Taking care of Cuenca’s dogs: PetCareEcuador offers free medical and adoption services

May 23, 2023 | 6 comments

Each dog is given a number to represent when it will be their turn for the free surgery by Pet Care Ecuador.

By Stephen Vargha

It has been said that Cuenca is a dog-friendly city.

Unlike most cities in the United States, a vast majority of restaurants in Cuenca allow and welcome your canine friend onto their premises. A good number of stores welcome your dog too.

A dog about to go to sleep for its surgery.

Seeing someone walking a dog in Cuenca is a very common sight. Though there are no statistics to show it, Cuenca appears to have a higher dog ownership rate than the U.S., where 44.5 percent of households own a dog.

Unfortunately, roaming and unattended dogs are in bigger numbers in Cuenca than in the U.S.

“The first thing when I got to Cuenca eight years ago, I asked myself where I could work as I had been working 100 hours per week back in the United States,” said Kim Curls.

Naty Pesántez has been volunteering her time and skills at Pet Care Ecuador clinics for six months. All surgeries meet Humane Society standards.

Curls had moved from a job in banking in Charlotte, North Carolina. She started with a group that was known as “Happy Dogs.” Due to an ownership change, it is now known as “PetCareEcuador.”

“Ranching is my love. I used to have a ranch in central Florida. I know animal husbandry because I had 400 head of cattle,” said Curls. “I have no medical school experience, but I know what I am doing.”

That is why she is spearheading the efforts of PetCareEcuador. Its message is, “Dedicated to reducing the overpopulation of unwanted dogs and cats by providing education and funding.”

Naty Pesántez performing surgery at the mass spay and neutering clinic at Parque Comunitario Román Flores.

It is doing more than that.

“I think that our high volume of spay and neutering has greatly reduced the stray dog population in Cuenca,” said Naty Pesántez. “Education has helped, too, as we tell owners what they should be doing for their pets.”

Pesántez was one of four veterinarians volunteering their time and skills at Fundación ARCA’s free clinic on May 13 at Parque Comunitario Román Flores that PetCare Ecuador assists to make it run smoothly. Along with the four vets, there were nine people involved in surgery preps along with 10 others assisting with the spay and neutering. On that 12-hour day in southwest Cuenca, Pesántez performed between 20 and 25 sterilization surgeries.

The spay and neuter clinics are free to pet owners who cannot afford the procedure.

She has been volunteering her services for six months. Prior to that, Pesántez studied dermatology of small species at Venezuela’s Universidad del Zulia. Pesántez got her veterinary degree in Cuenca, and will be going to Brooklyn, New York soon to work on getting her American degree in veterinary sciences.

PetCareEcuador is affiliated with Fundación ARCA, which will be celebrating 20 years of helping out Cuenca’s animal community on August 25. Everything at the free spay and neuter clinics meets North American standards.

A concerned pet owner holds her dog during pre-surgery.

“The Humane Society came to Cuenca 10 years ago and showed us what the standards are and how things should be done,” said Pesántez. “We use dissolvable stitches, so the dogs and cats do not have to come back.”

About 60 percent of the procedures are performed on dogs while the remaining 40 percent is for cats. The surgeries are for people who cannot afford to spay or neuter their pets.

Dogs are shaved by volunteers prior to surgery.

“During the surgery, we have people monitoring blood pressure, the heart rate, oxygen levels, and respiratory,” said Pesántez. “We have medicine to reverse the anesthesia… something some clinics in Cuenca do not have.”

All animals are taken to a recovery area, where they are allowed to become fully awake before being reunited with their responsible and caring owners.

“We give the pet owners our phone numbers for any questions and concerns they have,” said Pesántez.

Not all of the spay and neuter clinics are held in Cuenca. PetCareEcuador has assisted with clinics in the rural parts of Azuay province and as far south as Loja. The weekend clinics are held on Saturday and Sunday and go from 7:30 in the morning to 9:00 at night.

Numerous people are needed for the long weekend of surgeries.

They do more than spay and neutering. “We also help pets with their medical issues and even give them medicine,” said Pesántez. “If the dog is too sick, we will give them an appointment to come to the ARCA clinic in El Centro, at Baltazara de Calderón 2-37 y Miguel Velez. The clinic is open seven days a week from 8 in the morning to 8 at night.”

For the last ten years, ARCA has had an agreement with the municipality of Cuenca to take care of cats and dogs in the city. Many of the dogs they rescue are in a very bad condition.

“We take the 9-1-1 calls concerning a dog hit by a car or a dog running wild at the river,” said Pesántez. “That is why we have 500 rescued dogs right now.”

All animals are taken to a recovery area, where they are allowed to be fully awake before being reunited with their responsible and caring owners.

Working with the city, there are monthly adoptions. The next one is scheduled for Sunday, May 28 at Parque El Paraíso, on the south side of the city.

There are three requirements for adoption: 1 – The whole family has to agree to the adoption; 2 – The residence must allow pets on the premises; and 3 – Follow-ups on the dog by ARCA will be done once a month for the first six months.

Many times, a volunteer will make sure where the new owners live. And quite frequently, they will drive the new pet owners back to their homes.

“The new pet owners are free to contact us if they cannot keep or do not want the pet,” said Pesántez. “Because of the requirements, only about five dogs are returned while 400 are adopted every year.”

Along with the four vets, there were nine people involved in surgery preps along with 10 others assisting with the spay and neutering.

All of this generosity and effort requires volunteers and money. “We have two teams for a total of nine people,” said Curls. “We would like more volunteers as we are on our feet for 12 hours.”

The organization is working on a GoFundMe fundraiser. They are getting donations through PayPal, and they have an anonymous donor who will match up to $5,000 for the spay and neuter clinics.

“For those interested in supporting the mass sterilization clinics, one can donate to PayPal in my name as I must pay for any clinics PetCareEcuador sponsors,” said Curls. “All donors at each clinic will be named by their first name and last initial so you are not stalked for donations.”

“Of course, we want to get the dogs to loving foster homes, too,” said Pesántez.

PetCareEcuador, Kim Curls, 099-172-2849, https://www.facebook.com/petcareec.org, PayPal account: curlskim@hotmail.com (Send an email to Kim so she can give you a receipt)

Photos by Stephen Vargha

Stephen Vargha’s book about Cuenca, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life” is available at Amazon in digital and paperback formats. His blog, “Becoming Cuenca,” supplements his book with the latest information.


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