Despite being a small country, Costa Rica has a diverse geographic and cultural landscape. This can be seen especially in the way that animals are viewed and treated. If you’ll be spending significant time here, it’s a good idea to be psychologically prepared in advance.
Dogs are viewed in four basic ways:
* Independent beings with their own lives
* Cheap security systems
* Toys for the kids
* Members of the family
Obviously, all of these perspectives exist in the United States, but most Americans view their dogs as members of the family. In Costa Rican cities, this is also usually true. But in rural areas, the four perspectives often have a roughly equal percentage of supporters.
The first perspective… that dogs have their own lives… is most evident on indigenous reservations. There, food is at a premium. Saving something for the dog doesn’t even come into the picture. The dogs, as independent beings, are expected to fend for themselves. If they can’t, they starve, and that’s just life. For someone like me, it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
This perspective is also evident in non-indigenous rural areas. There, you’ll see plenty of street dogs. The difference is that people will make sure those dogs get fed. Having said that, the concept of taking an injured street dog to get medical care is still pretty foreign. Smart dogs learn about cars and other dangers, and don’t get hurt. Injuries just cull out the weak and stupid. Of course, I don’t share that opinion.
The second perspective… cheap security systems… usually involves a dog on a short leash. The dog tends to get table scraps and not much else. Their owners somehow juggle two conflicting thoughts simultaneously. On the one hand, the dog is a living creature from whom they expect loyalty and affection. On the other hand, the dog is a thing, existing solely to protect the house.
The third perspective… that dogs are toys for kids… is also common in the US, unfortunately. At some point, the kids move on to other toys, and the dog gets ignored. These households usually care decently for their pet, with the exception of one critical need: affection.
The fourth perspective… pets are members of the family… is my personal preference. Having said that, there’s a trend among some wealthier Ticos to take it to extremes to display social status. I know of a woman who had her dog’s ears pierced. The dog wears diamond earrings. To me, that’s insanity!