By Brian Hitsky
Kim Curls spent 25 years of her life in ranching and raising a family, but when events caused changes, she slogged through 60 to a100 hours per week working in the fast food industry in the United States.
During those times, she fantasized about a less hectic life and to have more time for meaningful interests. She continued along her demanding work path dreaming and planning, so when she turned 55, she was able to retire. And she did.
Kim now lives in Cuenca and one of her main goals when moving here was to slow down her life and give back. Well, she’s giving back, but not slowing down.
“I have more time pursuing things that are more meaningful,” she said. “I was raised Southern Baptist, and we were always taught to think about trying to make a difference and help others.”
Raised in Florida but coming to Cuenca from the Carolinas about three years ago, Kim volunteered for Happy Dogs in Cuenca, an organization dedicated to reducing unwanted animals through spay/neuter clinics in conjunction with ARCA, an animal rescue service, and Spay/Vets from the University of Cuenca.
Eventually, the founder of the group moved, so Kim stepped up to continue the operation and recruit volunteers. She started a Facebook page, Pet Care Ecuador-and she and her volunteers assisted the Spay/Vet team in performing 3,500 surgeries in the last two years.
“We not only operate in Cuenca, but in many other cities in Ecuador,” Kim said. “We usually do one weekend a month, working with municipalities to organize the clinics. We can perform 120 surgeries on a weekend. We are pleased with each completed surgery as it means one less reproducing animal.”
The cost of each surgery is $25, an expense paid either by the municipality or the pet owner. “None of our volunteers or veterinarians are paid. The money received goes towards the needed drugs, supplies and transportation for the dog/cat “M.A.S.H. unit” that the group can set up in less than two hours.
The veterinarians come from the University of Cuenca. The most senior students execute the surgeries. Kim is not trained as a vet, but is qualified in animal husbandry, so she works in “post op 1”, bringing the animals out of anesthesia, administering shots, removing trach tubes and monitoring respiration and heartrate. Other volunteers assist in post op 1 or sit with the animals to nurse them back to total consciousness.
“We are dedicated to reducing the over-population of unwanted dogs and cats by providing education and the surgeries,” Kim said. “Statistics indicate that for every one animal that has been neutered, it can exponentially prevent as many as 70,000 other animals over a 10-year period.”
In 2019, Happy Dogs has conducted clinics in Azogues and Loja. Two others are scheduled for Vilcabamba and a return to Azogues. “Azogues is an example of a municipality getting behind the spay/neuter initiative. We are proud to help them in their desire to control the over population of unwanted pets,” she continued.
Besides her animal work, Kim’s heart also goes out to her fellow humans. About one year ago she became involved with All Hands and Hearts, a volunteer organization that responds to natural disasters throughout the world.
“We go where no man will go,” Kim proudly boasts. “We travel to places that are very remote. The larger organizations will not typically go into these areas because there is no electricity and no running water. They’re very primitive.”
Kim has been on two such disaster relief efforts, one to the U.S. Virgin Islands for one month in February 2018, and one to Nepal in December 2018. In March she will head to Oaxaca, Mexico for two weeks to help rebuild a school.
Kim is pleased that All Hands and Hearts directs a high percentage of its donations to its projects. “We have a 95% pass through rate. We are ranked in the top five percent of charities with this flow through percentage. People should know that only our director is paid a salary.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands were devastated by two back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes in 2017. Kim and her work mates were responsible for a program labeled “Muck and Gut,” which means they muck the debris out of the houses and strip them down to the rafters and the studs. “You get all the moldy stuff out of the house,” she said.
Kim slept in a bunk bed, ate communal dinners and took military showers. Because water is so precious, and there were about 100 volunteers, she only was allowed two minutes to cleanup in one of the four showers available.
While working in the islands, Kim met people who were going to Nepal to help rebuild a school. Nepal was hit by an 8.1 earthquake in 2017 that killed 9,000 people, destroyed 600,000 homes and demolished 8,000 schools.
“Logistically this was the most difficult place All Hands and Hearts had ever been,” Kim said. “We were on top of a mountain, more than two hours from any civilization, there was no running water or power.”
To complicate matters, monsoon season in the country only allowed for a limited window to complete the project.
“My desire now is to continue with the school rebuild projects. Houses are very important, but it could be 10 years before a school is rebuilt. What are these kids supposed to do? You lose a whole generation of children not being educated,” she said.
Kim must pay her own transportation costs to travel to the projects as well as for any food and activity expenses associated with her one day off per week. Volunteers are not required to have a specific skill set, as they are trained on the job by professionals. “Just the desire to help and a strong back,” she said.
When she has time, Kim donates her efforts to volunteer for Cuenca’s Hearts of Gold Foundation and Mujeres con Exito. She is also starting a horse club, as she is a proficient rider.To blend into Ecuadorian culture, Kim studies Spanish four to five days a week.
Sounds like her life is just as hectic as before, but with a more profound purpose.