Words and Photos by Danielle Baker
Note: The following is an installment of Danielle Baker’s ‘The Bakery’ column published regularly on bikemag.com.
My mom is the Bob Barker of Mexico—and she rides bikes.
My mom is the Bob Barker of Mexico. If your dogs aren't spayed or neutered, she will get on her bike and hunt you down. Truth.
Ten years ago my mom started rescuing dogs in her village in Mexico. Five years ago she got a bike and a friend, and now rescues dogs in the surrounding towns. LaRae and Donna may seem like your average Mexico living, cruiser bike-riding, margarita-loving, cookie-making moms, but they're not.
LaRae and Donna cruise the rural roads looking for dogs in need.
At the age of 56 my mom discovered biking when fibromyalgia stopped her from participating in other activities. I helped her pick out a sweet pink cruiser bike, suitable for her retired life in Mexico. Within a few months she started asking for a better seat, then a mirror, then a computer to track her mileage. Mileage? Really? She was riding upwards of 20 kilometers a day, sending me photos from the middle of cow herds, mud puddles and new spots that she had once thought were much too far to ride to. One of her favorite stops when she comes home now is my local bike shop. Her most recent acquisition was a basket, but not one of those trendy wicker ones, nope. Mom needed a basket with support, one that can hold a lot of dog food, or a dog when needed.
Donna feeds new puppies on their route, they are keeping an eye on them until they are old enough to be spayed.
A face you can't help but love.
My parents are not ones to buy into the fear mongering that comes from outside media about Mexico. They first fell in love with their area in 1984 and they have been going there ever since, eventually making it their home. Whenever friends and family start in on rants about the dangers of Mexico they roll their eyes and politely change the subject. If it is not your thing, you won't understand.
The ladies "mountain biking" as they like to say.
In their small area of Mexico there have always been gangs, drugs and cockfights. Last year a rival gang tried to move into the area. The result was home invasions, assassinations and shoot-outs. The victims of these robberies, however, will be the first to tell you that the assailants were very polite. If you gave them everything they asked for, they hardly waved their guns in your face at all. There was a pact amongst the beach community, no one would put themselves or others in danger; hand over what is asked for, don't be a hero. Really, no one likes a hero anyway.
Bullet-ridden house after a shoot-out that claimed thirteen lives.
On my first bike ride with the ladies this year we rode past a shelled out house, where a gunfight between one of the gangs and the federales had killed thirteen people, and two roadside shrines for other gang members who had been assassinated in their vehicles. One of the families in the village had their son abducted and held for ransom, he was returned for 100 pesos ($10). All of this happens, and daily life goes on, just like when you hear about a robbery on the news in the safety of your living room. My mom is also very reassuring. On our ride she pointed out a guy and said, "I think he's one of the bad guys. You don't have to sleep with him, but maybe just be really nice to him." Uh, thanks mom.
Roadside shrine for a gang member who was assassinated in his vehicle.
None of these incidents stopped my mom and Donna from riding their bikes every day. They have untied and fed dogs who have been left starving to guard vacant houses, given new collars and leashes to families who have their dogs tied with fishing twine and have had to make the decision to have dogs euthanized when they were beyond help. They've been bitten, shit on, and covered in fleas. Between them they have adopted dogs with personality disorders, cancer, open fleshy wounds and big irresistible puppy eyes. Its not lying out by the pool and worrying about tan lines; this is real Mexico.
A woman on their route brought her dad's dog from another village to be taken in for an operation.
Each dog that has been spayed or neutered is given a collar. If a dog doesn't have a collar it will be euthanized when the stray dogs are culled each year.
Due to an unfortunate language barrier at the beginning of their endeavors, the ladies were briefly shunned after they appeared to be brazen daytime dognappers. As they rode down the dirt streets families hid their dogs and children would hug their puppies tight. Luckily the misunderstanding was discovered, the dog was returned and the community now supports their work. The school children help them round up strays and the residents now ask to have their dogs taken in to be spayed or neutered. On occasion the locals are a little too helpful. They once took a dog in to be spayed and the vet told them that the dog was clearly too old to get pregnant. When they returned the dog to the owner and questioned him, he simply replied, "I gave her to you because you seem so nice." Other times they just have to accept the practicality of life here. An elderly woman asked to have her dog spayed, but when they went to pick up the dog they were informed matter-of-factly that the dog was dead. My mom and Donna were crushed and when they asked what had happened the woman replied, "it was shot because it was eating chickens." When they tried to console her, she looked at them and said, "I shot it. They were my chickens!"
A dog waiting for adoption at the humane society where the animals are operated on and cared for.
Enrique the vet volunteers his time to operate on animals at the Humane Society.
Through all the trials and tribulations of language barriers, gangs, and culture these ladies ride every day. They pedal and chat, they swap recipes and gossip, and along the way they get their hands dirty, really dirty. Most importantly they are following their passion in life and giving back to the community that they are a part of.
The dogs follow the ladies knowing that there is often dog food and cookies in their baskets.