What a pleasant surprise to arrive in a Spanish speaking country,
expecting the usual resistance to bringing my Seeing Eye Dog into
public places, and nothing happened. Nothing like Chile or Brazil.
Nobody said anything other than the ubiquitous, Que Lindo. It was
particularly nice to be working Josh again after "caning it" in the
United Kingdom the week before.
It turns out that Mexico passed a law a few years ago specifically
requiring the admittance of dog guides in public places. This law was
passed in conjunction with establishing disabled parking regulations.
Nonetheless, Josh had some interesting challenges in Mexico City. In
a city of nearly 20 million people and 7 million cars there is terrible
traffic, nonfunctioning signal lights, cars on the sidewalks, broken
sidewalks and inconsistent terrain. There were not as many loose dogs
as I expected. And yet, every time I entered a store or restaurant,
there was seldom any question about being allowed to bring Josh inside.
This is in stark contrast with my last visit to Mexico City 17 years
ago when I had to sneak my first dog Totie onto a bus and keep her
hidden for the 8 hour trip to Huajaca.
Our hosts in Mexico took us on a fascinating afternoon boat (Chalupa)
trip among the ancient canals of Xochomilco
. This was a flat boat with a
picnic table in the middle. It was propelled by a guy standing at the
back pushing us along with a 15 foot pole. Other Chalupas had floating
musicians, floating restaurants, vendors and even picture takers. The
unique story of how these canals were formed and the quiet movement of
the Chalupa was the best part of this excursion. I did try my hand at
poling the boat which gave me great respect for the Mexican poller who
propelled us for 3 hours. Not much for Josh to do but lay under the
table, although the occasional Great Heron got his attention.
Josh did get a work out guiding me up the 800 or so steps to the top of
the Pyramid of the Sun
in the ancient city of Titiojakan. This was not
quite as treacherous as some hiking we have done in the Sierra Nevada
Mountains but it was tricky. The thing that is amazing about these
unusual kinds of guiding experiences is that the dog must employ
modified guiding techniques which are demanded by unusual circumstances
like very narrow stairs requiring an almost single file approach.
Descending some of the steepest sections was particularly precarious.
Josh was of course going down head first and while he was guiding me, I
was supporting him with the harness from a nose-dive.
We tramped around through broken rubble and ruins and through the
museum. There is one room which has an entirely glass floor which is a
couple feet over a small model replica of the ancient city. This is
where Josh drew the line. He was not going to take responsibility for
me stepping out into what looked like thin air. He was willing to heel,
somewhat reluctantly, but he would not guide me in this room.
Although touching the original stone carvings in this museum is strictly
forbidden, one guard personally showed me a whole wall of carvings. At
the Archeological Museum back in Mexico City, blind people are allowed
to touch some of the pieces if prior arrangements are made. It is mind
boggling to imagine the incredible amount of work and artistry which
went into the stone carvings. It is ah inspiring to be touching
something which was touched by other human hands 2000 years ago.
I was told that there about 100 dog guides around Mexico City and I saw a
dozen or so during my visits and presentations. Apparently, the Purina
Foundation pays for a half dozen blind Mexicans to go to Leader Dog
along with an interpreter for the group. I met one woman with a dog
from the Guide Dog Foundation; she spoke English very well. I also met a
couple dogs and their owners from the new Mexican dog guide school.
They seemed fine the little I saw of them but other people told me that
the dogs and training are a bit weak yet. They were proud to announce
that they are the first dog guide school in Latin America. I was most
impressed by the fact that they had passed a dog guide law and that
public awareness was good enough that one could travel freely in Mexico
City. It did help being able to speak Spanish as not everyone
understood right away that Josh was a "Perro Gia" and not just a pet on a
The highlight of my trip other than the new friends I made in two of
our Mexican hosts, was a visit to the Comite Por Ciegos, a
rehabilitation center which serves about 350 blind people each year.
They only scratch the surface of the 2 million blind people in Mexico
but they are nonetheless making a difference in a country where there is
no public funding for the blind. I had a heart-to-heart talk with a
class of 25 blind young adults about the barriers we all face in social
and career development. We discussed issues like, aren't blind people
in the United States all rich and taken care of. It seemed to bring us
together when I explained that my own upbringing included a broken home
with 5 children and a mother who was working and going to school at the
same time. I felt that I did inspire them and the next day I was able
to go a step further by appearing on Hoy Mismo (Today), a national TV
show seen by 30 Million Mexicans and throughout the Spanish speaking
world. Josh did his part by laying at my feet quietly and looking
beautiful, Que Lindo.
As I fly back to California, an exemplary Seeing Eye dog at my feet,
writing on my talking laptop, dressed in an expensive suit, with a good
job and family awaiting me, that I am more than just a little fortunate
and that I can't return too soon to share my good fortune with the blind
people of Mexico. I am reminded too that there was a day when dog
guide access was not so easy in this country. Thanks to Embassador
Buddy and the first Seeing Eye dogs and their masters.