Up On The Rooftop
By Carol L. Bowman
The chocolate boxer began barking as the thunder rumbled to a crescendo. A silent flash of light streaked through the sky and the barking increased. Then a deluge poured, without sympathy for the frantic pacer on our Mexican neighbor’s out-building rooftop. His barks turned garbled, mixed with squishes of water every time he opened those wide jaws to emit his incessant woof.
For eight years, we had relished the tranquility of our terrace and pool, sipping wine or tequila, entertaining friends or playing a heated game of Scrabble. At sunset, we’d climb the wrought iron stairs to the roof above our casita, cocktail in hand, to view the sun slipping behind Mount Garcia. A pink glow rippled across Lake Chapala and mountains rose up sharply behind us, making this a Mexican sanctuary between the water and the trees. That all changed when idyllic dissolved into dreadful.
Sounds of that strange Hispanic practice of perros del techo—roof dogs—assaulted the serenity. Until this invasion, whenever I walked through the village of Ajijic, I’d look up with curiosity and apprehension, as menacing dogs paced back and forth on rooftops, growling at any unfamiliar movement below. I wondered if these canine sentries ever pounced upon an innocent passer-by. Flat roofs make excellent vantage points for mongrel security systems.
Our casita’s mirador lies less than six feet from the lipped-edge rooftop of a shed-like building at the rear of our neighbor’s property. A ladder rested against the wall of the bodega and a cage-like monstrosity of grated wire sat at the center of the small roof’s space. A frayed tablecloth thrown carelessly over the top offered its ‘occupants’, two boxer puppies, one white and one a deep fawn, flimsy protection from the sun.
Little squeals and wagging tails greeted us whenever we went up on the mirador. As they grew, so did the problems. Their sweet yelps turned into brash barks and the taste of margaritas and mixed nuts soured against the distinctive odor of confined animals and plops of uncollected waste. We would need earplugs to catch a stunning sunset ever again from this spot. Whenever we dined on our terrace, the dogs howled continuously.
As the pups developed into fully grown boxers, their space shrank and the barking became a discordant duet. The owners removed the white one, possibly because its skin couldn’t tolerate the sunlight, beating down on the roof. The lone brown beauty looked like that last piece of chocolate with the unwanted filling, left in the candy box. His cell mate gone, he sank into solitary duty as the 24/7 lookout.
The guard dog, distracted by any movement, sounded the alarm from his post day or night. How, I wondered, do his owners know the difference between an alert that a robber is approaching and one that responds to an opossums linking through the yard? What kind of security is that? With the dog being confined to an outer building rooftop, what good is it for him to bark, when he can’t intercede on the family’s behalf? Does he ever realize how useless his job is? Does he ever get hoarse from non-stop yelping? No and no.
Then one night, the rain poured and the thunder rumbled, but the silence from the roof proved deafening. In the morning, in the dimness of dawn, I scaled the mirador stairs, expecting an abandoned outpost. There curled in a brown ball, the motionless sentinel lay on the flimsy coverlet topping the wired cage, the only warm spot on the cold, cement roof. His growl silent, he opened one eye, and ignored my intrusion. Had he realized the futility of his assigned task, was he ill or depressed? I didn’t know the reason for the temporary reprieve.
As I watched this pile of lethargy, it seemed to me that, ‘It’s a dog’s life,’ aptly described the wretched state of misery for these perros del techo. The idea of such abandonment sickened me. He should be romping with the children, chasing after balls in the yard, resting at his owner’s feet after a day of play.
I thought about dog owners who provide their pets with nourishment, grooming, exercise and a family’s devotion. This boxer knew nothing of that bond. His existence amounted to one duty, that of sentry. It’s 3 AM. In the blackness of the night, I hear him barking, frantic to alert his masters of some disturbance below, but they pay no attention. Is it a robber or a rat? Only he knows. Despite the neglect, he performs his thankless job up on the rooftop.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com