An aorta squirts out from the heart of Iquitos called the Boulevard that conveys tourists along the scenic Rio Amazon and to their hotels. Ten blocks south of Plaza de Armas, the ornate promenade abruptly tapers to a muddy track at the entrance to waterfront Belen. This is Dog Corner, at Ramirez Hurtado and Ucayali Streets. It’s a gate of white snapping terror that tourists must pass through to one of four hotels within a one blocks race.
There is no rabies in Iquitos, according to local veterinarians. Otherwise, many tourists would be chewing wooden tongue blades. It´s only a footnote that three nights ago I was bitten on the right calf, and another last night on the left calf. More interesting is the corrupt politics that allows Dog Corner to exist, and the evolution of the warrior breed that dare touch a tourist in this steamy jungle town.
Dog Corner opens a few surprising doors. The brawling mutts value four things in life. They spend days eating stinking garbage and humping, and nights chasing motorcycles and tourists. The hairy mob acts as a reverse speed bump as motorcycles suddenly accelerate to 40mph to escape their fangs, as pedestrians scatter, and the opening act to my last night’s bite was a brave mama fanning off snapping canines from ripping her toddler girl. The door also opens a potential legal action against the city.
The dogs wear the locals’ clothes, as if given as bribes, and I refuse to be nailed by anything that dresses better than I without complaint. The mongrel wore a blue polo shirt. I followed the logical course of action: The local Peruvian witnesses nodded vacantly from a void; three National Policemen in black and gold swore to call animal control, and a Traffic Officer in brown later insisted the city has no animal control.
Amazon Cares on Pevas Street, a short hobble away, begs to differ. The spiffy office opened their green door, two veterinarians listened patiently to my woes, exclaiming over the bites, urged human medical care, and then sighed. There is supposed to be an animal shelter like civilized cities offer but there’s an argument of who will run it. The ownerless animals would be picked up, 90% exterminated, and the betters sold at a profit to the new shelter owner.
Amazon Cares is theoretically a non-profit organization founded a decade ago by an American dog lover whose pockets grew thin over the years until, two years ago, they dried up completely. Now the clinic is a duplex with a small attached vet hospital that supports Amazon Cares which offers neuters to street dogs – when they can be caught – at cost ($5 for a castration and $10 for a spay). They also used to ply the neighboring rivers to dozens of pueblos dispensing free worm pills, mange treatment, and a mobile neutering table. The hospital refuses to euthanize an animal, even treacherous street scamps, unless it would otherwise die of natural causes.
The curious evolution of the Gang at Dog Corner also became clear. I’ve been traveling to Iquitos for fifteen years, and as a former veterinarian have taken a spray bottle with homemade, natural flea, tick and mange medicine into the streets, yup the same corner, and manhandled the dogs without incident while spraying them to clear up the worst skin conditions around the world. If Africa is the cradle of civilization, this humid jungle is the homeland of micro-societies. How, rudely, could a large population of hundreds of dogs shrink to a few dozen and grow so immense with a gang mentality?
There are three ways a trait is passed to engender a new population ‘overnight’: A mutation; a sharp change in environment that causes a selective pressure (but usually takes more time); or a decimation of most of the population having weaker traits and thus preservation of the fewer that have stronger ones. The sudden rise of the warrior dogs was caused by the final.
Two years ago, when Amazon Cares was flush, they drag netted the city with slip nooses, tasty dog biscuits, and cajoled the preponderance of animals into fast capture. All but the largest, fastest, strongest, and healthiest were caught. From this seed population of escapees that has now aged to reclusiveness, their offspring became the fighters of Dog Corner. A close parallel is the slave ships from Africa that were outlawed by United States and United Kingdom in 1807. Until then, up to 20% of the 12 million shipped during the Atlantic passage died, and the survivors are the forbearers of many of today’s sports stars.
Meanwhile, on Dog Corner, the gang awaits me as I rise from this story. However, after today’s visit to Amazon Cares, and after much deliberation over my training n vet school to save rather than kill, versus my schooling on skid rows as a hobo toward self-preservation, there was one more agency to visit. A City Policemen responded to my account, ‘We will poison them for a mordida (bite, a bribe).’ And, that’s the end of the tale of the Gang at Dog Corner.