The Other Pandemic (Part II)

Veronica Fernandez

Havana Dog.  Photo: Veronica Fernandez
Havana Dog. Photo: Veronica Fernandez

Ever since I was a little girl, I felt a certain fondness for animals. I liked having lots of cats as well as dogs in the house.  I remember when I was seven I had an incident with a cat though. It took some food from my sister’s plate and I had to give it away to a family that would take better care of it and give it the proper attention.  So, from that day on, I’ve only had dogs.

Some died from poisoning by our own neighbors, and others have lived with me to the end of

their days, like the dog I’ve now had for seven years, and who I gave the spectacular name Princess.

During the most difficult times of the “Special Period” (the 1993-94 crisis in Cuba resulting from the collapse of the socialist camp), I estimate that more than 50 percent of the Cuban population tossed their dogs out into the street.  These former pets contracted all types of illnesses, among them what is commonly called “mange,” which can also affect people.  In fact, I know to several people who contracted mange because of infected dogs in the street.

What’s more, I know of neighborhoods in Havana where the streets were filled with almost as many of animals (dogs and cats) as people. The famous dog-catcher trucks used to go around picking up animals that were abandoned or were simply born there and were helpless.  Those vehicles, a responsibility of the Public Health Department, disappeared almost a decade ago due to the lack of fuel and spare parts that persisted throughout that difficult epoch.

Now those “animal protection” trucks have reappeared on Cuban streets, though they’re seen less frequently than in the years before the Special Period. Nonetheless, reflecting on and looking attentively at my surroundings, I began to note that diseased dogs continue roaming around, some even beside my own house.

A few months ago my neighbor decided to get a dog; she said she loves those little pets. To tell the truth though, I can’t imagine what would happen if she didn’t like them.  This neighbor’s dog is in such bad shape it makes you want to cry.  Added to that, it wanders around the whole neighborhood affecting other pets that only come outside with their owners or are chained up.

This is yet another pandemic of society.  I think anyone of us who lives with any type animal in their house and is unable of taking care of them, can much less take care of themselves.

Throughout this entire year, great efforts have been made in the area of public health in Cuba to combat dengue fever, viral and hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, other influenza and now the AH1N1 virus. Personnel from the Heath Department diligently visit our houses to fumigate them; however, nothing is done to eradicate this whole situation of diseased animals in the street; it continues to persist.  So who’s at fault?

Large sums of money are spent by the Cuban government to prevent illnesses, and media campaigns have been launched to get us to maintain proper hygiene in our homes and workplaces.  But what about this other basic lack of hygiene that it striking us?  How do we end it?  And who’s responsible for this lack of control?

Though we allow these animals to run around sick and loose in the street, can we say that any minimum level of hygiene and disease prevention exists in our society?  Why aren’t severe measures taken against those organizations and people that contribute to this disorder?  And why do we continue to permit this to happen?  Isn’t the leadership of animal protection societies in our country aware of this situation?

This is another one of the pandemics we’re facing, but one we’re not confronting.

How long are we going to continue dragging along in the Special Period?  It’s obvious that we’re lost if everything involving the Cuban health care system, in addition to our population in general, is unable to work to achieve a more hygienic, more ecological atmosphere, in short, to create a much healthier society.

Like I was told by a good friend, a contemporary intellectual, “If we’re in fact lost, we’re going to wind up in failure and we’ll destroy ourselves.”