Guatemalan views about animals – why do they hate cats?

I’ve had conversations with my teachers and host family about the treatment of animals in Guatemala. Here attitudes are very different, especially from urban North America.

Many people have dogs, but these are seen more as a tool to protect their houses. The dogs run at large during the day, picking through garbage for food, and only come in the house at night. Often they have skin conditions or other diseases. Guatemalans are shocked by the way North Americans treat dogs as members of their family, and the example of this excess that Guatemalans often cite is North Americans who sleep with their dogs. To Guatemalans this is insane.

As one teacher, Hugo, said, the concept of a dog as a pet is very strange in Guatemala. He has a dog, however, that he seems to treat as a bit more of a pet, bringing it to work with him and keeping it tied up. This is not the norm.

The family I’m staying with have a dog called “Skip”, pronounced “Es-KEEP”. They admit that he’s mainly a guard dog, although the woman, Adelhaida, concedes that they also love him.

So an article in today’s newspaper Prensa Libre was particularly interesting. It surveyed 1,200 Guatemalans from urban and rural areas about their attitudes towards animals.

It wasn’t a big surprise that when asked what animal they prefer, 73.6% said dogs, followed by chickens and roosters at 8.8%. Perhaps those people misinterpreted the question as preferring to eat. Cats came in at a lowly 4.5%.

Most shocking were the results when people were asked which animals they most hate. Not so surprising was that rats and mice were the most hated (by 27.4%). What was particularly shocking though was that cats were a not-too-distant second most hated (19.7%). Indeed such animals as snakes (13.1%), pigs (4.5%) and even cockroaches (4.1%) are far less hated that cats. I wonder what it is about cats and Guatemalans. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen many cats at large here.

A surprising 81.5% said they thought Guatemalans have a relationship of love with animals compared to 18.4% who thought the relationship is simply toward an object. Nonetheless, only 1% see pets as members of the family. There was wide recognition of cruelty towards animals– 79.7% believe there is violence towards animals in Guatemala, and a huge 96.4% thought there should be laws to protect animals.

I’m not sure how accurate this poll is. I tend to think animals are pretty badly treated here, but perhaps no worse than in many other third world countries. The other day, while hiking, I noticed a little boy leading a horse, which was heavily loaded, down a mountain trail. The horse probably couldn’t go any faster, but the boy kept beating it with a stick.

Yesterday, one of the many street dogs ran out into traffic and a tuk tuk (small motorbike driven taxi) struck it at full force and ran over it with a rear wheel. Not surprisingly, the driver kept going without even slowing down. The dog, however, rolled around and whimpered for a few seconds, and then picked himself up and ran off. To be an animal in Guatemala, you have to be very tough.

About Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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