Original drawing by
Rose Lambert-Sluder, age 7

Barking in Belize:

Pooches in Paradise


By LAURA FRENCH

Tropical dogs are like northern snowflakes: No two are alike. Belizean pooches tend to be small and thin and short-haired, but they otherwise have as varied a background as Belizeans themselves.
Natural history buffs come to Belize with bird books in hand, looking to identify the 200+ species of birds that can be found here. It would be more of a challenge to study any single Belize dog, to identify the dozen or so breeds that have mingled to produce him or her.

Black and tan markings hint at Doberman antecedents. Traces of German Shepherd are fairly common. On a Mayan farmstead five miles by canoe upriver from absolutely anything, a sleeping gray dog roused himself to look up at me with the pale eyes of a Weimeraner.

Somebody should offer a "Dogs of Belize" tour: There's Figgy, who was one of my tour guides at Maya Mountain Lodge near San Ignacio. The Lodge has a self-guided nature trail, and the first day I was there, Bart Mickler told Figgy to go along. Figgy waited patiently while I stopped to read the entries in the guidebook. He skipped the side-trip to the Mayan ruin. A couple of times he forgot himself and bounded off into the bush after a hot scent, then recovered himself and ran past me to take his place in the lead.

The second day I was there, stretched out in a hammock on my front porch, recovering from a day of climbing ruins, Figgy came and insisted on another walk. Eventually I complied. I headed up a paved path in the direction I remembered the day before, and Figgy suddenly stopped and looked at me balefully.

I stopped and said, "Come on, Figgy." He didn't budge. I asked him what was wrong, but he wouldn't say. He started back to the lodge, and I called him back. He turned around, but wouldn't come up the path with me.

Of course, he was right and I was wrong. I was standing on the walkway to one of the cottages. He was standing on the path that led to the nature trail. When I finally realized my mistake, he rushed off ahead of me again.

There are two dogs at the luxurious Blancaneaux, Francis Ford Coppola's Belizean resort in the Mountain Pine Ridge. They were pets of the British Army, who are now being pulled out of the country. Ann, the manager, wanted one of the dogs, but the two were a package deal, having been raised together.

Max is the star of Lamanai Outpost Lodge near Lamanai. He's a two-year-old German Shepherd cross, not a native Belizean but an immigrant from Grenada. He keeps to his spot on the sofa, while looking longingly at the people in the adjoining dining room. Sometimes this low-key begging techniques pays off in bacon.

And then there was the dog who came to mass at St. Peter's on Ambergris Caye. She was long and low to the ground, a little shaggier than the usual, and even harder to identify than most.
At the beginning of the mass she was up near the altar, giving herself an extended scratch behind the ear. During the scripture readings she discovered the cool breeze flowing through the side doors of the church and she sprawled herself out on the tile. She left briefly for a while during the offertory, I noticed. But she was back for the passing of the peace, smack in the center of the aisle, and the priests who had made their way to the back of the church shaking hands had to arc slightly around her on their way back to the altar.

I suppose that someone who didn't love animals might have seen it as a sign that Belize was going to the dogs. For me, with a Golden Retriever and a Border Collie back home, it was a sign that Belize isn't an artificially created tourist haven but a real place, with real people--two-legged and four-legged--who have ways of doing things that are uniquely and charmingly their own.

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