’ve also seen families with mutts from the streets - even the families that are better off. Peru has an interesting, somewhat contradictory, pet culture, but it’s also changing as the culture and economy develop.

Cora, one of Cecilia's family dogs, resting on her bed here in Portland.

And, of course, we know in the United States that it’s a mix. Purebreds and certain mixes (cough - labradoodle - cough) can be purchased at prices upwards of a thousand dollars. Breeds come with important behavioral and personality distinctions, and sometimes extreme genetic disorders; I’m thinking mainly of bulldogs, who I’ve heard require artificial insemination and C-sections to safely reproduce, and pugs, who can have a whole host of physical difficulties.

In contrast, I can think of few cats I know who are purebreds, though I know that designer cats do exist - siamese and hairless cats are two

examples. I have heard, though, that it’s and absolutely fascinating experience to watch a cat show and see what distinct breeds actually look like.

None of this is to pass judgement, but it is something I’ve kept in mind while travelling. Personally, I love most dogs that cross my path and one of my own dogs is this crazy-looking gremlin thing who used to meander the streets of Los Angeles. She was a bit more of a challenge because of her fear and mistrust of people, but she has been so worth it. All I will say is that I hope anyone looking into buying a new pet will do the proper research for whichever breed or background of animal they’re thinking of taking home. It makes things better in the long run.

What type of pet do you have? What’s its origin story?

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