A side effect of violence

A side effect of violence

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Drug violence reached a peak in Ciudad Juarez around 2010 and 2011, driving around 200,000 residents from their homes as they tried to escape the slaughter.

The violence had an unexpected consequence. It added to the estimated 100,000 stray dogs which now prowl the streets of Ciudad Juarez, many of them abandoned when their owners fled. They have been dying in their thousands - like this dead animal being dragged away.

. CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

A stray dog sits in a cage at the dog pound in Ciudad Juarez, where local workers have recently been picking up the remains of 40-60 dogs every day. A total of 4,970 dead animals were retrieved in 2012, according to the head of the city’s cleanup efforts.

Authorities believe the dogs died from starvation, extreme temperatures, being struck by vehicles, or simply passed away next to the former homes of their owners while waiting in vain for them to return.

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Slideshow

A municipal worker uses a rope to capture a stray dog.
. CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

A municipal worker uses a rope to capture a stray dog.

A group of animals stand in an enclosure at the dog pound.
. CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

A group of animals stand in an enclosure at the dog pound.

A municipal employee working for an anti-rabies centre holds a lasso as he drives around looking for stray dogs.
. CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

A municipal employee working for an anti-rabies centre holds a lasso as he drives around looking for stray dogs.

Workers capture one of the stray animals.
. CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Workers capture one of the stray animals.

A municipal employee carries the body of a dead dog.
. CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

A municipal employee carries the body of a dead dog.

The remains of a dog are thrown into a truck.
. CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

The remains of a dog are thrown into a truck.

The bodies of dead dogs lie in the city dump.
. CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

The bodies of dead dogs lie in the city dump.

"Some dogs manage to survive on scraps of food that people give them - people who probably don’t have enough to eat themselves."
Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters Photographer

As a photojournalist living and working in Ciudad Juarez I’m used to seeing dead people being picked up off the streets.

The last few years have been brutal, with violence and shoot-outs every day and dead people everywhere. But it is much calmer now and corpses lying in puddles of blood are not as common a sight as they used to be.

Nevertheless, some weeks ago I drove through a neighbourhood and saw a couple of men dressed in hooded, white coveralls picking up another kind of corpse: a dead dog. They threw it into a container pulled by a truck and when they took off I started to follow them.

They stopped every so often, picking up another dead dog from the streets and throwing it into the container. They were collecting a lot of dead animals and when I approached the truck, I could see that there was a whole pile of them.

Maybe we have become so used to seeing death around us that we have become desensitised to the enormous number of dogs that die daily in the city. Local authorities believe that up to 100,000 stray dogs roam the streets of Ciudad Juarez. Recently, local workers have been picking up the remains of between 40-60 every day, with 4,970 dead dogs retrieved in 2012, according to the city's head of clean-up efforts. Authorities believe the dogs died of starvation, extreme temperatures, from being hit by vehicles, or simply expired next to their owners former homes.

I decided to follow the “levanta perros” (“dog picker-uppers”) as the municipal workers who collect dead dogs are commonly called. I went to one of the low-income neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city where hundreds of empty houses stand abandoned by some of the estimated 200,000 residents who fled the city at the height of drug-related violence in 2010 and 2011.

I saw so many dogs with terrible signs of malnutrition wandering around or lying outside empty, vandalised homes. They seemed to be waiting in vain for their former masters to come back.

In every poor neighbourhood I went to, I saw the same picture: dogs and more dogs. Some of them were living skeletons and there were a lot of dead animals whose remains were lying in the entrances of what could have been their former houses. Some dogs manage to survive on scraps of food that people give them - people who probably don’t have enough to eat themselves.

One day, the “levanta perros” picked up 17 dead dogs within a matter of minutes. Some of the animals still had their collars on with their names engraved in them. I started thinking that each of these dogs had a story too. They might have lived with a family, with children who played with them, with people who fed, hugged and loved them. And then everything changed, no more food, no love, no home. Instead they just faced a struggle to survive, to escape angry people throwing stones, or to avoid being hit by cars only to end up at the municipal dump, surrounded by more dead dogs and garbage, with a bulldozer unceremoniously covering them with dirt.

Hundreds of stray dogs are picked up by the city’s anti-rabies unit and put into a shelter, but if nobody comes for them or takes them in for adoption, death awaits them anyway after 72 hours. There were around 40 dogs at the shelter when I went. They looked sad and lost.

When I see how the dogs are being caught and thrown into the cages, it causes me pain. It’s a spiral: the violence caused by drugs causes more violence on all levels. People lose their loved ones, children are orphaned, jobs are lost, animals are hurt, homes are abandoned; it’s a story of destruction from beginning to end.

A few people have tried to help. They pick up the dogs and actively try to find homes for them, but they rely on donations for food and vets. I can only hope that my pictures are able to move some more hearts to help men’s best friend in its moment of distress.