HAVANA, 1. Oct. Dalia gets up very early every morning to cook several kilograms of fish hash and more than five pounds of rice. In the narrowness of her apartment in Centro Habana, she prepares two pots of food for the twenty cats that live with her and the almost forty that await in the playground “La Maestranza” in Old Havana.
With admirable devotion he takes care of one of the most numerous feline colonies in the Cuban capital, with no other resources than the occasional help of charitable people who support his protective work.
For almost thirty years Dalia has rescued hundreds of animals, facing criticism from neighbors and colleagues; In addition to circumventing as it may legal gaps, the neglect of the government, the increase in veterinary medicine and the indifference of state organizations responsible for carrying out the work that has fallen on women like her, dedicated to help street dogs and cats.
Its beginnings as a protector go back to the 1990s, motivated by the danger that endemic birds ran in the midst of a crisis that ended part of the natural, material and intangible heritage of the nation. At that time he came to offer a smuggler his gold chain with an ivory pendant, in exchange for a parrot. Remember that bitter time when he got up at five in the morning to be among the first to arrive at the Parque de la Normal and acquire, in the midst of the mafia of hoarding and speculation, the birdseed for his birds.
Then came the dogs and later the cats, the latter disadvantaged by superstition and popular myths. As there were no shelters for so many abandoned creatures, Dalia knew the disadvantages of hosting a large number of animals in her house whose preservation and sustenance required much more than small cages and sunflower seeds.
Today, this Bachelor in History works as an operator of the playground equipment “La Maestranza”, and at 68 years confesses that their cats are the only reason why she has not decided to retire. There they are kept fed, dewormed and sterilized, to avoid further proliferation of the most abused domestic species.
What for anyone could represent a disproportionate sacrifice, for her it is a labor of care and love, as if it were her own children. He does not regret investing his days in queues at the fishmongers, or struggling with a few pounds of rice to continue a daily struggle that knows no truces, in a society where life has become extremely difficult.
There are no concessions for the cause of Dalia. Effort, time and money run on their own; people make fun of their efforts; Some cruel neighbor poisoned his Bengali cat a few days ago and recently, with nerves broken by suffering and lack of sleep, spoke to CubaNet of a long night trying to feed two litters of kittens that they left abandoned. Although he managed to save four, he could not help but mourn copiously for the puppy that died despite all his care.
The story of Dalia is a paradigm of kindness and compassion at a critical moment for the welfare of animals in Cuba. The protector believes that currently the worst context of animal abuse is verified since the years of the Special Period, aggravated by the absence of a law that severely punishes abusers. The abandonment and mistreatment have soared to the point that people like her have been forced to turn their houses into shelters for the victims of human insensitivity, brutality and greed.
It is a crusade of love that Dalia has had to undertake alone, followed at a distance by a patient husband, a neighbor who from time to time gives her rice, a compassionate veterinarian and a solidary cook who long ago took care of her cats in “La Maestranza” “, While she was sick. Her dedication has echoed in sensitive people, who offer what they can to mitigate the impact of such a company in the pocket of a humble Cuban, and defend it against the attacks and threats of vile people.
Tourists often stop in front of the park gate, intrigued by the presence of disposable plates. With their cameras they record the coming and going of Dalia; they ask who this woman is, and as she does not reach a moment to explain the drama that surrounds the act they are witnessing, they are only told that she is the protector of abandoned cats.
In a country where helping the animals seems like crazy, it is a moving spectacle the courtship of beautiful felines waiting for the delicacy, cures and pampering of Dalia every day, with the first light of dawn or before sunset .
First published in Cubanet