One could write a history of Cuba in recent year from its dogs, those animals who populate our streets and homes. And not only from the care or mistreatment they have received, but also from the breeds of dog with whom people have chosen to share their daily lives. I remember some years ago when Dalmatians were in style — sparked by Disney with its 101 puppies — and later there was a predilection for Chow Chows which you practically never see any more. I confess I’m mad for mutts, mongrels, those with no lineage. Perhaps because my own lack of pedigree and lineage make me sympathetic to pets who also fall outside genealogy. Nevertheless, I carefully follow how social classes are also expressed in these four-legged creatures, with their sharp sense of smell and their barks.
Behind the high gates of Miramar’s mansions Rottweilers growl. To have a dog there is a sign of power and excellent economic status. To feed them, take them for walks and train them to shred the thief who scales the wall, make up part of the pastimes of their wealthy owners. They are, for these times, what German Shepherds represented in the eighties, an energetic breed for the sector that wants to show it’s on the rise. Just behind come the Labradors, with owners who have a garden or a pool and who buy them canned food. Dogs that have a stylist and someone to take them for runs in the morning–regulars along Fifth Avenue–and for swims in the sea. Lucky dogs.
But I don’t think that every area of the city, or every social class, corresponds to one or another breed of pet. In the most deteriorated tenement in Centro Habana a gorgeous champagne-colored Cocker Spaniel or a slender menacing Doberman can emerge. Examples abound of enormous Afghan Hounds living in apartments without balconies, and I have even seen Great Danes peeking through the pieces of tin of a makeshift home in a Havana “llega y pon.”* The dogs we choose say a lot about what we want to become, our desire for greatness… or our acceptance of our insignificance. One tiny breed is all the rage on the Island these days, the Pekingese with their flattened noses and short tails. The most valued are the albinos, which sell for three months’ wages: about $50 U.S. for each puppy.
Yesterday I came across one of these “cotton balls” at the entrance to a rooming house in Cayo Hueso. I had to laugh at the contrast of his snow-white fur next to a broken sewer pipe. I left there reflecting on the story that could be told through dogs, of the national progress that can be told contemplating their muzzles and feet. A reality of contrasts that runs from the strong chest of the Boxer in Vedado, to the visible ribcage of the mongrel abandoned on some street.
*Improvised neighborhoods with precarious homes made from scrap materials. [Translator’s note: “Llega y pon” literally means “arrive and put.”]