ARCA, Cuenca’s first animal rescue and sterilization service, needs your help to continue its work

Apr 17, 2024 | 0 comments

Even as a very young child, Valentina Leon was more drawn to animals than to her toys. Dolls were just pieces of plastic, while animals radiated love and compassion. This deep bond has come to fruition in her role as founder of ARCA, the Foundation to Protect Animals, Cuenca’s oldest and largest animal rescue organization.

Her day job as professor of piano at the Conservatory of Cuenca had occupied her fully until one day when she was 30 and saw an injured dog lying in the street. A truck driver was preparing to run over it when she screamed and stopped him. He told her killing it would be best because there was no one to care for it, and at the time there were almost no veterinarians in the city.

This dog, with its broken femur, was her first successful rescue and adoption. With that, Leon made a decision to do something concrete to aid the street dogs — or callejeros — of the city.

Together with the veterinarian, Dr. Luis Orellana, she set about analyzing the problem. Up to that point, no one had imagined the scope of the issue — they had only seen individual cases. The fledgling group had to grow and better understand what they could do.

The group’s first big fight was in 2003 and 2004, when they worked to pass a city ordinance banning bullfighting. It came as a great surprise to them when their research showed that about 80% of residents were against bullfighting! This gave them the strength to proceed, gathering 3,000 signatures on a petition presented to the City Council.  A municipal councilor, Maria Caridad Vasquez, led the fight inside the Council.  The petition was finally voted on and passed, making Cuenca the first city in Ecuador to ban bullfighting.

ARCA founder Valentina Leon

Still, the organization was tiny and weak. None of the members came from families with money, so everything was built slowly – no one even thought of having a shelter, a refugio.

But then came a letter in the newspaper regarding one of the university medical schools. The students were capturing stray dogs and repeatedly using them to practice surgical procedures, while keeping them in horrendous conditions. When they were used up, they were killed.

Horrified, Leon asked Dr. Orellana if these dogs could be brought back to health. Yes, he said – but after that, what do we do with them?  A friend lent a vacant house for the first 15 dogs, and before they knew it, they had 40 dogs recuperating from injuries

In 2008, the municipality gave the foundation land for a shelter in Pichacay, near the city landfill. Leon raised money for a van, a public low-cost veterinary clinic and the shelter. She got a formal agreement with the city council in 2011 for neutering dogs and cats and things just snowballed from there.

Knowing that sterilization was key to controlling the population of unwanted animals, Leon set about building a medical team to establish sterilization clinics in Cuenca and other Ecuadorian cities. In 2009, she reached out to the International Humane Society for training in conducting mass sterilization campaigns. Dra. Christina Bernardi, now a professor at the University of Cuenca School of Veterinary Sciences, was the first vet to be trained. The foundation staff was trained in techniques, logistics and processes, and the clinics have improved continually since then, with ARCA sterilizing 4,000 animals each year. Now, under Chief veterinarian Dra. Jennifer Dutan, the procedures have achieved a standard of international excellence.

Today, there are new challenges now. The city wants the land in Pichacay and has provided land on the other side of the city for the shelter. The property is very steep, so the city is bulldozing terraces. Architectural plans have been drawn up, but there is no money for building or for the transfer of the foundation’s 400 dogs.

ARCA works in conjunction with the municipality: it is the only foundation that attends to emergencies reported to 911 regarding animals. With the support of the municipality, its veterinary staff and volunteers carry out high-volume, high-quality sterilization campaigns across the province. The clinic near Plaza San Sebastián performs 2,000 sterilizations a year, charging a very low fee, and for the poor or homeless, the services are free.

But the most pressing need right now is for a new van, as the old one died, severely hampering the delivery of necessities to the shelter and to the sterilization clinics.

Valentina Leon will retire soon after 40 years of teaching at the Conservatory and plans to devote herself completely to ARCA’s mission. Considering what she has accomplished working only part time, we should anticipate great things!

ARCA welcomes your financial assistance, which can be directed to any or all of these projects, as well as toward the $3,000 monthly cost of feeding all the rescues.

ARCA needs your support!
To support ARCA and its projects, Flora Caffe on Otorongo Plaza is hosting a curated art show and sale Saturday, 20 April, 11 AM ‘til 3 PM with a barbecue ($15) and live Gypsy Jazz by the Judas Project,

In addition, two classes will be offered next week, Shibori (Japanese embroidery) on Tuesday, 11 AM ‘til 1 PM ($20, lunch included) and Sewing for Peace on Thursday, 11 AM ‘til 1 PM ($20, lunch included). Take both for $35.

Call Rosana Malo at 593 99 869 8661 for reservations.

The show closes on Saturday, 27 April, 11 AM ‘til 3 PM, with Bagels and Bach ($10). All the schmears and yummy bagels you could want, all while listening to classical piano music by David Encalada.

Come support ARCA! We need a new van to ferry supplies to our refuge in Pichacay and our sterilization clinics in communities around the province.

For more information, go to ARCA’s Facebook page.


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