Is Feeding Stray Animals Wrong?

Dulcita-con-un-amigoHAVANA, april 29th (HAVANA TIMES) Irina Echarry  In Cuba, animals are at a disadvantage. No law protects them and there aren’t many humans involved in the struggle to get one passed. There are many of us who think one is needed, but not enough.

A few days ago, on the television program Pasaje a los Desconocido, I saw a documentary about an animal rights foundation in Spain. Thanks to the testimonies of several people, we found out this foundation takes in, cleans, vaccinates and cures animals of any illness they may have, to put them up for adoption later.

For years, I have been fantasizing about having a space where I can do exactly what I saw in the documentary. I would also add a greenhouse to it. But reality is against me. I live on a fifth floor and share my apartment with others. I don’t have any prospects of earning the money I need to trade the apartment or buy one on the ground floor, nor do I have any friends who meet the two basic conditions needed for this: a place and a dream similar to mine.

It’s probably a coincidence that all of us nut-jobs working to alleviate animal suffering are doing it out of the kindness of our hearts, with very few resources or places where we can care of these animals. Thus, even though seeing them get better is its own reward, the terrible feeling of having to leave some on the street stays with you.


Blackie before and after.

The documentary presents us with a well-equipped and spacious local with a fair number of workers caring for animals. In Cuba, a poor country, the locale needn’t be as sophisticated. With good intentions, we’re already half the way there – I know this from experience. However, when the media touch on the issue, they emphasize the abandonment of animals and neglect to mention that anyone can help these animals, that one needn’t be rich or belong to an important organization.

Nora, the director of Aniplant, was a guest on the show that aired the documentary. There, she explained the importance of the Animal Protection Law in Cuba. The program, which has a wide audience, could have been used to recruit people and offer hope. However, it proved the exact opposite because of the statements made by a veterinarian from the dog pound.
After defending the work of the institution and speaking of stray animals like a plague to be eradicated, she addressed the public to tell them one should not feed stray dogs or cats, for animal care also involves vaccination, hygiene and a home.

It’s true that a home for these animals would be magnificent, that vaccination and medical attention are necessary, but we all know that disease flourishes in an immuno-depressed organism. Daily practice has taught me that food works almost like a magic potion. At home, we have cured or at least held back the deterioration of several dogs.

One day, we opened our door and saw a little white and black dog full of sores, giving off a bad smell, frightened and a bit hysterical. Because of her whimpering, my mother named her Sarita Montiel. We healed its sores and began to feed it. The change was drastic. She is now healthy and, even though she now has people to care for her, she spends most of her time on the steps, like another neighbor.

Blackie had guarded the market his entire life. There, he would bark and fight to retain his position as the alpha male. He grew old, other dogs began to win the fights and its body gradually yielded to malaise. Its skin became covered with pustules and worms began to thrive on its back. We decided to help it, even though people kept saying “that dog was as good as dead.”

Bearing that cross and Blackie’s refusal to move, we began taking off the scabs, spread ointment and vinegar on its skin and feed him. It was an ordeal finding him every day, as the dog would hide so no one would bother him. The best part was that other people (the same ones who had left him for dead) became involved on seeing the progress, helping us find him and feed him. A few months ago, he died of a heart attack, but we managed to give him more than a year of life and improve his mood.

Dulcita had shown up at the apartment building all sad, scrawny with fledgling sores on its skin and legs. She wasn’t in serious condition, but she got worse in the course of days. When the pain started, we took her in to help her. Thanks to the affection and food we gave her, Dulcita became beautiful and vital and decided to stay. She goes down to the street, pees, socializes with other dogs and then comes back up to be let in again.

These are but a few, concrete examples aimed to demonstrate it is not such a difficult process. We have helped a number of animals without much space or money. We have even found owners for them. I know other people who do the same. It isn’t good for the struggle to raise awareness in society with respect to animal suffering that an evening program should present us with an expert who calls a humane practice a “mistake.” What isn’t right is letting living creatures grow ill and die around us and doing nothing about it.

Seeing their recovering and feeling their affection is thrilling. The documentary brings to mind a quote by Anatole France that I’ve always liked: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”