Give or take an hour, the local Mexican folks started lining up around 2:00 AM. They had a long time to wait. This time of year, the high desert country in central Mexico is cold at 2:00 AM. It can hover around 4C, 40F - maybe a touch higher, maybe a touch lower. In Mexico, the cold dry edge of sunrise is sharp, but still, they stood, or they sat on this neighborhood sidewalk, under harsh streetlights in and out of the dark. It was the black of night, and most of San Miguel de Allende was asleep. They wrapped their smaller dogs and cats in blankets. The bigger dogs, for the most part, sat or stood quietly next to their owners. Some dogs wore tossed aside thrift store ski caps. Some dogs were limping with makeshift bandages on their limbs. Down the street, there was the sound of quiet conversation and the occasional anonymous grumble bark. By 7 AM, the most determined of the people and their animals had been there in line for 5 hrs. Behind them now and lined up down the street were a hundred more people, each with a dog or a cat or sometimes more than one. This is a devoutly religious country, and the truth is if you’re gonna sit your rear end on a concrete sidewalk in the dark for hours in the cold with an animal who never even for a second doubts your motive or your purpose or your plan, you damn well better believe in something. All these people and all their animals waited for living breathing saints to open the door to the local Lions Club, let them in, and then change their collective lives forever. They were waiting patiently for Amigo’s de Animales to open the door, and at 8:00 AM, the volunteers did just that.
Amigos was formed by Arno K Naumann in 2001 as a “not for profit” Mexican association dedicated to helping curb the overpopulation of companion animals in San Miguel. They spay and neuter animals for local people who can’t afford to pay a vet. There are hundreds and I don’t know, maybe thousands of street dogs and cats lost in the city and the surrounding areas. They are starving, they are often very sick, they are afraid, they are lonely, and they are desperate animals. Against tremendous odds, Amigos de Animales is trying to help slow it down. At last count, heading into 2020, they have helped close to 25,000 animals have better lives. By any measure we have of being reasonable and caring human beings, these volunteers beat the crap out of any garden variety saint I’ve never met. I spent a few hours with these guys the other day, and it simply don’t get no better than this here. Amigo’s de Animales is the real deal, and you should be flat out proud of them. Without them, San Miguel could easily turn into a death camp for too many animals. Not exactly the Travel and Leisure or Condé Nast top ten list.
A number of times a year Amigos puts on this spay/neuter clinic. The local Lions Club provides the space. Looked sort of like your high school gym used to look. Tile floor, the same lame earth tone color, the same feel. I looked around, certain I would find a basket or soccer ball in the corner. One way or another you’ve been there. I don’t know how many volunteers showed up, but a bunch of them made this whole thing work. Organized chaos it was, but it was organized to machine shop/drill sergeant standards. Something like 8 to 10 vets volunteered to work the day at folding tables, under beat up floodlights, in a makeshift open-space operating room that looked similar to an army war zone operating room, and by the end of the day, they cared for around 150 animals, and then the next day they did it again. Around 300 animals had their lives changed for the better, and still, some were turned away. Some still need help. Some never get help. But 300 or so did, and that’s the work of saints. Any way you want to paint it, that’s the truth. If you want to help, you can. You can find them at https://amigos-sma.org/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/amigossma/
On this particular day I didn’t do a lot. I watched. I listened. I took notes. I kept moving constantly. Like all the blue-collar photographers in the world, we try to anticipate what will happen where and when. And for a while, I just stood there silent trying to find a spare metaphor that made a little sense. Couldn't find one. It did occur to me that as I look around the world there is evil, sickness, and desperation everywhere, and sometimes the immensity of it simply presses down indiscriminately on each of us, who pray for better days. But Leonard Cohen told us no matter how desperate the times, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." This room full of folks, their companion animals, and volunteer Amigos filled with the light of that thought. I took a few photos and I pondered what I'd say about Amigos de Animales and their labors of love. So, I got this short story together, and few photos to share for you. A couple of the image's border on a light shade of tough to look at, but I tried to be respectful with it, and honestly, I don’t’ really care if you’re bothered by a photo of a dog getting his nuts cut off :-). If you want tough, try being an animal and living on the streets in San Miguel. You want a little hope? Look into the eyes of all these friendly Mexican people who brought their animals in for help, then look into the eyes of these trusting animals that need help, and then look again closely now into the eyes of the volunteers who, when times are tough, took the time to give a damn. It was an honor to be in the same room with them. God bless them. Saints in the city all.