I really really really want a dog. I miss Coco, and Tini, and Lucky so much; hubby is not yet ready for the responsibility. And yes, we will be doing more traveling – around Christmas and again in the spring…and hopefully in the fall, too. Sigh. There are so many dogs and puppies just for the asking, I could get one in a minute, if we were ready.
Trying to ward off the pet starvation woes, I have offered to volunteer with a few new dog lover friends, lovely ladies who have been doing incredible work with dogs here in Cuenca. Ecuadorians do not really believe in spay and neuter, as a whole, but there are a number of good professionals and volunteers who do their darndest to alleviate the number of stray or sick dogs, underfed dogs and unwanted puppies that are everywhere.
In a culture where not everyone has enough to eat, and where many people struggle on a day to day basis; where birth control for humans is not typically condoned publicly (while abortion is banned in Ecuador, you can buy condoms) an animal is not nearly as important as a child. Families here must make difficult decisions: feed the family or feed a dog? Pay for surgery for a family member or pay to spay or neuter the family dog who keeps having puppies? It’s not an easy decision for the average, not rich Ecuadorian. Which is worse: a dog wandering the streets for food, dodging cars, trucks and busses constantly? or a dog who is perpetually tied up on a rope or a chain with nobody taking good care of it? I’ve come to the hard decision that the chained dog here in Ecuador is sadder than the wandering dog. Yes, the wandering dog might get hurt or killed by a vehicle, but at least it can search for food, garbage, handouts, whatever it can find; while the tied up dog is dependent on humans who must remember to feed, water and pay attention to it regularly. Also, many tied up dogs have collars on them that were a piece of rope or leather that, over time, as the dog grew, became too tight and can grow into the skin or worse, choke it. I’ve seen both at the clinics.
What can a volunteer do in Cuenca if they want to help? There are any number of organizations in Cuenca that are trying to do something. The 2 that I am working with here in Cuenca are
1) Happy Dogs in Cuenca, run by my new friend, Inge, on facebook as https://www.facebook.com/happydogsincuencaspayandneuter and if anyone wants to make a donation to this worthy cause, go to: http://www.happydogsincuenca.wordpress.com/ )
2) Refugio del Mejor Amigo, which is a newer organization run by my good friend, Trish, which has been set up to house and feed over a hundred (and counting!) dogs at a lovely quinta where the dogs are warm and fed and can run around safely. The website for the dog refuge is, fittingly: www.dogrefuge.wordpress.com Trish is setting up a foundation in the US, so friends can help out, more on that as soon as it’s up and functioning, but donations are accepted at Moca Bar on Gran Colombia, just west of Avenida Los Americas.
Inge and Trish, in their own ways, are both doing wonderful, needed and difficult (and costly!) work, using their own funds and the few donations they receive to put huge dents in the unfed, unsprayed/neutered dog population of Cuenca.
Trish is a true dog lover who came to Cuenca with her son and a couple of their own dogs, small ones, that they couldn’t leave behind. Once here, she started going to a Mercado with a friend every Saturday morning to feed the wandering hungry dogs – some dogs who had owners who didn’t feed them enough!! and others who were just hungry street dogs. Her friend would buy about 25 pounds of meaty soup bones every week and the dogs would get a good meal of protein at least once that week. The friend had been doing this dog feeding for about 3 or 4 years before Trish started helping out. About a year ago, the friend left Cuenca as she and her spouse couldn’t adjust to the altitude in Cuenca. Since then, Trish has carried on the Saturday tradition, and the dogs at this Mercado know and love her and her soup bones. I’ve been going with Trish for the last couple of early morning Saturdays, and the dogs are usually waiting at the gates to the Mercado site, all excited as she arrives, laden with the meat bones.
Trish buys the bones at the El Arenal Feria Libre, Cuenca’s biggest Mercado, and many of the venders there have come to know her as the ‘dog lady’. They give her puppies that are slated to be thrown into the river; they give her sick, hungry dogs that no one wants. Every time Trish went to the Feria, she managed to bring home a dog or two, and the dogs began to overrun her large, 3 story house and yard. How do you say no to a hungry, poor pooch? Last year, Trish had bought a 2 pieces of property in the Miraflores area, a lovely spot with a few rustic buildings on a slope that gently leads down to the river, surrounded by small quintas and fincas. She had an idea that she could build a lovely weekend home, outside of downtown, that she and her son and dogs could enjoy away from the city; once her son graduated from high school in town, Trish would live there permanently, and the dogs could enjoy the part of land below the main building area, with their own buildings and runs. With this idea, Trish and the family that works for her began to fix up the Quinta for her eventual weekend home.
But with all these dogs that were coming to be ‘hers’, dogs who just couldn’t stay at her own home, she began to take them out to the Quinta to stay with Luis, who lives and works out there in one of the finished buildings. So began the work of making it a Quinta for dogs: repairing the buildings, building new apartments, putting up a good wall so that the dogs couldn’t get out, (or neighbors, in), and separated areas for different groups of dogs; they put in heaters in the buildings for cold nights so the dogs would be warm. The local veterinarian with an office at the Feria Libre, Marco, became not only a good friend but a reliable professional as more and more dogs came to the Quinta; he has neutered many of the males, vaccinated and medicated those newly arrived dogs who had not had any prior care. He even came in the night once when a dog was suffering with pneumonia and Trish was scared that the dog couldn’t breathe. Locals began to tie unwanted dogs to her front gate so that she would take them in. The Quinta became more of a dog refuge than Trish’s weekend home. She could not say no to anyone who brought her a needy pooch but her pocketbook was getting strained as the count of dogs at the quinta exceeded 100. Marco, the vet, told her, no more!
In order to keep the dogs well fed, and to avoid feeding them only cheap dog food, Marco and Trish devised a good diet for the dogs of sweet potatoes, quinoa, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots in a good soup, supplemented with some dry dog food. She buys huge bags of camote (sweet potatoes), huge cabbages bigger than a pumpkin. Luis, the young man who lives at the Quinta to oversee the dogs, cooks it up and feeds it to the dogs every day. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of dog food! not to mention that he needs to also take care of and clean up after over a 100 dogs.
At some point, Trish had to take a hard look at her own finances. What had started off as just helping a few dogs, feeding and housing them, had turned into a huge, costly endeavor – but one she wanted to continue to do. Up until just recently, she had not asked anyone for any help to feed these dogs, she had paid all of the costs out of her own pocket: bones, food, housing, heaters, water, electricity, staff salaries, medicines, vaccinations, spay and neutering services. While Marco the vet is not expensive and is devoted to animals, he is not volunteering his services, as he makes his own living as a veterinarian. With over a hundred dogs, all this take money.
Trish’s first idea for donations was to ask for a bag of dog food or quinoa, here and there, but that didn’t generate much. She owns a small café, Moca Bar, and the thought was, maybe a free cup of coffee and pastry if someone brings a bag of dog food, or a free cup of coffee if they bring a small bag of quinoa. Still not too many takers – guess nobody goes for coffee carrying dog food.
In Cuenca, it is difficult to get the word out about anything. Many expats don’t read any newspapers or listen to the radio, the TV is broadcast from outside of Cuenca. Facebook? some people do read it, but not enough to generate traffic for donations. Running out of money, Trish and her father decided to start a nonprofit foundation, El Refugio del Mejor Amigo, a 501C3 in USA tax jargon, so that friends in the states and expats in Cuenca, too, could donate to the Refuge, if they wished, with a tax deductible contribution. As I write, this has just about been done. Until that time, any donations of money or dog food or quinoa can be dropped of at Moca Bar on Gran Colombia, just east of Avenida los Americas – and will be most graciously accepted!
Inge and Happy Dogs in Cuenca devote all her time and any donated money to holding no cost spay and neuter clinics, when the donations allow. Happy Dogs held a spay/neuter clinic in Ricaurte just before her big fundraiser this summer, Spaghetti and No Balls, and then 2 more after the fundraiser. Inge hopes to have one or 2 more spay/neuter clinics just after the holidays – and of course more, if donations come in. She also helps to find foster parents for found puppies and sick dogs so that they can grow and heal and find forever homes.
Recently, Inge has been volunteering all her time to help with a city and municipality project to spay or neuter 450 dogs around the city by the end of 2013. The talented veterinarian, Christina, who used to work for ARCA but is now teaching veterinary studies at the Cuenca University, works on a maximum of 25 dogs each day of the clinic, on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 8 in the morning and sometimes finishing late in the evening. I’ve helped Inge and Christina just once as a volunteer, but am scheduled to volunteer again the first weekend in December.
Christina the vet is known for her tiny, small incisions in the dogs, to lessen pain and shorten healing time. She is quite the dynamic vet who works tirelessly all day, with only very short necessary breaks. Helping out are usually 4 to 6 Veterinary college students; the 5th or 6th year students help Christina at the surgery table while the younger students accept the dogs from the owners (appointments are made in advance for the dogs to have the surgery), weigh them, shave the surgical area, insert an IV to get them sedated, monitor heart and respiration while sedated and after surgery, and then release the dogs to the owners with a Prescription for medications, care and feeding. Often times volunteers can also be other gringas like myself, actual human people nurses and other non medical helpers. Inge tries to schedule volunteers for only a half day shift so that no one gets too tired out.
Inge runs around the room (or sometimes, rooms) constantly busy, making sure that all is running smoothly: surgical implements are cleaned and put in the sterilizer; that Christina has all the sterile tools needed before each surgery (and occasionally a drink of something since she hardly moves from the table); dogs coming out of sedation are being cared for, covered with a blanket, held, stroked, calmed; vomit is cleaned up as sometimes the dogs vomit before (nerves) and sometimes after the surgery (anesthesia); doors are kept closed and others kept out of the surgical area; clean blankets and towels are handy, the patient’s owners get the correct RX script for their dog – I know I am forgetting lots of other things she does during the surgical day. Not to mention also training the volunteers in these tasks.
The surgeries go like clockwork, in my opinion; the students know their duties and keep the dogs moving from intake to surgery to recovery to waking up. There’s very little blood and each dog who leaves will have a better chance at life now that they won’t need to expend energy on reproducing. Me, as I am not a medical person, I have the job of cleaning the implements, folding them into the cloths and putting them into the sterilizer; also calming the dogs and writing out the RX scripts for each dog. Doesn’t seem like much but I was also quite busy since there are so many dogs! Inge tells me that Happy Dogs spay/neuter clinics are run in a similar fashion, the difference with these clinics is simply the funding. Once these city clinics have worked on their maximum number of dogs, Happy Dogs will start up their spay/neuter clinics once more. There are so many dogs and cats – it’s a never ending project!
The instrument cloths were in sad shape as they are used so often; I offered to make new ones as my small donation to the cause. Some had burn holes where they had gotten too close to the sterilizer walls, others were stained, some were too small. Easy enough for me to do, I hope I make them correctly. For those of you dog lovers reading this, Inge & Happy Dogs always needs money for spay/neuter clinics for dogs and cats. The more money donated, the more pets can be altered in 2014, and then we will have less starving dogs, cats, kittens and puppies on the streets of Cuenca.
One of Trish’s rescue dogs has had puppies…maybe when they are ready to be adopted I just might get hubby to agree to a puppy…meanwhile, these dog concerns will be my dog focus. I’m hoping that any of my readers who are dog lovers will help either, or both, of these rescue organizations. Please visit their websites for pictures and more information.