Saturday, May 21, 2016

Homeless Dogs Part of Cuenca Life

While walking home on Simon Bolívar street one afternoon last week, I saw this little dog taking it easy on the sidewalk. I started taking pictures. Apparently annoyed, the animal trotted into a store and I followed. I saw the store owner inside and asked her if the dog belonged to her. She said yes.

Store owner´s dog

I stooped and called and it came over and let me pet its head. I love dogs and felt glad to be doing it. I sometimes think if people were dogs there would be no need for figures like Buddha or Jesus. A lot of times, I attempt to pet the dogs I meet on the streets of Cuenca, but I get virtually no takers. They ignore me. Not that they would pee on me, but I´m like a fire hydrant or a tree to them---an inanimate object.

I´m not used to it. There isn´t almost one dog back in the states, at least where I come from, that would not gladly accept a petting human hand, not to mention warm words like ¨good dog¨ or ¨nice boy.¨
Everyone, both Ecuadorian and ex-pat with whom I talk agrees the city has a sizeable homeless dog population. I couldn´t find official figures, but I can report it is not uncommon to see scruffy looking dogs on the streets of Cuenca.

Lunch for two homeless dogs in Parque El Paraíso

Mauricio Bernal is the owner of Sabatino´s restaurant in Plaza Otorongo, and we´re talking one day last week, and he´s telling me he feeds his left-over restaurant food to homeless dogs who live around the plaza. He says a small pack of them visit at the same time daily because Bernal does the feeding at the same time daily. It´s this way with many restaurants says Bernal. 
Dog regular in Plaza Otorongo
He says there is no official, city-wide program to sterilize street dogs, hence their population continually rises---every six months the females give birth to new puppies. In an effort to reduce this growth, Bernal claims some people put puppies into bags and tie the bags and throw the puppies into one of the rivers in Cuenca.
Sometimes, he says, people will try to sell puppies in one of the open markets in town, and failing that will leave them to fend for themselves.

Many homeless dogs live in El Paraiso Park, Bernal says, where ¨They know they need to be friendly to get food.¨
There is a private organization in Cuenca dedicated to promoting the cause of humane treatment of animals. ARCA was founded in August 2003, and runs a vet clinic and an adoption agency. It has volunteers, collects donations and sponsors public events.

ARCA introduced a proposal to the mayor of Cuenca in June 2013. Called Citizen Dog, the proposed measure would elevate animals to official status as creatures due public policy attention. Among other practices, the measure would educate the public about good animal practices, implement legal norms and protections, and institute a program of sterilization.