Discovering a ‘pawsome’ volunteer purpose: Expat couple joins effort to rescue Cuenca street dogs
Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series about a grassroots volunteer project in Cuenca to create the most modern and sustainable animal shelter in Ecuador and address the country’s pain of abused, abandoned and neglected street dogs.
Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.
By Rosemary Rein
Neither Barry or I watch television or internet commercials about animal rescue. The sad images of abused, neglected and abandoned dogs and cats are just way too depressing. Instead, we look at our own happy and contented pets, Mr. Peabody, Mr. Ajax and Senor Guapo, who seem blissfully unaware of their elevated 1% status in the animal world.
Those who know us and our TV viewing habits would ask, considering our favorite streaming shows include “Dexter First Blood” and the “Walking Dead”, why are we so squeamish about the animals? We don’t have an answer but suspect some of you may have the same sick feeling when you see a lost and wandering dog on an otherwise storybook street of Cuenca.
This may be one reason why Barry and I think it takes a special kind of person, an angel really, who works or volunteers in animal rescue. We know that left to our own devices working at the shelter, we would quickly have way more animals than people and live up to my niece’s prediction that she would one day find us in our Cuenca condo overrun by a pack of mutts and misfits.
So, we prefer to do what we can to help those angels and volunteers who are rescuing and saving the dogs that we ourselves cannot care for.
Guess what? We discovered there are other expats like us who are heart-broken when we see dogs in harm’s way in Ecuador, a contrast with many of our experiences in North America. We may not miss Starbucks, but we appreciate and remember our culture where dogs are often walking down the street proudly with their family and those in harm’s way are rescued at often, well-equipped shelters.
These expats are joining forces with Ecuadorians, rallying around the belief that we can do better for the animals in our care, through public education, refuge and prevention strategies.
Introducing FAAN & their 130 dogs
We found FAAN (Fundación Familia Amor Animal), now in its 8th year of existence and caring for 130 dogs at its temporary Tarqui shelter. To our surprise, our first visit to the shelter was overwhelming, not with sadness but with happiness caused by the excited greeting of the dogs clearly adoring their human visitors. Never mind that our clothes were transformed into a canvas of loving paw prints. I’ve often told Barry if he would just greet me like our dog does when I come home, he’d get many more treats. Today he gets it!
Photos from “Walking with Dogs” on September 17th
The pack represents dogs of all sizes and shapes and clearly takes its cues from pack leader and President of FAAN, Jose Gomez. Every day, Jose treks up to Tarqui from Cuenca on a dirt road with endless, winding turns to cook for, feed and care for these homeless animals, giving them a safe haven and opportunity for a permanent home through adoption. This is Jose’s mission and purpose in life. “Marabel, Lucas, Lucy.” He herds the pack and even the young puppies, not yet named, follow him like famous TV dog trainer Cesar Millan.
I say to Barry, “he knows each one by name.” Jose explains to us that the shelter is put together on a shoestring and through the generosity of donations. Fencing, cardboard boxes, pallets, blankets, metal bowls and the recent donation of a few glamping domes, represent the limited infrastructure. Those who know North American shelters might be horrified at these basic conditions, yet this is the temporary shelter and each dog is happy, healthy and well fed. This is also Ecuador.
For more information, to volunteer, adopt or contribute and become a Paws Circle Member, write Rosemary or Barry Rein, FAAN Volunteer Liaisons at firstname.lastname@example.org.