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‘Pek’ Is Mayan for ‘Dog’

Written by PETA | August 24, 2010

The following is a guest post by Heather Carlson, PETA’s manager of Communications.

This year for spring break, I was looking forward to spending a week in Mexico with my family. We planned to relax, scuba dive for the first time, and enjoy each other’s company. But when we looked out our bus windows while traveling in the rural Yucatán Peninsula, we saw chickens and pigs in small crates, underweight cows tied to trees, and stray dog after stray dog.

As we arrived in a small Mayan village, I glimpsed a small, seemingly hairless figure out of the corner of my eye. I thought to myself, “That could not possibly have been a dog.” The tour bus pulled into the parking lot of a flea market, and as the other tourists filed in to the store, my family and I ran back up the street to the tiny convenience store where I thought I had spotted the dog. Sure enough, there she was: small, nearly hairless, and riddled with mange. Although we approached slowly so that we wouldn’t spook her, she cowered and ran away. We were close enough to see that she was dreadfully thin and that her body was riddled with open abscesses—her skin cracked from the progression of the disease that was eating her alive.


This is what Maya looked like when I found her.
Maya before her rescue


The people working at the little store didn’t understand our questions about the dog, so we ran back to the tourist market and asked if there was an animal shelter or a vet in the area who could help us with a dog suffering from mange. They did not fully understand us, but they nodded and said “sarna” (which I later learned means “mange”) and indicated that there was no animal hospital anywhere in the area. With the tour bus leaving; no car, taxi, or bus services nearby; and barely anyone who spoke English there to help us, my family and I left some food near where we’d seen the dog and reluctantly left her there in Ebtún.

From that moment forward, I made it my mission to find her help. I called home, and PETA’s Casework Division worked hard to put me in touch with activists in the area who might be able to help get medical treatment for the dog, whom we had started to call “Maya.” One of PETA’s caseworkers helped me find someone willing to drive me back to Ebtún, and we spent a day walking around the village looking for her. The villagers indicated that Maya frequented the spot in front of the store but that they hadn’t seen her since early that morning. I had to fly back home the next morning and, upon nightfall, we had to leave Ebtún—without little Maya.

When I got back home, I continued looking for someone who could make the journey back to Ebtún to try again to find the dog. After e-mailing, networking via Facebook, and getting in touch with animal lovers in the area, I learned more about the plight of animals in the Yucatán Peninsula. Activists there have quite a challenge in front of them—in a country that openly advertises cockfights on city streets, little is known about spaying and neutering, and there are few protections for animals.

Even though significant time had passed and the odds were clearly stacked against her, I recently received some amazing news—Maya had been rescued. Sophie Van Den Abeele and Emma Guerrero of Cancun Animal Rescue made the three- to four-hour journey from Cancun to Ebtún and spent the day trying to find the little street dog with “sarna”—who, as it turns out, the local villagers had named Muñeca. They found Muñeca just as scared, still suffering from mange, and seemingly pregnant. While they were loading her into the van, another dog approached, and they quickly discerned that she was suffering from a tumor in her vulva. The locals reported that she was also a stray, and so Abeele and Guerrero were able to bring her back with them as well. They arrived back home late at night, and a local vet they often work with tended to the dogs’ immediate needs—including removing the second dog’s tumor. Both dogs were spayed and have started on the road to rehabilitation.

Please never leave a suffering animal behind if you find one while on vacation. I’m not the only person whose life was touched by what we learned in Mexico—in part because of the suffering of the animals they witnessed from the bus windows on the way to Chichén Itzá, two more members of my family went vegetarian. As a result of our spring break vacation to Mexico this year, I have reserved a special place in my heart for the animals there and for compassionate people like Sophie and Emma who have dedicated their lives to helping them.

Donations to help fund Sophie and Emma’s work can be made to the PayPal account of Cancun Animal Rescue Change My World A.C.

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  • Lucy says:

    I live in Mexico, and saddly, there are THOUSANDS of animals in this condition. Hundreds of homeless dogs in terrible conditions, it always breaks my heart. I own 10 dogs already, I wish I could take every single homeless animal I come across with, but I can’t. I help as much as I can. There’s a famous animal cruelty case which took place in Nayarit. 3 morons tortured a dog until he died, and they were sick enough to record it and upload it to YouTube, in case you want to see it…look up: “Callajerito perro torturado Nayarit” (warning: it’s extremely sick). This case inspired many to take action against this kind of cruelty. Saddly, here in Mexico, most people don’t have any respect for animals. They will throw a stone at a homeless dog just for fun and…the authorities won’t do anything about it (other than laughing at you because you care about it). These 3 morons just paid a fee (30 bucks…) and that was it. It truly sucks…but I try my best to do my part.

  • Diana Cline says:

    I JUST REMEMBERED TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE AWESOME SPAY NEUTER CLINIC being held October 18th23rd! PLEASE HELP SPREAD THE WORD TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS IN THE CANCUN AREA. THANK YOU HEATHER! Reducing Cat and Dog Overpopulation in Cancun CANDi Isla Animals and Achates Legacy to Sponsor Free Sterilization Clinics October 18 22 at Two Sites International veterinarians volunteers and animal welfare advocates will join local vets and volunteers to provide free sterilizations emergency care and ancillary services such as deworming ear treatment nail trimming and tick and flea treatment to dogs and cats. As funding permits the animals will also receive vaccinations collars leashes and vitamins. And every animal will receive the maximum amount of TLC. The clinics will take place in two locations At the Cancun Pound address La Region 99 Manzana 54 Lote 1 Cancun Q.Roo Mexico At the ferry station in Puerto Juarez The animals here are in desperate need of help. Every day puppies are born on the beach in the parking lots and in the jungle. Most dogs here are underfed and suffer from health issues. HOW YOU CAN HELP Volunteer to provide handson care for the animals. Donate money The more money we receive the more animals we can care for. The average cost is $20 per animal. Donate supplies We need garbage bags bleach rubbing alcohol small scrub brushes buckets laundry soap paper towels spray bottles qtips gauze clothes pins calculators watches with second hands an accurate scale gallon zip lock bags pens scissors leashes collars rope tape towels hand sanitizer bottled water snacks lunches dog crates old newspapers cleaning detergent mops brooms zip ties Contact Alison Sawyer Current at or Darci Galati at

  • Diana Cline says:

    Awe Heather I remember! It was August 5th when Sophie and Emma rescued Maya! These devoted souls also rescued the 10 precious dogs 3 adults and 7 newborn puppies that my husband daughters and I met the first hour of our summer vacation at the Now Jade in Riviera Maya rescued on June 29th9 weeks ago. My family and I were seriously shocked that these dogs were able to survive for so long just drinking pool and sea water and eating whatever scraps they could find. We cared for all of the dogs the entire week we were there and I wrote pages of notes and took lots of pictures of each dog so I would be able to alert PETA and anyone else I could find to help get these dogs rescued. Thanks to PETA and Cancun Animal Rescue all 10 dogs are healthy spayedneutered and ready to find their forever loving home. Were trying to adopt the 2 white puppies two close friends are hoping to adopt the patch puppies and Brindy will have an awesome life with a new brother Diesel mini chocolate lab 4 horses and a mama who adores animals! Its a lot of work to get them back here to Maryland but they deserve the opportunity! As do all the stray dogs in Mexico. I have to thank you Ingrid Lisa and especially Sophie Emma Luis Rosalinda and Dr. Miguel for taking such good care of all the dogs since their rescue. If I can offer any advice at all to people traveling to mexico or anywhere else if you see a stray dog do whatever you can to get a picture and good description and the location of the dog and don’t just think oh someone else will help it. We must speak for those who have no voice! So happy that Maya is doing well! Thanks for all you do sister! Diana Cline

  • Miguel Ceron says:

    Many people in Mexico have heard about spaying and neutering and cockfights do not take place on city streets. At least I have never gone out on the streets to see one and I have lived here for 43 years now. People that have pets take good care of their animals unfortunately in small communities many animals are not perceived as pets but rather as working tools andor food Mayans ate dogs for centuries. This perception combined with the concept of “communal” things make these poor animals not belong to anyone yet be part of the town or town sector. Everyone accepts it but no one takes care of it. I would not worry about the dog so much but about the children exposed to all these street dogs. In Merida alone the capitol city of Yucatan we have a census of 80000 street dogs. It is urgent to get control over this extremely dangerous health issue. It has reached the levels of a plague and it is out of control. The problem is much bigger than a poor dog with sarna and to educate all those people seems to be an impossible task to them it is just a dog that barks when someone comes close a door bell. Educate the children and raise funds to feed 80000 dogs because when someone kills them then and only then the activists show up. It is a very complicated social and government issue today. The biggest problem is that for 80000 dogs plus all the dogs in the small communities in Yucatan alone the only answer is to kill them and no one is willing to do that I am not. give me some answers I thought I would start a program in my school with volunteers to find solutions to this problem but first we need to make an intense field research to understand the people in the communities before we can design an effective program that integrates education medical services for dogs and people shelter adoption options etc.

  • compassionANDrespect says:

    I visited Mexico several years ago when i was about 15 . I went with a friend of mine and her family who were dropping off a family member . I saw stray after stray and it honesty broke my heart . I saw a dead Chiuauasp? in someones front yard a severely emaciated stray dog with a broken leg wandering around the taco trucks in the area . My friends aunt who lived in a shack in the middle of a dirt road had little money and was feeding a stray dog and many kittens leftover human food that her and her family did not finish . She was doing her best and at least had the heart not to let the animals starve . What i remember most about that trip was my sadness for the animals i just couldnt bear it . I asked my friend if they had animal control out there and she said NO . She also said that most people there are struggling enough to assure their own survival so helping or feeding animals is not on the top of their todo list . People in Mexico are so used to seeing these animals suffering and starving that it doesnt even really register any sympathy its just a part of LIFE is how they see it . So sad i had never seen anything like it and i hope to never see anything like it again . Knowing that these animals are surely going to die most likely of starvation with no LOVE companionship or even someone to help them is just plain sad .

  • Susan says:

    I heart hurts so bad to know that this goes on world wide and it doesn’t have to be that way. God Bless you and all those people who have compassion in their hearts and patiences in their characters. I pray that I can be just like you who truely cares and is actually willing to interupt their own daily routine or planned schedule and makes the effort to do something so humanitarian like saving Maya and the other dog. God smiles on you.

  • Carole Edmonds says:

    Shared and Donated

  • Carole Edmonds says:

    What a precious story of little Muneca doll. I encountered a stray at Mexico City airport years ago as I was waiting for a bus. It appeared to have a broken leg. I looked in my bag for food and realized I had nothing. Then it occured to me the one thing it probably never had after leaving it’s mother and that was love. I sat down against the wall and pet the poor dog as I cried like a baby. Everyone including my traveling companions looked at me like I was crazy but I did not care. I hated to leave it but at the time knew nothing about animal rescue organizations expecially in other countries. I wish I had it to go over. At least we will reunite someday at the Rainbow Bridgs

  • Lisa says:

    Very sadly I witnessed similar situations in the Bahamas and Cancun areas while on a vacation. It is just very poor areas and there were many stray dogs I saw in Bahamas around the hotel. Full of fleas and no one apparently taking care of them. Did not see an animal shelter around. Many vets are in it for the money some so expensive in the US and becoming too expensive all the time. Costs less to see a doctor! Maya is lucky someone had a heart of gold.

  • George says:

    This is going on right in the USA in Puerto Rico!! Dogs and puppies dying in the streets while people can’t afford to spay and neuter or haven’t been educated and the veterinarians there don’t seem to do a thing. And the pet stores there are selling unaltered puppy mill puppies. I’ll never go to Puerto Rico again! How can those vets be so cruel to let that happen? They went to US vet schools! Don’t they care? If the vets set up an education program and had spay neuter clinics the suffering would stop.

  • Rev. Meg Schramm says:

    Heather that is wonderful news about the dog and you are a special person but I feel that you are very lucky not to have run into trouble with the local authorities while you were trying to help the animal. I have been to Mexico many times and I have learned by experience that Mexico is a safe place to be only if you do not become sick get hurt or attract the attention of the local police in any way. For more information on this google “travel advisories to Mexico.”

  • James says:

    Blessings Indeed Awesome

  • Robbyn says:

    Heather this story is beautifully happy and terribly sad at the same time. I cried again although I already knew little Muneca’s story. Bless you and your family for your efforts. She’s a lucky pup and hopefully people in the area will make certain there are many more lucky pups to come.