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. This wasn’t what they promote on the travel web sites for San Miguel de Allende. It was the black of night, and most of the city was asleep. The normal “quaint” cobblestone streets were shrouded with a dark, and maybe even apprehensive air. City sounds travel further at night and the few tires on cobblestones easily pierce the air. Caution and hesitation rule the inner-city neighborhoods. People walking past look down and away instead of up and out. Well before sunrise, it’s a ragged edge on the street at night.
But still, they stood, or they sat on this neighborhood sidewalk, under harsh streetlights, in and out of the dark. Each of them brought their animals. 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 animals were limping with makeshift bandages made out of tee shirts wrapped around their limbs. As I looked down the street, there was the sound of quiet conversation and the occasional anonymous nervous grumble bark, but there were no fights. Just waiting and waiting.
By 7 AM, the most determined of the people and their animals had been 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 and sometimes more than one. This is a devoutly religious country, and the truth is if you’re gonna sit your ass 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 local people and all their animals waited patiently for actual saints in the city to open the door to the local Lions Club, let them in, and then help their animals. At 8:00 AM, volunteers for Amigo’s de Animales opened the door and 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 thousands of street dogs and cats lost in the city and the surrounding areas. The animals are starving, afraid, lonely, desperate and often they are very sick. Against tremendous odds, Amigos de Animales is trying to help slow this situation down. At last count, heading into 2020, they have spayed or neutered close to 25,000 animals, which gives the survivors at least a chance at a better life. By any measure we have of being reasonable and caring human beings, these volunteers are some of the best. Amigo’s de Animales is the real deal, and we 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 couple of times each year Amigos puts on this free spay/neuter clinic for the local Mexican community. The local ex-pat based Lions Club provides the space. They invited me to have a look at their operation and maybe do a few photos and a story. I had heard a lot of good things about Amigos, so I was anxious to see the operation. The Lions Club looked like your high school gym used to look - tile floor, the same lame earth tone color, the same feel, the same pep rally sort of smell. I looked around, certain I would find a basket or soccer ball in the corner and maybe an old gym towel hanging from a radiator. I don’t know how many volunteers showed up, but I’m safe to say there were a lot. When the local people and their animals arrived, it became organized chaos but organized to an almost military standard. 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 had cared for around 150 animals, and then the next day they did the whole thing again. Around 300 animals had their lives changed for the better, and still, some were turned away. Many still need help. But 300 or so did get help, 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 watched, listened, took a few notes, made a few photographs. I kept moving constantly and tried to stay out of the way. Like all the blue-collar photographers in the world, we try to anticipate what will happen where and when, and be there just a little before it happens. And for a while, I just stood there silently trying to find a spare metaphor that made a little sense. Couldn't find one. It did occur to me 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 Mexican folks, their companion animals, and volunteer Amigos filled with the light of that thought.
So, I got this short story together, and a few photos to share with you. A couple of the image's border on a light shade of tough to look at, but I tried to be respectful, 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 scared, but 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.