Becoming Cuenca

Pet-Friendly City

Oct 5, 2022

“The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s.” ~Mark Twain

Short of the love between a parent and child, there may not be another love as pure and wonderful as the love between a person and a dog.

Nurturing, attentive, and always up for playtime, dogs are a quintessential part of one’s life.

Dogs are loyal, innocent, and caring.

And we can’t picture our lives without at least one.

Apparently, Cuencanos feel the same way about dogs. It is a very pet-friendly city. Think of Portland, Oregon, Asheville, North Carolina, San Diego, California, or Colorado Springs, Colorado, but on a higher level. These four U.S. cities were rated the top-four by BringFido, the world’s leading pet travel site.

Living in North Carolina for over 37 years, I can easily compare Asheville to Cuenca. The western North Carolina city is great for dogs, but it pales in comparison to Cuenca.

A big reason is 15A NCAC 18A.2656: “Dogs and cats are allowed in outdoor dining areas provided the dogs or cats are physically restrained and do not pass through the indoor area of the food establishment.”

Dogs in North Carolina are also forbidden from hanging out in craft brewery taprooms, which serve food. They are bound by the same food service codes as restaurants. Note: Asheville has been voted the “Beer Capital of the United States” several times.

This sanitation law for restaurants is pretty much everywhere in the United States. Some states won’t even allow a dog at the outside premises of the restaurant.

Our Miniature Australian Shepherd, Peanut, is welcomed almost everywhere, be it a store or restaurant. Joanna and I cannot count the times that the owner or manager has enthusiastically waved Peanut in with a huge smile.

We guess that 90 percent of the restaurants in Cuenca allow dogs. At least half of the stores welcome Peanut and fellow canines. Grocery stores will not allow your dog in. Peanut and I just wait outside Comisariato Popular until Mommy comes out with our utility cart full of food.

If one wants to make sure their dog is allowed at a restaurant or store, the best thing to do is use Facebook Messenger and ask. Almost every place in Cuenca has a Facebook account and most monitor Facebook rather closely.

Cuenca’s official tourism account on Twitter wants everyone to know the city is pet-friendly and loves dogs. Earlier this year, they tweeted, “Pets are part of our family and they take a piece of our love with them! And what better date to share with them a trip to Cuenca to stroll through its parks, restaurants, and pet-friendly hotels. In February, live love in Cuenca.”

BringFido concurs as their website exclaims, “Cuenca is pet friendly!” Their website lists at least 30 places where one can stay with their furry family member. has six dozen places to stay in Cuenca that allow dogs. has over five dozen choices.

That love for dogs is very evident on walks in Parque Lineal Yanuncay. It is always a beautiful walk along El Río Yanuncay as it is considered the best outside of historic El Centro. At times, there can be about as many dogs as there are people in this riverside city park. That included a cute Pitbull who had found the biggest “stick” possible on one of our recent walks.

In our 31 months here, Joanna and I have noticed what breeds seem to be popular in Cuenca. Yorkshire Terriers are definitely in the Top-5 for this city. German Shepherds are another popular breed as well as Chihuahuas, which have to be in the Top-5, too. Even Huskies seem to be near the top of the list.


It is not just pure breeds that are prevalent in Cuenca. Some are the loveable “Heinz 57,” and they enjoy following their owner who is cycling through the river park. Maybe why Cuenca is so dog-friendly is because of what Roger Caras said: “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

If anyone is wondering how safe it is to walk in Parque Lineal Yanuncay, we never feel any looming danger. Of course, you have to be watchful… just like in any big city in this world.

It has been said that dogs are our link to paradise. That was evident the other day when Joanna and I went to Mercado 27 de Febrero for our weekly pilgrimage of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as a flat of 30 eggs. Outside one of our favorite vendors was Perez. The Shih Tzu was being pulled around in his customized red wagon. By the way, check out the hundreds of eggs for sale in the background.

The 19th-century American humorist Josh Billings said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” It could be the reason dogs are allowed at our mercado. Peanut is allowed everywhere inside the enclosed market, where there are dozens of vendors selling fruits and vegetables.

Every time we go in with Peanut, I vividly remember being told to immediately leave the open-air Ashe County Farmers Market, in West Jefferson, North Carolina. I am not picking on that farmers market as that is the rule at every one, we visited in the Tar Heel State.

Needless to say, Peanut is certainly welcomed outside Mercado 27 de Febrero, where he waits patiently for Mommy to purchase our crate of 30 very fresh eggs as well as anything else she needs.

The sign in the grass that was put up by Edificio Atlántida says, “Collect your dog’s waste.” The “Green Team” is not going to do it. There are over 700 men and women in green who clean up the streets and sidewalks of Cuenca. It helps keep the city to be one of the cleaner ones in the world.

Dog protocol in Cuenca is not the same as in the United States. Virtually every community in the U.S. has a leash law. These laws require dogs to be kept on a leash at all times when out in public. The intent of these laws is to protect the health and safety of the public and to protect your canine friend. Fines for not obeying the law in places like New York City are $200 to $400.

As far as I know, such a law does not exist in Cuenca. You will find dogs roaming the streets. Many are let out for the entire day by their owners. Others are walking freely with their owners.

Sadly, some are homeless. Prior to the pandemic, there were a lot more homeless dogs on the streets. It is not known why the numbers have great decreased, but the City of Cuenca did announce two years ago an ambitious project of spaying and neutering the homeless dogs.

These owners seem oblivious about their dogs’ actions. I cannot count the times dogs have headed towards Peanut, who wants nothing to do with them. He will give a deep, rumbling type of growl. It means he feels threatened as the loose dog encroaches on his personal space. It’s a polite warning to show that he is feeling uncomfortable.

Maybe that “politeness” is why one of our neighbors does not get it when her unleashed dog keeps running up to Peanut as he growls. He follows it up with a loud warning bark. Only then does the other dog owner make half an effort to get her dog.

Many times, dogs without leashes have ignored Peanut’s signals and continue to invade his comfort zone. His threats intensify, with more tension, a hard stare, and a low long growl that says, “I mean it. I want you to leave.”

That usually gets the attention of the other dog owner, but their attempts are feeble at best. They try to encourage their dog to return though it really wants to interact with Peanut. It usually takes us to make the other dog return to its irresponsible owner.

Most U.S. states and cities have laws that state each person who owns or controls a dog must remove any feces left by that dog on any sidewalk, street, or other public area and dispose of it in a legal manner.  The person must remove the feces and carry it away to be disposed in a trash container.  Many cities say feces may also be placed in a non-leaking sealed bag or container and deposited in a public litter basket. In New York City, if you do not do this, you can be fined $250.

It is very evident that Cuenca has no such law. There is poop everywhere you go. When walking, you really have to pay attention. Joanna and I are always warning each other to watch our step as we approach another deposit.

Please do not think sidewalks are covered in poop. There is just a lot more of it than you’ll ever see in the United States.

The botanical park in our neighborhood welcomes dogs as long as the owners have a poop bag with them and clean up, if necessary. Unfortunately, the city took away all of the trash receptacles in the area.

Many homes have more than one dog. Homes in Cuenca have walls around their property. And many homeowners have dogs that are outside due to our year-round “spring weather.”

What made the homeowner’s wall (in the above photo) different is that a hole in the wall was cut to perfectly allow El Perro to greet dogs that go by. The head and neck of the Yorkipoo (a cross between the Yorkshire Terrier and a Toy or Miniature Poodle) fit easily through, but his body was not about to fit through the opening.

A big reason for dogs being outside is that the homeowners think it is a good form of security. There are many aggressive dogs that will lunge at you or try to get you as you walk by. It is why Joanna and I keep a good distance between us and the fence or wall.

Unfortunately for one of our good friend last month, she was walking too closely to a fence. Being an animated person, she was talking with her hands. Her right arm went out and the dog behind the fence tried to take her finger off. She was able to quickly pull it out of the dog’s mouth, but it required medical attention, including five painful rabies shots (They are not in the stomach).

Being a responsible dog owner and wanting the best for your dog, you will want an excellent veterinarian. Routine veterinary visits help your dog live a long, healthy, and happy life. A veterinary physician is important so as to prevent a number of disease and disorders.

We did a lot of research before ever moving to Cuenca. Paraphrased, an American dog trainer wrote online, “I felt a wash of appreciation for these vets. They are careful, caring, soft-spoken. I appreciate that their approach to pharmaceutical treatment is conservative. They know to give only what is needed, not more.”

In no time, our path led us to Dr. Oswaldo Cobos and Dr. Francisco Morales at the Cuenca Animal Clinic, Calle Miguel Cordero Dávila 1-180 (between Cornelio Merchán and Francisco Moscoso). What clinched it for us is their involvement in rescuing dogs.

Both speak English, though one of the vets is more proficient. Dr. Oswaldo graduated from the University of Cuenca in Veterinarian Sciences. Dr. Francisco went to vet school in Mexico.

Cuenca Animal Clinic is a full health and grooming service clinic. Their grooming services include washing, trimming, nail clipping, and ear cleaning. Maybe the best thing about them is that Dr. Oswaldo and Dr. Francisco make house calls. They will come to your home for your ailing dog. If necessary, these wonderful vets will pick up your dog and take it back to the Cuenca Animal Clinic. When was the last time you heard that being done in the United States?

We get our dog food from the Cuenca Animal Clinic. Unlike the U.S., the choices of quality dog food as well as places to get it are very limited. Our vets recommend Peanut gets Royal Canin, imported from France. They have a German brand, too, but our vets say it is not as good.

Of course, you can purchase finger-toothbrushes, dog toothpaste as wells as some toys. Though the selection is small, you can basically get what you need by just going to the Cuenca Animal Clinic.

Going out of town? Board your dog securely with Cuenca Animal Clinic. Peanut has enjoyed being at the doctors’ families’ homes while we are back in the U.S. visiting family. The last time we picked up Peanut from our trip to the U.S., Peanut was in no hurry to go home. Who has heard of a dog not wanting to leave the doctor’s office?

A lot more information on life in Cuenca can be found in my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life.” Some say it is the most thorough book out there concerning moving to and living in this beautiful city.

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Salud, mi amigos.

Una Nueva Vida – A New Life

- by Stephen Vargha

There are over 80 professional-quality photos shot by me to give you a clear ‘picture’ about life in this historic mountain city.