HAVANA TIMES — I must admit I am rather put off when someone sees me buy some food from a nearby stand for a stray cat or dog and, while the animal devours the food desperately, compassionately says:
“Take it with you, girl!”
Once, I took the trouble of explaining to one such person that I already had a lot of animals at home, and they replied:
“So what? Another one ain’t gonna kill you.”
I asked him how many animals he had, and he said that none. So I said to him:
“So, why don’t you take him home?”
The man laughed smugly.
“I don’t like dogs, see.”
Absurd as it may seem, many people actually believe that those of us who go to the trouble of picking up and adopting sick animals do so because “we like it,” as though it were like going to a pet shop.
My sister has already lost count of the number of cats and dogs she has rescued and the ones that have died. Neither she nor her children have picked up most of them: people simply place them at her doorstep in secret.
A single mother with four children who have impressively defied poverty, all are tall, beautiful and healthy. While still small, if, by some miracle, the family could afford to buy some milk, they would happily share it with the last litter of kitten someone had tried to save by entrusting it to others.
Now, they are battling to save a dog with canine distemper. Very few people are aware of how deadly this disease is: of a hundred dogs that become infected, only five percent survive. The strong, happy and affectionate animal that it was is unrecognizable right now. After suffering long convulsions, it is scrawny, sways as it walks and its stare seems empty. The family prioritizes visits to the vet and expensive medication over many other needs: fixing the cracking, peeling walls of the house and broken furniture.
State veterinary clinics and the few institutions that offer medical attention for pets do not envisage programs that exempt voluntary animal protectors from payment, no matter how much they’ve done to clean up streets or saved helpless beings from the sadistic violence that many Cubans shamelessly put upon them.
For many, they are eccentrics and nut-jobs. By contrast, those who abandon entire litters of puppies and kittens inside garbage bins, those who do not sterilize their pets and sometimes get rid of them, leaving them in a distant neighborhood, are not breaking any law. Nor do those who have kinder hearts and try to help these animals, leaving them in the hands of others.
Those who adopt these animals, however, are looked upon with disdain and even held liable for hygienic reasons. Not those who abandon animals, no. They live in well-kept houses with respectable appearances.
There’s talk of a crisis of values now, but, what better world could we build by neglecting those beings that depend on others? What does solidarity consist in, if not developing empathy and compassion? Values cannot be decreed, they have to be passed on in practice, through example. And laws are indispensable for preventing and controlling our degeneration.
I think it’s time to put things in their place, of valuing those who truly deserve it. Under no circumstance should irresponsibility be considered a social merit.