Tierra de Animales: Meet Ricardo and His Happy Dogs

by Lydia Linton Pontius  (January 2013)

We arrived in Cancun and our very first stop, after picking up our rental car, was to head to Costco and grab some dog food for our visit to Tierra de Animales. Sac-Be has been promoting this organization for some time and we always like to visit the places we support. We had tried to work a visit in during past trips but for various reasons it just didn't happen. I have had many conversations with Lisa Edwards and felt like I knew Ricardo Pimentel Cordero from all I had heard

A part of me was a little hesitant to visit the facility. My husband, Mike, and I are hopeless animal lovers and have a special soft spot for dogs of the Riviera Maya. We have our second dog from Akumal, Maya Alux, whom we fell in love with shortly after losing our first, Lola. I first became aware of the animal situation in the area back in 1999 when I brought a film crew down and met with the members of YARF—Yucatan Animal Rescue Foundation. We filmed and I volunteered at clinics they held in Tulum and Akumal. They ceased to exist but the void was quickly filled by ViDAS, who to this day continues to hold clinics in the area. Since that first clinic we have been big supporters of all the local groups that help the animals. I must say the work these groups have done has made a difference. Stray street and beach dog populations have diminished and education has improved greatly. That doesn't mean that there is less of a need to help; these problems, if not dealt with continuously, will return.

I digress. I hesitated to go to a place with so many dogs because I thought for sure my heart would break, I would feel terrible that we were not in a position to rescue at least one or, worse, I thought what if this is a hoarder?

What we found was amazing. Even though many people had told us about Ricardo and TdA we were not prepared for what we found. Located about 25 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Cancun is a huge piece of property. We arrived and were greeted by Ricardo and his personal pups who roam outside the sanctuary. One was the most gorgeous pit bull—we have a soft spot for these terribly misjudged dogs. He was a LOVE!

Ricardo asked us if we wanted to have a tour and, of course, we could not resist. The first area we visited was a room with large kennels. It was explained that this is where the new dogs come, a quarantine area that on this day was almost full; there were some new dogs including moms and pups who you could tell needed special care. Some were shy, but it was apparent that they were on their way to trusting this man!

From here we went to a large, enclosed, cleared jungle setting with a huge palapa and lounge chairs ... yes lounge chairs for the dogs to enjoy. There were trees around providing plenty of shade. In this area were all the well-adjusted, happy, playful dogs. If you are on vacation on a Saturday and missing your dog, this is just the fix you will need. It isn't for the dog-phobic because you will be nuzzled, nudged, sniffed, pawed and kissed!! Ricardo explained later in the visit that at the end of the day when the help leaves, one of his favorite things is to go into one of these areas with a cold beer and just "be with the dogs."

When we entered the large enclosure, we were immediately surrounded by dogs. I'm not talking 4 or 5, but more like 50 or 60. Though I wasn't afraid, I did have the distinct feeling of no longer being in control. With that many dogs anything could have happened and there's not much I could have done about it. But the feeling quickly passed when I saw the sea of wagging tails.

What you notice immediately is that Ricardo is not just a dog-lover, he is a dog whisperer. He may not be as famous as Cesar Milan, but he has the same innate manner about himself. Each dog, and there are MANY, has a name, and he can tell you their personality, and story—though in some cases he only knows how sick they were, not what they experienced in their past. He says what he loves most about dogs is how they can forget the past and forgive and love again. Wouldn't we have a better world if we could be more like these dogs?

We left this area and went through a gate to the second enclosure. Here was where some of the newer dogs or possibly more aggressive, less predictable dogs were. I say that but never did we feel uncomfortable being there. If anything, it just seemed like most of these dogs wanted attention even more, if that could be possible. In here Ricardo is Alpha! There was one little black-and-tan dog who wanted attention in the very worst way. He took to me and decided that if I wasn't going to show him the attention he needed, he was going to nip at me and in a talkative manner. The nips really were nips, not one hurt. It just made it a little difficult to walk and see all the other dogs, since this one didn't want the other dogs near me. Ricardo gently took the dog's face and in a very calm, quiet voice spoke to the dog. This went on several times and when it was apparent that he just couldn't help himself, Ricardo gently and quietly picked the dog up and placed him in a kennel on a little time-out.

In the meantime another dog, a three-legged one, was all about showing off and wanting some love. When I commented on the poor dog and how well he was getting around on three legs, Ricardo laughed and said,"Don't worry about the three-legged dogs. The Canadians love them; as soon as I have one ready for adoption, they are off to a good home in Canada." So the next time you find yourself in the Great White North, if you happen to run into a three-legged dog, know there is a good chance it may have come from TdA!

Ricardo explained to us that he prefers to have people visit on Saturdays when they do dog washing and welcome guests. He said the dogs are used to their daily routine and somehow they know that Saturday is Visitors' Day! By arriving on a Tuesday we disrupted their routine, but even still the dogs were amazing. They welcomed their unexpected guests and thoroughly entertained us.

Our next stop was to see the new clinic. It was wonderful to see how far it had come along and that in a small way Sac-Be.com had helped raise money for this.

The last area we visited was full of younger dogs, mostly puppies, and Ricardo explained that these were all feral dogs that had been brought to the sanctuary. Many of them may never leave because there is no guarantee that a feral dog can be properly domesticated. But if anyone can do it, these folks can. It was interesting to walk in this area with all the beautiful dogs but they showed little interest in getting any attention from us. They were, however, extremely happy to hang out with their pack and not have to worry where the next meal would come from.

Ricardo explained his belief and why he does what he does very simply: Dogs are the only animal that really can't live without us. They have been domesticated for so long, that we owe it to them to care for them. He went on to explain that even cats can survive as feral animals but for dogs it is very hard.

In addition to the dog section, there is a new section for cats at TdA. Our visit came to an end way sooner than I liked but it was getting late and we had to drive to Tulum. There was a part of me that really just wanted to grab a cold beer and hang out in the palapa with the dogs and watch them just be!

Ricardo has dedicated his life to these dogs. What is most admirable to me is that he becomes so attached to each one but is able to do what is best for them and more often than not, it means having to let them go!!

I also must add that the helpers that are at TdA are wonderful and the facility is amazingly clean. I can honestly say there is more dog feces in my back yard from my two than I saw on the property with well over 200! And keep in mind almost all these dogs live cage-free in areas that suit their personality. If you would like to donate or learn more about them, please visit www.tierradeanimales.org. They are currently raising funds for their newest section which will be for "mature dogs."

See a video summary of this visit!


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