After 37 years, I finally got bit by a dog.

First, I want to say that I take complete responsibility. I do not blame the dog or the owner which is why I took the bite like a champ, licked my wound and learned a valuable lesson.

As many of you know, I’ve been traveling around Mexico for almost a month. I started in Guadalajara (my birth city) and now I’m in Puerto Vallarta. Before anyone tries to shame me for traveling for a pandemic, don’t waste your time. I had COVID in September 2020 and I keep a close eye on my health. I’ve been symptom-free since my recovery in October and I made sure I had a negative test before traveling. Moving on.

People in Guadalajara love their dogs. Most of the dogs you’ll see have sweaters on, even larger breeds like Labradors. It’s truly adorable. However, it will always make me uncomfortable how many owners walk their dogs off-leash. It’s just not something you’re used to seeing in major cities, unless you’re at a fenced-in dog park. With all the traffic and dogs off-leash, I wonder how many avoidable accidents and pet injuries happen a year. 🙁

Another thing I noticed is that it seems most dogs in Guadalajara spend a majority of their time in the front yard or terrace of the home, barking at whoever passes by warning them “this is my home!” and alerting their owners that “hey, someone is here!”

For a month, I would often walk past this street that had multiple dogs. As soon as they sensed Raindrop and Cloud in the area, they’d go nuts. One dog in particular got exceptionally excited. He would jump a few feet into air to get a look at my dogs over his fence.

Dogs wag their tails for a few reasons but to keep things simple, there’s basically good wagging and bad wagging. Good wagging is when a dog is happy, like when it sees it’s owner or a familiar face. Bad wagging is when the dog is anxious, nervous or in an agitated state. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine which wag it is just based off the tail so it’s important to look at the overall dog’s body language to get a fuller context.

I consider myself to be somewhat of a dog expert. I’ve grown up with dogs since I was 14 and I’ve had 3 dogs of my own. I’m pretty good at reading a dog’s body language. This came in especially handy when living in Thailand where soi dogs (street dogs) are rampant and either operate in territorial packs or an older veteran of the street will own a block. You can meet one of the street dogs I developed a friendship with in Hua Hin Thailand, until he almost bit my dog Flex which ended our relationship.

On the way to getting tacos at Antojitos Marineros, I wanted to finally befriend the leaping dog. After all, we’ve been crossing paths for almost a month. As usual, the dog was jumping a few feet into the air. I saw his owner was in the front yard standing behind him which I assumed would make for a peaceful introduction. Instead, it must have triggered the dog’s protective instincts (“get the fuck away from my owner and my home!”). As soon as I put my hand up to the fence to let the dog smell my hand mid-leap (foolish on my part), he snapped and bit my wrist. I quickly pulled my wrist back in shock that the dog was able to draw contact that quickly.

A few things that I did wrong. While the dog was wagging it’s tail, it was the agitated, anxious kind. Never try to befriend a dog when it’s in an agitated state. Unless the dog appears truly calm or you’re able to ask the owner if the dog is friendly, do not put your hand up to the fence or past the fence. Once you go past the fence, you’re in the dog’s territory and the dog has a right to protect its’ home. I really should have known better. A leaping, barking dog is a good indicator that the dog is in an agitated state.

My first thought was, “rabies.” I quickly did a Google search to see if this should be a legit concern. According to PAHO.org, “Mexico has become the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating dog-transmitted rabies as a public health problem.” You can read the full article here.

While this gave me some peace of mind, I remembered that WHO is the same organization that posted this infamous tweet on January 14th, 2020 making them less-than-trustworthy.

I went to the closest pharmacy to clean the bite as best I could. Thanks to Tara from the Polish American Brotherhood to helping me out. She’s half-Filipina so her nursing instincts must have kicked in. You can read about why there are so many Filipino nurses here. The bite felt OK so we moved forward with our plans: shrimp tacos at Antojitos Marineros and then exploring the beautiful park Bosque Los Colomos.

Another wrinkle: I couldn’t remember when I had my last tetanus shot. I vaguely recall getting loaded up on vaccines before I traveled to Asia in 2016 and then moved to Thailand in 2017. But without knowing for sure if I was protected, this was causing me some anxiety. My dad called me and suggested I see a doctor just to be safe. After all, rabies has a 99.9% fatality rate which is the opposite of COVID (which has a 99.9% survival rate). You can fact check me here.

I went to the nearest hospital where the doctor did a fantastic job of cleaning out the wound. She prescribed me some antibiotics and a tetanus shot but warned me that tetanus vaccines were very difficult to find in Mexico given that rabies is no longer a significant threat.

After visiting multiple hospitals, health centers and pharmacies, I was losing hope that I would be able to find it. Plus, it was very difficult to find English-speakers which compounded the problem. It felt like I was on an international treasure hunt. Fortunately Ubers in Mexico are very cheap so I was only dropping $2-3 per ride.

I arrived at Ernesto Arias, a hospital in Guadalajara the next day, a place that was certain to have the tetanus vaccine available.

Nope.

However, one doctor was able to speak English and directed me towards a vaccination center, about 100 meters from the hospital. I got to the destination and it was literally a woman sitting outside next to a small lunch cooler, by a tented area, with a makeshift sign that said “Vaccines here” in Spanish. I’ve never seen anything seem so suspicious or shady as this. A bilingual passerby heard me struggling to communicate with her in Spanish and came over to assist. He confirmed that this was indeed the place to get the tetanus shot.

The nurse reached into her cooler and pulled out a tetanus vial. “Is this even legit?” and “What the fuck is going on?” were the two thoughts that crossed my mind. As she alcohol swabbed by arm and loaded up her needle, I thought “YOLO.” She injected me with what I hope was a tetanus vaccine and said “listo” (ready). I asked the price and she said it was free. Socialism!

So what lessons did I learn.

Well, first, do not stick your hand into a dog’s territory unless you know the dog. Obvious lesson but one I guess I needed to be reminded of.

Secondly, keep track of your vaccines. I still don’t understand why we don’t have a universal healthcare platform in USA that tracks your lifelong medical history. Seems to be a great place to use blockchain technology. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what hospital I got my vaccines at since I’ve been living that nomadic life since 2017 so I had no real way to check. It’s interesting that it’s easier to keep track of our dog’s health and medical history than our own.

Thirdly, go get some tacos at Antojitos Marineros. They’re cheap and they’re delicious. And then explore Bosque Los Colomos, a beautiful park with so many awesome little areas to explore.