I didn´t even notice Faith had three legs until we got to the park. I was talking to Carlos, a volunteer at PADELA, and looked down to notice she was hopping a bit. I started to say ¨she has something in her paw¨and then realized there was no paw.
Either I´m enormously distracted or I have fallen seriously out of practice in vet tech-ery since June when I fail to notice a missing limb on a dog.
Prior to arriving in Santo Domingo I looked up animal organizations here. SODAPRECA is the one helping in Haiti but I found PADELA as well. As it was literally three blocks up the street from where I was staying I took the liberty of stopping by to see if they had any contacts. Laura, the vice president, didn´t but she invited me to stop by the next day while I am waiting to help take the dogs to the park.
All the dogs go to the park every weekend. True, they only have twenty dogs – capacity for their small storefront space – but I´ve never been in a shelter where everyone goes to the park. Let alone a very small, beleaguered shelter in a third world country. It´s also true the park is fifty feet up the street. The dogs, mostly adolescent third world street dogs with generic tan coloring and black noses, know the way. Only Faith and one or two other dogs wear leashes. The rest, accompanied by two or three volunteers, literally bolt out the front door directly to the park the minute the door is opened. It´s amazing.
PADELA has a small vet clinic that offers low cost services and spay and neuter and kennels/cages in the back that house the twenty odd dogs and two cats waiting for homes.
Faith is breaking my heart. She is the sort of dog that would fly off the shelves in an American shelter. Small. Sweet faced. Slightly timid but very, very personable. Walks well on a leash. And missing a leg. Sort of like a mellow version of my dog, Merc, only without the massive homicidal tendencies. Which is really nothing like my dog, but they look semi-similar.
Everything about PADELA is amazing. The space is small but well lit and spotlessly clean. ¨We don´t warehouse¨ Laura tells me ¨but we don´t euthanize¨. Indeed, the quality of life is higher than pretty much all American shelter dogs I´ve seen and probably higher than most owned animals as well. Yes, there are cages but today none of the dogs are in them. Before and after the trip to the park all the dogs romp around the small office, playing with the volunteers, wrestling with each other, ripping up newspaper and towels and stealing beds. ¨We keep them out as much as we can¨ Laura explains. And there are daily trips to the park, managed by a cadre of dedicated volunteers.
I didn´t even think this was possible in a third world country. And on no budget. They have two paid staff members – a kennel tech and vet tech. Everyone else is volunteer. The volunteer vets, recent graduates, are seeing low cost patients today in the small table area. They close the sliding doors to keep the romping, rolling horde out of the room.
The stories are the same – mother dog and four puppies found dumped in garbage. Sweet Faith and another dog, Loki, found hit by cars. Two very tiny puppies that keep getting swallowed up by the horde, found with worms eating their tails. They now have half tails and homes waiting when they are ready to go. One of them eats my flip flop while I take pictures and talk to the volunteers and Laura.
¨There are laws to protect animals¨, Laura explains and Carlos, who has been volunteering here for three years and works in a bank laughs, ¨There are laws for everything, there are no laws, nothing is enforced¨. There is another organization, SODAPRECA, that works on animal issues but the government is no help. ¨They poison them¨ Laura tells me. She tells me they killed about eighty of them in the past week, probably in preparation for their Independence Day, which is today and is marked with a huge military parade, and Carnivale, which is tomorrow.
PADELA is working on stronger laws to protect the animals, trying to get a house with a yard for the dogs – the neighbors dislike the barking and there is never enough space for all the dogs that need care. They burn through money with their low cost clinic. ¨We don´t turn anyone away¨she tells me. While I am there a woman who works for the American embassy brings in two dogs she and her brother rescued off the street and are caring for. The vets vaccinate them and give them flea stuff. She´s trying to place them privately but it´s hard. Even though these dogs – and all of PADELA´s dogs – are well socialized and sweet most of them are gangly adolescents. Puppies, even tail-less ones, go quickly. The older kids have a rougher time.
When I´m walking back to the hostel later in the day I notice a street dog in the square with purple on it´s ears. Gentian violet? Antiseptic? I ask Laura about it later. She tells me that´s their work, too – treating the dogs on the street for skin infections and injuries.
When we are done at the park Carlos, another volunteer named Laura and I re-leash the three dogs who have to be leashed. The rest run in a herd back to the storefront and wait in a cluster at the door to be let in. An odd little haven of happy dogs in the middle of a third world city.
I don´t know if PADELA does out of country adoptions but they definitely need all the help they can get. Check them out at http://www.padelard.org/. There´s a link on the side for the site in English. Befriend them on Facebook. And if you happen through Santo Domingo go check them out.
When I leave I tell Laura if I´m still here tomorrow I´d like to come back and go to the park again. You are always welcome, she says. Keep us in your heart and you are in ours.
****Some photo/etc notes – in the absence of my laptop I am having to run all my pictures and entries on internet cafe computers. This takes forever and does not allow me to edit pictures. So there´s gonna be some super crappy pictures goin´on. Sorry about that. First pic -PADELA dog in park. 2nd – Faith hanging out. 3rd- Flip-flop eating puppies. I am also up against the dread Latin American keyboard with it´s odd keys. If it´s weird punctuation, it a combination of the keyboard and me being too lazy to figure it out. Big thanks to the PADELA people for letting me follow them around and ask a million questions and take pictures***
HAITI NOTE: I am, in all likelihood, leaving for Haiti tomorrow morning with a group from Boston. But that is a whole other entry that will be up tomorrow. While cooling my heels here, though, I am attempting to be semi-useful.
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