An Ode to Cuba’s Mutts

Fernando Ravsberg

Cubans love their mutts. Foto: Raquel Pérez

HAVANA TIMES, Sept 1 I saw on the news that Yeti, a “sata” (mutt) from Camagüey province, was breastfeeding several piglets and an orphan puppy.  The story was broadcast and printed in all the media.  The fact is that Cubans take their dogs seriously.

I remember in the 1990s when a fax came to my office reporting that the US ambassador’s dog had been expelled.  The first thing I thought was that there’d been some break in diplomatic relations expressed in unusually crude terms.

Reading the communiqué more calmly, I understood that an Afghan hound named “Havana” — which belonged to the diplomatic representative from Washington in Cuba, Ms. Vicki Huddleston — had been kicked out of the island’s Association of Afghan Hounds.

I began calling around to various colleagues trying to understand “this latest bilateral rupture.”  The rumor mill kept churning while the Cuban foreign ministry swore they didn’t know what we were talking about.  Then a second fax arrived.

This one too had been sent from the local kennel club of that same canine breed but it was directed specifically to the foreign press accredited in Cuba.  It reported that, in an act of redress, the dog was being readmitted to the Afghan association but Huddleston, its owner, had been permanently expelled.

I couldn’t believe it, but several breeders confirmed that the whole incident had emerged from an internal rift within the club.  According to their version of the facts, the crisis was the result of a rivalry between a woman from high Cuban society and the ambassador of the “empire.”

It seems this woman’s pet had been the star of the club but that this became obscured by the appearance of “Havana,” who captured the center of all attention.  The situation became intolerable and, like everything in Cuba, it quickly turned political.

I imagine the speeches in the club, proclaiming that Cuban dogs ate thanks only to a thousand sacrifices and that their lack of medicine was the fault of the blockade by the imperialists, the same ones who were then making us lose face with their hale and hearty animals.

But what’s certain is that dogs of the Cuban breed were not poorly fed or lacking medicine.  I knew that “Havana” ate thanks to the money of the empire, but I never found out how — in the middle of the economic crisis — the other dogs were maintained.

Fortunately the mysteries of the Caribbean are less inscrutable than the paths of the Lord, so I began talking with breeders and they were good enough to give me the savior’s name, it’s called the “black market,” and the greater the shortages the better it works.

It lives out of government coffers, from slaughterhouses come meat for dogs, and vaccines were bought on official trips.  During the crisis of the ‘90s, livestock and even animals in the zoo dropped like flies, but pedigreed dogs survived.

Breeds apart

These dogs are a direct contradiction to the news reports that say all Cubans live in a state of misery.  So who is it that raises these Chihuahuas, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Dalmatians, Huskies, Chow-chow and Afghan hounds?

Well, it’s that part of the population with enough money to pay between US$50 and US$500 for a puppy that will later be fed beef (at $.40 a pound) and imported dog food (at $1 a pound).

Unquestionably, another part of Cuban society doesn’t have resources for such expenses, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot have their pets.  They are the owners of those “satos,” as islanders call their “breedless” mongrels.

Yet saying such a thing is true slander, because they have the genes of several breeds at the same time.  They’re in fact strong, they stand up to illnesses well, and no food causes them allergies.  Many are simply born survivors.

They’re like Cubans, and maybe that’s why their owners are so fond of them.  There’s even a sato festival in Old Havana, where one wins for being ugly, another for the longest tail, this one for being affectionate and that one also gets an award for its enormous ears.

And there, clearly, they are in no competition with the “empire.”  There’s no US ambassador who dares compete with mutts like “Yeti.”  Nor are there high socialist society types who send faxes kicking out owners and readmitting canines.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.