An Effort in Cuba to be as Civilized as the Animals

By Veronica Vega

A recent anti-parasite campaign in Old Havana.
Dr. Fernando Gispert at work in a recent anti-parasite campaign in Old Havana.

HAVANA TIMES – Of all the problems Cuba has, the one that strikes me most when I go out on the street is the number of animals that are abandoned. Behind the impotence we feel at their suffering is an alarming lack of social consciousness and the absence of an Animal Protection Act to call a halt to all the sadism and irresponsibility.

The veterinary clinics that exist are not only inadequate but they are only open to the public for a few hours a day and that often means the death sentence for some poor animal.

So when I witness an initiative benefiting animals in this country, I get a sense of relief and a breath of optimism.

Fernando Gispert, a veterinarian and specialist in acupuncture and homeopathy, whom I interviewed for HT, notified me a free mass-scale deworming activity being held in the Plaza Belen in Old Havana.

When I arrived at noon they had already de-loused about 500 dogs. The scene was like a fair with music, parasols and promotional posters. Among all the barking and the smiles, were the dog owners looking pleased as punch and just as excited as their pets.

Young people taking down the information necessary for scientific studies and control of the product being used and its correct use.
Taking down the information necessary for scientific studies and control of the product being used and its correct use.

HT: How did it all come about ?

Fernando Gispert: It started in 2006, initiated by the Aquarium of Old Havana and we all joined in out of pure enthusiasm. You have to have organizations willing to join in and and work together for a worthwhile cause like this. Top of our list is the Historian’s Office which always supports us with chairs, tables, the radio set-up .. this time there was a gift from Bayer Animal Health

Then there was the Spanky Project Organization, led by Terry Shewchuck, a Canadian animal lover and a lover of Cuba. Their challenge in life is animals so they don’t get into conflict with the government. They support us with parasiticides, anesthetics, antibiotics, instruments etc.  And we must not forget either all those low income people who help us as volunteers.

But there’s also Heritage, Community and Environment, the Institute of Veterinary Medicine, the Animal Welfare Commission, the Scientific Veterinary Council, the University of Havana, the Convent of Bethlehem which lends us its square, and many more. And of course there’s also the Laika Veterinary Clinic where I work.

Dr.Leyssan Cepero, of the Havana Historian’s Office, maintains a clinical history of the anti parasite records.
Dr.Leyssan Cepero, of the Havana Historian’s Office, maintains a clinical history of the anti parasite records.

HT: As far as I can see, people are very ethusiastic …

FG: People appreciate these events because they love their animals and cherish their wellbeing. I always point out to people that when an animal is sick it affects the family, people get stressed, depressed, it’s a serious social problem like any other. Not realizing it, is short-sighted.

But in conducting these campaigns, we hope people will include stray animals and we even reward those cooperating in this by giving them products for their pets like the one we’re using today: “Advocate” made by Bayer Animal Health, which attacks fleas and nematodes (round worms). You can how well they’re behaving (the animals).

HT: How do you spread the word?

FG: Through the Havana Radio station, the Canal Havana TV channel, the Tribuna de la Habana weekly paper. This is the task of Community and Environment, who are the ones who organize the activity.

HT: What chance is there of spreading the initiatives to other municipalities where many animals are suffering on the streets?

Anti-parasite campaign in Old Havana.
Anti-parasite campaign in Old Havana.

FG: First of all you have to get together. There is a big discrepancy between NGOs and government organizations, between those who protect animals and those who don’t…There are those who want no part in these campaigns because they cost money for the economy and then there are those who want more free deworming and sterilization…they are two extremes that can’t come to an agreement.

But we must stop bickering, put aside ideologies or any other kind of differences to work for some objective good cause. Being able to visualize, as if we’re going through a tunnel, that there’s the animal at the other end who will benefit, and by extension society.

HT: Something that worries me a lot is the number of dogs I see run over on the streets. It’s a terribly depressing spectacle.

FG: What we need are campaigns so people don’t abandon their animals on the streets, so they sterilize the females before they go in heat for the first time, neuter the males when they’re six months old and forget all this macho nonsense about the “poor males … “We need to get it into our head that sexuality is a natural reflex, but not one that’s essential for life. Nature provides it to perpetuate the species, but if you’ve got overpopulation, you can do without it and it doesn’t make any difference. The animal is actually happier.

Some of the sponsors of the campaign.
Some of the sponsors of the campaign.

HT: I’ve noticed in several municipalities that the animals killed on the streets are not picked up with the dead bodies slowly creating a dreadful stench so bad the air is unbreathable. Who is responsible for seeing to that?

FG: Animals that get run over and killed are supposed to be collected by the city’s garbage service. Only sometimes they do not. Of course it’s a health problem.

But making sure there are no animals roaming the streets is the task of Zoonosis. Although it is a much criticized and maligned institution (not only in Cuba but throughout the world), it prevents epidemics and health disasters. The only difference being that in Cuba the way it collects the animals is inhumane as is the way it puts them down. There is a difference between “Sacrifice” and “Euthanasia”.

In other countries they pick them up with a control rod that is expensive ($250.00) and they put them to sleep with expensive products ($80.00-500.00). In Cuba there are no such products so they get picked up in a horrible, brutal way, get tossed in the back of a truck, get taken to Punta Brava where people let their sadistic imaginations run wild, give them strychnine if they have it, kill them with clubs, shovels, electric current, suffocate them with carbon monoxide or water and other secret methods that don’t bear the light of day…

Anti-parasite campaign in Old Havana.
Anti-parasite campaign in Old Havana.

Our struggle today, when we admit there’s no other solution but collecting them from the streets, is for organizations to donate to Cuba euthanasia products approved by the OIE. The Charter of the Rights of Animals, conceived by the UN in 1976, emphasizes the right of animals to be treated with respect.

Animals live in herds, but man lives in a community, in other words with other herds of men, dogs, cats, birds. Unfortunately man doesn’t know how to live in harmony with the community. Animals can.

I do not understand why humans don’t understand they are just another animal, why they think they are superior when animals are superior to us in many ways: there vision is better than ours, they can run faster than us, hear better than us, can even feel better than we can.

We only surpass them in intelligence, and that itself is questionable … What could be more stupid than destroying ourselves, destroying nature and causing wars? That is why I understand Roberto Carlos when he sings “I would like to be as civilized as the animals”.

2 thoughts on “An Effort in Cuba to be as Civilized as the Animals

  • Very good article!

  • Excellent commentary. We visited Havana last year with my two teenage daughters. The skinny cats and dogs on the streets tore us apart. And what was worse was my relatives seemingly apathetic reaction about a puppy in the trash- “leave him there, there are too many, tha’ts life.” We took him, but he died before we could find a vet. When i returned home, i tried to connect with the University of Havana to create an exchange type project with veternarian students from our university. The university of Havana did not respond to any of our efforts. educating the public is important but without the money and resources fixing the situation is difficult. Thank God there are some rays of hope as this event. when we care about the animals we are affecting the health of the people also.

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