“I do not want to keep doing away with little animals” / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Sterilization campaign. (14ymedio)
Sterilization campaign. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, 25 February 2016 – “The latest puppies I drowned in a bucket at birth,” said the owner of a female dog about to be operated on this Wednesday as a part of the sterilization campaign in Old Havana. Similar stories were heard in the line, long but well-organized, of those waiting to get an appointment for the free surgeries.

As of last Monday, many of those interested gathered at the site accompanied by their pets, that ranged from pure-bred animals to mutts without pedigree. “I don’t want to keep doing away with the little animals,” said another lady who lives very near to the makeshift clinic on Oficio Street; her dog had had three litters.

There are thousands of abandoned dogs and cats in the country, and no programs to protect or adopt pets. In an attempt to alleviate this situation, there are periodic initiatives sponsored by the Office of the City Historian and a Canadian group, the Spanky Project.

María Gloria Vidal, president of the Society for Animal Welfare, lamented a few months ago in the official press that the Cuban population “suffers from certain culture and level of responsibility on the keeping of animals,” so when economic hardships affect a family “the solution is to get rid of them. Most of the time are thrown into the street.”

Since the late eighties, several groups have tried to promote Animal Welfare and Protection Act, without success. In 2000 a meeting of on the control of the dog population sponsored by the World Association of Animal Protection was held, but so far neither the Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, nor the Ministry of Public Health have implemented the agreements reached at the event.

“Here is is difficult to find food for people, imagine also keeping an animal,” says Flora, a retired teacher who took her dachshund to get the surgery because she fears “having to share” her limited resources “with more animals.” Flora says she has never abandoned a pet, “I would die before I’d through an innocent into the street.”

Appointments for the sterilization operations ran out early in the last three days. Susana Hurlich, a Canadian leading the project, explained that the plan is to take care of 40 dogs and 40 cats every day until 26 February, and they have also registered some groups of animals picked up in hopes of adoption.

Hulrich explained that “given the demand for the campaign, we are now starting a new list” and they have taken steps to prepare “a space in Quinta de los Molinos” although there is still no date for its opening.

Initiatives like this should be “repeated more often” said Damian, a young man waiting his turn with a male Boxer. “We need to teach children from an early age to love animals, in order to avoid what we are seeing with abuse and abandonment,” he added.

Yanelis Nunez, a resident in the 10 de Octubre municipality, looks at the sterilization campaign with relief. “I have two cats and one has given birth several times. I think it’s time to tie it off,” she said. Nunez said that for these animals the situation for abused and abandoned animals “is worse,” because “there is much less sensitivity to it than with dogs.”

An investigation by Aniplant revealed that in Cuba about 1,500 convertible pesos a year is spent on sterilization for every 5,000 dogs, while the slaughter of these animals caught in the street uses more than 10,000 liters of gasoline a year, just to transport them. They are taken to places where overcrowding and the cruelty of the practice of euthanasia horrifies pet lovers.

The Spanky Project proposal has emerged to improve this situation. The association is led by the Canadian Terry Shewchuck, who was vacationing in Cuba several years ago and found himself alarmed as the absence of a system to care for animals. For over a decade, his group has provided clinical care and sterilization services to thousands of pets.

This coming Saturday the campaign will offer vaccinations and deworming in the Laika clinic, also in Old Havana. A moment that will again draw to the scene dozens of people who share a common feeling: a love for animals.

*The ambulatory clinic with instruments donated by the Canadian side has been opened in Casa Calderson on Oficio Street, between Santa Clara and Sol, Old Havana. Due to its limited capacity it invites interested pet owners to book an appointment by calling +53 78609463.