By Christopher Lux
For Trish Tiura, it all began when she took an abandoned puppy home from one of Cuenca’s Mercado. market. She says puppies are routinely left behind at the city’s markets on Saturday evenings. “People bring them to sell and when they don’t sell the dogs, they abandon them. They can’t pay to feed them until the next weekend so they just get rid of them.”
Then she found another dog that needed to be adopted. She couldn’t refuse. At that point she had five dogs and realized that if was going to follow her passion for helping homeless dogs, she was going to need a bigger place. She moved out of her condo and into a house.
But the dogs kept coming.
Trish needed room for the dogs to run. And her teenage son could only take so much company in their house. “Before I knew it,” she says, “my house was full. My son was going to kill me!”
Trish found two adjacent pieces of property for sale in Cuenca’s Miraflores neighborhood and purchased both of them. She had a fence built around the properties and kennels built. In 2012, just three years after she arrived from the U.S. with her own three dogs and three cats, Refugio del Mejor Amigo was born.
Today, Refugio del Mejor Amigo houses 110 dogs that eat $1,200 worth of dog food a month. “All of our dogs are happy and well-fed,” she says. “They run free on the property and have a good life.” The hillside property is separated geographically, with the adult dogs roaming free on the lower portion with the puppies living above.
Homeless dogs arrive at Refugio del Mejor Amigo in a variety of wasy. Sometimes people call and say they found a dog that needs a home. Other times the dogs are left tied to the Regufio fence. But crueler methods aren’t uncommon. “Just this week two dogs were left outside the gate tied in sacks,” Trish says. “Once, a puppy had its legs tied together and it was thrown over our wall.”
According to Trish, when dogs arrive at Refugio del Mejor Amigo, they are quarantined. “This is to make sure they don’t’ have illnesses that they could pass on to the other dogs. We take their picture and weigh them. Then, our vet, Wiliam, comes and checks them out. He vaccinates them and spays the males.”
Dr. Wiliam Palaguachi is a Cuenca vet who donates his time to Refugio del Mejor Amigo.
After a quarantine period, the dogs live at the shelter until they are adopted. “We have about four or five adoptions per month,” Trish says. “And we have a strict adoption process. We have an application and a follow-up visit to the home. These dogs came from a bad place, and we want them to go to a good place.”
Trish had never planned to run a dog refuge. “I didn’t come to Cuenca with that intention, but I couldn’t walk away from all the suffering and poor dogs.”
Before moving to Cuenca from the U.S., Trish was the I.T. director for the city of Seattle, working long hours. After her husband passed away in 2009, she started thinking about moving.
“I decided to come to Cuenca for a combination of reasons. My husband’s illness took a toll on me and I didn’t want to continue in a full time job. I wanted to spend more time with my son, to be available for him after he lost his dad.”
“When I visited Cuenca, I thought it was beautiful. I knew the experience of living and being educated in a new country would be good for my son,” she says.
Once Cuenca became home and before she took in her first stray dog, Trish started feeling a need to care for the homeless dogs. “Life is about giving back and about sharing,” she says. “Dogs and cats can’t speak for themselves and they’re victims. They didn’t ask to be put here. They didn’t ask to be on the streets. I saw a need and I wanted to help and I wanted them to feel loved. We need to take responsibility for creatures that can’t take care of themselves. How a society treats animals is a reflection of who they are. This is society’s responsibility.”
Though abandoned dogs continue to show up at Refugio del Mejor Amigo, Trish points out that both Ecuadorians and expats are putting forth a noble effort. “Another volunteer organization is doing very good work to help reduce the amount of abandoned dogs by offering free spay and neuter services,” she says, referring to Happy Dogs.
Most of the staff and volunteers at Refugio del Mejor Amigo are Ecuadorians who work hard for a cause they strongly believe in.
“We have a local family who lives on the property with the dogs. They take care of the dogs and the place. There is also Darwin, the director. And our wonderful vet, Will, who volunteers all of his services. We have a group of very committed volunteers. All of our web presence–Facebook, website–is done by a student for free, and the volunteer coordinator is a chef.”
Every Saturday is volunteer day at the shelter. “The group of volunteers receives a quick overview of what needs to be done, along with some do’s and don’t’s about dog care. Then, they wash blankets in the kennels, give flea treatments and vitamins to the dogs, carryout some basic training, give baths, weigh the dogs, and walk the dogs.”
The shelter has limited resources, and funds are running low. “We can’t continue unless something changes. Of course, though resources are scarce, if two dogs are left in bags outside the shelter we’re going to take them in.”
Refugio del Mejor Amigo is launching a new campaign to help keep the shelter keep running. “Digging Upward” will be a campaign that involves various fundraisers, raffles, and dinners.
“If we could just get dog food, though, it would be a huge relief.” Though dog food is a preferred donation, other ways people can help is by volunteering or donating blankets, towels, toys, and leashes. Donations can also be made online.
Contact information for Refugio del Mejor Amigo:
Facebook: Refugio del Mejor Amigo
Other services in Cuenca that provide help for dogs and cats
In addition to Refugio del Mejor Amigo, there other organizations that provide spay and neuter and rescue services for area dogs and cats. These include Happy Dogs in Cuenca, Rescate Animal Cuenca, ARCA Foundation and Familia Amor Animal (FAAN). Happy dogs and ARCA periodically sponsor events during which the public can bring in dogs and cats to be neutered.