HAVANA TIMES — A woman who’s taken in a stray dog and eight street cats told me she saw a TV show that described the habit of having so many animals as a “condition.” “It’s called Diogenes Syndrome,” she said, somewhat embarrassed.
Tidy and obsessed with the cleanliness of her home (which she keeps odorless through regular, bleach cleanings), she suddenly felt the victim of a shameful psychiatric pathology.
Bearing in mind that Diogenes allegedly lived inside a barrel and history makes no mention of any pets (heaven knows where he could have kept them in such a small space), the appellation struck me as somewhat inaccurate.
To verify, I looked it up on Wikipedia, where I found the following description: “a disorder which commonly affects elderly individuals who live alone, characterized by extreme self-neglect, domestic squalor, social withdrawal, apathy, compulsive hoarding of garbage, and lack of shame.”
I imagine the Greeks would complain about such an association, which shows little respect for the seeker of truth and indifference towards material possessions. As regards the comments made on the television program alone, there is no mention of household pets in the description of the syndrome.
In any event, the anecdote bothered me some and I regret not having asked the woman (who is neither old nor squalid and does not live alone) what show she had gotten this information from.
I wondered if the intent had been to discredit those people, like her and like myself, who cannot ignore a stray animal they see suffering out on the street.
For us, choosing to do nothing – the most common response from most – entails a conflict between pain and the sheer impossibility of lending a hand. Many a time, the first element comes out victorious.
Only those of us who have taken on the burden others have comfortably avoided know the difficulties involved in looking after and feeding several animals on a shoestring budget and through a dysfunctional veterinary system that, to add insult to injury, raised the prices of its services by 100 percent on the 1st of November this year.
What people forget is that every stray animal once had an owner, or a progenitor who had an owner, and their negligence, coupled with the negligence of a government that makes no effort to establish animal protection laws or encourage projects that can help us get rid of this unnecessary and preventable ill, is at the root of the problem.
It is worth mentioning that these programs could potentially exist, thanks to the initiative of individuals who would spare no effort to see them through.
It is regrettable that not even those who strive for changes in Cuba – not even dissidents – envisage a country without abandoned animals that dirty our streets, carry diseases or infections and sadden us with the spectacle of their helplessness, their suffering or their death, a country without people who individually assume a burden that is not totally theirs to carry.
Yes, Cuba has been suffering from Diogenes Syndrome for a long time: enduring isolation, squalor and neglect. It is also showing signs of a far more serious condition: indifference towards the suffering of others.