It was a scant six years ago that Carlos Martinez and his wife, Ana Garcia, opened a veterinary clinic on Avenida Lopez Cotilla, not far from the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara.
After finishing their education, working and starting a family farther north, in the state of Durango, the couple at that time returned to Guadalajara, animated by an affection for animals that had been with them since childhood.
“When I was a little girl,” Ana reminisced, “if I saw boys bothering some animal, I would run over yelling ’No! No!’” As she talked, she held a convalescing pigeon, which the couple accepted after a neighbor found it on the ground with one leg torn off. She confidently stretched out its wings to show they were not broken.
Two weeks earlier, Carlos had done surgery to repair the stump and, when Ana saw that the bird was finally able to stand on one leg, she named him Campeon (champion).
Today Ana is surrounded mostly by pet animals – dogs and cats brought in for grooming, vaccinations or treatment – as well as the occasional pet bird or fish. Most remarkably, however, she also shelters a motley group of rescued critters of all types: turtles, pigeons, doves, lizards, iguanas and just about anything else that walks, crawls or flies. Word has gotten around that the family has a soft spot for animals, so people sometimes just show up with stray animals – for example, on one recent day, a sick turtle that Garcia nursed and named Lechuga (lettuce).
The couple’s son, Carlos, Jr., has apparently needed no encouragement to get into the swing of the family ethos. He leads this reporter to a large, green mesh cage outside the clinic entrance where several medium sized iguanas sit impassively in the sun, camouflaged against tree branches placed inside, until something alarms them and they dart into recesses.
“The camera noise scared them,” Carlos declares to his mother. These lizards have very acute senses – especially vision – which enable them to navigate through dense forests, evade predators and zero in on their mostly vegetarian diet. As Carlos proffers flowers and other plant sprigs, on which they obligingly munch, he says they don’t bite, or at least have never bitten him, although iguanas are said to be able to inflict painful bites.
“We got them at the Baratillo [Sunday tianguis],” Ana explains. “Someone told us a man was selling iguanas in boxes there. When we arrived, we saw he had a lot and they were moribund. So we gave him some money and took them all. They’re protected and it’s illegal to sell them, although people have approached us here, when they spot them in the cage, asking to buy them. They say they are going to make stew out of them,” she added, with a touch of indignation. She adds that, strictly speaking, it is illegal to possess iguanas, even in a shelter.
Most of the rescued iguanas survived and are now thriving. They are not easy to raise as pets, Carlos, Jr., added, since they only do well in a narrow temperature range and need a lot of UV. Releasing them in Guadalajara would be risky, considering the cold temperatures here.
Garcia says they typically release animals from their urban shelter after recovery. She might take a pigeon to an area where pigeons gather, open the cage and allow it to fly off when the others do.
If it doesn’t, she puts it back in the cage and tries again another day.