The Animal rights movement celebrated National Dog Day with an appeal to look after pets and take care of animals that are already living on the street.
HAVANA TIMES – Social distancing measures decreed in Cuba to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 have put stray dogs and cats and, especially, recently abandoned pets at great risk.
“Yes, we have seen an increase in abandoned pets. Some still walk around with their collar on, in good health still, well looked-after and plump, roaming about the street, digging into dumpsters looking for food and following people. It’s very sad,” animal rights activist Diana Arro told IPS Cuba’s editorial team.
“However, I don’t believe this wave of abandonment has been growing,” the activist from SAOS (Saving animals forgotten in Santiago de Cuba), explained. This NGO was founded in the city located 847 kms away from the Cuban capital, working “to reduce the number of stray animals.”
Arro wants to believe that actions pushed by SAOS have had to something to do with this. “In late March, we held an “I look after my pet” awareness day, informing people about preventable and treatable zoonotic diseases, really driving home the message that animals don’t spread Coronavirus.”
“We also launched the “Feed a stray” campaign, asking the population not to throw away left-overs, to put it on a plate or piece of newspaper, take it somewhere you know there is dog always, or leave bowls in key places so people can fill them with food,” she added.
Actions in this emergency situation
The SAOS contingency plan includes transferring animals they have in their shelter to carers’ and activists’ homes and to create brigades to deal with any emergency cases that pop up. It also has a reserve of food, which has been distributed across different points in the city, where over a million people live.
Food is one of the greatest concerns in Havana, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find certain foods, especially fish at an affordable price.
“Dogs eat anything, but cats don’t. With shortages of fish, I have had to turn to feeding them pig entrails, but it isn’t always available. If the epidemic gets worse, things can get really hard,” Nadia Sanchez, who feeds 15 cats and five dogs every day, told IPS Cuba.
On April 7th, non-profit ANIPLANT recognized the dedication of animal rights activists who continue to remain active during these trying times, on its Facebook page. “Our job to feed stray populations has never stopped,” the post added, which was accompanied by a photo of over 20 cats being fed.
The Cuida y protege Facebook page reported the situation of a colony of cats in the gardens of the old Aldama Palace, in the capital’s Central Havana municipality. According to the post, the colony has gone from having 40 to 15 cats, including some with burns from having hot water thrown over them by humans.
Animal rights advocates in the Havana and Sancti Spiritus provinces have reported the presence of Canine Observation Center (popularly known as Zoonosis) cars picking up animals. Photo: Taken from Facebook
Different kind of celebration
Over 400 people walked down Havana’s main avenues on April 7th 2019 to demand that the government pass an Animal Protection Act. A year later, Cuba’s animal rights movement celebrated Dog Day on April 12th, with the alternatives that social distancing imposes in order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
While the alarm that was sounded off – after a complaint was published on Facebook by activist Javier Larrea on April 2nd, about a mass pick-up of dogs in Trinidad city, some 314 kms away from Havana – continues, the animal rights movement’s main message is now directed at preventing pet abandonment.
With the hashtags #NoLosAbandonesCuba, #EllosSoloTransmitenAmor and #LeyDeProteccionAnimalYa, as well as others for #DiaDelPerroCuba2020, the appeal has moved to social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, spaces where a significant part of the Caribbean island’s population are now living their daily lives.
Warning bells are ringing on the social media pages of animal rights groups and activists, who remain active in rescue missions, as far as social distancing measures allow for.
“Members of the group have seen small animals, especially babies, dead in garbage dumpsters,” Lisette Batista, from the “Animal Protection in Cities” group (PAC, told IPS Cuba. Batista also repeated the call for food donations for rescue animals.
Photos and stories are reposted on different pages: an abandoned dog on a highway running after a car that drives off in the distance, a dog tied to a tree in a city park, dogs wandering about aimlessly in empty cities, where restaurants are only selling food for take-away, and whole colonies of cats being abandoned and abused.
A summary of some of the protection actions that took place in 2019 by different groups and people all over Cuba.
“I am seeing a lot of abandoned dogs on the street and it’s something that really worries me. It’s really sad to see them,” Grettel Montes de Oca, a member of the CEDA (Cubans defending animals) project said, who continues to rescue animals and look for adoption families and temporary homes.
Pets are not a threat
The Pan American Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Veterinary Public Health Center belonging to the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization and World Animal Protection, have issued a joint statement after Science magazine published the results of a study about the possibility of cats becoming infected with SAR-CoV-2.
“There are few reports abouts cats who seem to have been infected with the virus, all of whom have been in contact with people with COVID-19, or forcefully infected with high doses of the virus in the lab,” the article states and confirms that “there is no evidence that cats can spread the virus to humans.”
“This misinformation is frightening people and leading to pets being abandoned and dogs and cats being mercilessly sacrificed,” a trend that could lead to other health issues such as an increase in disease among stray animal populations, such as rabies, the article reports. It also includes hygiene recommendations for living with pets and a link to every study published about this by the World Organization for Animal Health.