Fact Check

The Mexican Pet

Cute little doggie brought home by a tourist turns out to be a Mexican sewer rat.

Published Nov 16, 1998


Legend:   A tourist visiting a foreign country adopts a stray dog, only to learn that it's really a vicious sewer rat.


[Brunvand, 1986]

A woman from La Mesa, California, went to Tijuana, Mexico, to do some shopping. As any visitor to this border town knows, the streets near the shopping areas are populated with stray dogs. The woman took pity on one little stray and offered it a few bites of her lunch, after which it followed her around for the rest of the afternoon.

When it came time to return home, the woman had become so attached to her little friend that she couldn't bear to leave him behind. Knowing that it was illegal to bring a dog across the international border, she hid him among some packages on the seat of her car and managed to pass through the border checkpoint without incident. After arriving home, she gave the dog a bath, brushed his fur, then retired for the night with her newfound pet curled up at the foot of her bed.

When she awoke the next morning, the woman noticed that there was an oozing mucus around the dog's eyes and a slight foaming at the mouth. Afraid that the dog might be sick, she rushed him to a nearby veterinarian and returned home to await word on her pet's condition.

The call soon came. "I have just one question," said the vet. "Where did you get this dog?"

The woman didn't want to get into trouble, so she told the vet that she had found the dog running loose in the street near her home in La Mesa.

But the vet didn't buy it. "You did not find this dog in La Mesa. Where did you get the dog?"

The woman nervously admitted having brought the dog across the border from Tijuana. "But tell me, doctor," she said. "What is wrong with my dog?"

His reply was brief and to the point. "First of all, it's not a dog — it's a Mexican sewer rat. And second, it's dying."

[Collected on the Internet, 1997]

A friend told me a story that couldn't possibly be true. She knows of a woman who recently vactioned of the Gulf Coast of Florida with her family. While vactioning they befriended a stray dog. It stayed with them while they vactioned and they treated the dog like any other pet: the dog slept with them, shared food, etc. The kids had grown attached to the dog and when it was time to return home they wanted to take the dog with them. The mother insisted they could not take the dog because they already had a dog and cat at home. The kids won out and they took the dog home with them.

They returned to their normal routines, the kids went to school and the parents went off to work. Upon returning home from work the mother found her family pets horribly mutlilated and dead. The stray however was fine. She took the stray to the vet who couldn't find anything wrong with the dog but wanted to keep the dog and run some tests. The vet calls back a hour or so later to say that the dog was not a dog, but a Korean Rat. My friend who told me this story said that the vet couldn't tell it was a rat by looking at the "dog" and only knew because of the bloodwork. They say the "dog" looked like a long-haired wiener dog.

[Collected on the Internet, 1993]

True story, as told to me by a friend to whom it was told by a co-worker who is the son of these people.

They went sailing in the Bay in San Francisco last weekend. All of a sudden, they noticed a little dog frantically swimming in the water. They rescued the little tike, dried him off and he instantly fell asleep. After docking, they put the little creature in their car and took it home, made a bed for it with blankets in a basket and went to bed.

In the morning, they woke up and came downstairs to find that the little guy had chewed through the kitchen wall into the garage. Worried that the dog might not be as friendly this morning, called the SPCA to come and get him. The guy went after the dog with the "stick with a rope loop at the end of it" that dog catchers use to catch strays. But instead of catching it, the animal fell to the ground dead. Shocked, the "parents" asked the guy what happened. He explained that he broke it's neck! The "parents" became upset that the guy had been so reckless with a life. He just looked at them and said "Did you really want to keep a Hong Kong wharf rat as a pet?"


  • The rat is found wandering the streets in a foreign country (Mexico, Spain, Africa), is adopted in a port city in the United States (where its presence is explained as "must have come here on a freighter"), or is plucked from the ocean.
  • The animal is assumed to be a dog of the Mexican Hairless or Chihuahua breed.
  • In almost every telling, the animal is adopted by a woman (although other family members may appear in the story).
  • The veterinarian determines the critter to be a Mexican, Haitian, Sumatran, Belgian, Hong Kong, Pakistani, Guatemalan, Australian, Korean, or Chinese rat.
  • What precipitates the animal's being brought to the vet varies: It is found drowned in its water dish, it fights with other animals of the same household, it has the appearance of being ill, or the owner merely brings it to the vet for its shots.

Origins:   This legend dates to 1983, at least.

There is some reason to believe the tale's popularity fluctuates with how topical the subject of immigration is — the more immigration stories are in the news, the more the Mexican Pet gets passed around.

And it does get passed around — the story was every bit as popular in the late 1990s as it had been at any time in its long history.

In 1992, a reporter with the Orlando Sentinel attempted to get to the bottom of a story he'd heard about a little doggie that had been pulled from the sea by three local men (and of course the rescued pooch later turned out to be a Guatemalan water rat who had subsequently devoured a household cat). Though this sighting of the legend was far from the first, the reporter's experiences in attempting to put some verifiable facts next to the persistent tale affords a unique perspective on how these bits of lore are passed along as something that actually happened locally.

Pretty wild story, right? I wanted to bring you this first. Another Brevard exclusive. Uh, huh. So I asked my neighbor's son to get the names of the guys who had been out in the boat.

A few days went by. No word. I went next door. He said he had made some calls but his friends didn't seem to know the names either. Real tough story to pin down.

"It was on the radio," he said. "Y102." Now WGGD-FM (102.3). The golden oldies station. "Maybe one of the disc jockeys there can help you."

Meanwhile, I happened to stop at a garage sale a few blocks from home. Spotted a little runt of a dog, with hair sticking out in all directions, which I thought could pass for a water-soaked rat. I retold the story to the man of the house.

"Yeah, my wife heard about that," he said. Whereupon, wife appears and confirms the story.

"That's right," she said. "It happened to some teacher from over on the beach. Satellite High, I think it was. I read it in the paper about a month and a half ago." Which paper, I asked. "Florida Today." Oh, swell, I thought, I've been scooped. Well, I didn't really say that. Not scooped. Passe word. Too gauche. But beaten. A bummer.

But the story was too incredible to just let it drop. I checked through 10 weeks of back red papers at the library. Nothing. And asked everybody I knew who reads the paper carefully every day. Nothing.

I even called some of my news friends at the red paper. Nothing. No one had heard a word. Which seemed more than strange. A story like this would have had people talking for days. And somebody in the news business would have heard about it.

Then I checked the cops. Nothing. A local TV reporter. Nothing. The animal shelter. Nothing. At Gold 102, honcho Dave Franco put into words what I believed: "It was a hoax."

Another Urban Myth. One of those far side stories that takes on a life of its own and keeps popping up in the strangest places. And people swearing it's true.

Xenophobia is the key to this legend; the woman unwittingly brings home a danger because she fails to respect what are seen as proper boundaries. Just as in Cactus Attacked Us! (a cactus brought home from foreign travels erupts, spewing out thousands of deadly baby tarantulas), the message of The Mexican Pet is: leave foreign things in foreign places; don't attempt to transplant them to your home country. One never knows what one is getting, after all.

Myths like this one reinforce the idea that there really is an "us" and "them" out there, and the two shouldn't be mixed. Suspicion of foreign cultures takes center stage, and the presumed danger of bringing one culture into another is turned into a graphically gory tale about a dog (a noble and lovable thing) that turned out to be a vicious diseased rat (hated and feared vermin). You can't draw your allegories any more clearly than that!

Barbara "allegory is a stage, and all the men and women merely players" Mikkelson

Sightings:   In an episode of the television sitcom Murphy Brown ("A Rat's Tale"; original air date 13 February 1995), Murphy denounces the tale as an urban legend after Jim regales the morning meeting with it.

Last updated:   28 April 2002

  Sources Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Baby Train.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.   ISBN 0-393-31208-9   (pp. 15-16, 248).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Mexican Pet.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.   ISBN 0-393-30542-2   (pp. 21-23).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good To Be True.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (pp. 39-40).

    de Vos, Gail.   Tales, Rumors and Gossip.

    Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.   ISBN 1-56308-190-3   (pp. 217-218).

    Ellis, William and Alan E. Mays.   "Mexican Pet aka Sumatran/Haitian/Chinese Rat."

    FOAFTale News.   December 1995   (pp. 11-12).

    Friedrich, Ann.   "Is Your Dog Really a Rat or Merely a Legend?"

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.   2 September 1996   (p. A8).

    Rose, Allen.   "Tales Get Taller As Truth Is Stretched."

    Orlando Sentinel.   14 July 1992   (p. B1).

    Rose, Allen.   "An Incredible Tale Devours Brevard."

    Orlando Sentinel.   7 July 1992   (p. D1).

; Sources Also told in:

    Fiery, Ann.   The Complete and Totally True Book of Urban Legends.

    Philadelphia: Running Press Books, 2001.   ISBN 0-7624-107404   (pp. 73-76).

    Holt, David and Bill Mooney.   Spiders in the Hairdo.

    Little Rock: August House, 1999.   ISBN 0-87483-525-9   (pp. 35-36).

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.

    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (pp. 111-113).

    Schwartz, Alvin.   Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones.

    New York: HarperCollins, 1991.   ISBN 0-06-021795-2   (pp. 55-56).

The Big Book of Urban Legends

    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 35).