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Taking care of Cuenca’s street dogs: How we take care of our animals shows how we take care of our fellow human beings

I read an entry in Gringo Post the other day. Here it is.

We will be flying into Guayaquil. We are bringing our older dog of nearly 15 years and our 2nd dog of nearly nine years. We are looking for transport from Guayaquil to Cuenca via Santa Isabel and Giron because we are attempting to ease our dog’s transition to the higher elevation…

And, then I read this.

José Andrés Moscoso, secretary of the Peluditos-Cuenca Foundation, (PCF) says that in the canton of Cuenca alone there are approximately 20,000 stray dogs, many of them callously abandoned by their caretakers.

While there are many Cuencanos and expats who responsibly care for their pets, many others do not, and more than a few seem to accept abandoned cats and dogs as little more than a nuisance, or worse yet, fail to take notice of them at all. This is cause for concern because how well we treat animals is often an indicator of how well we will treat each other.

As one might imagine, it is the mercados, landfills, and parks that attract the largest concentration of homeless pets. It is here that they compete, occasionally tragically, for the scraps of food that people have left behind.

Jorge Avendaño, who regularly walks through El Paraíso Park, lamented, “ It is common to see puppies here at all hours. It is a never-ending search for them, roaming the park in search of food.”

In some cases, vendors in the mercados allow orphaned dogs to act as cleaners at day’s end by letting them lick the floor of their kiosk in an attempt to find some semblance of nutrition or a scrap of something of unknown origin to quell their constant hunger.

Although there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the abandoned pet population around Cuenca is  declining, Danny Arce, spokesperson for Friends of Manolo, said, “It is difficult to know the exact number of animals that roam the city since no agency cares enough about the issue to accurately create an official count, much less address the problem in a constructive way.”

Well, one agency keeps count. The manager of the Company of Cleanliness of Cuenca, (EMAC), César Arévalo, said, “We have no choice but to deal with the issue of homeless pets, it is a question of sanitation for us. The employees I supervise collect as much as 10 kilos of animal waste from city streets every day.”

And then we have The El Arenal market.

“The El Arenal [Feria Libre] market is considered the cruelest in Cuenca,” said, Martha Parra, of PCF, “Puppy mill operators in the market are selling pets without any controls. It has been recently reported that animals who are not sold have been stuffed into bags and thrown into trash containers. The traumatized pets that do survive the culling are kept in cramped cages 24 hours a day, are not fed well, and have no accessible water.”

Juan Taboada, a veterinarian at the University of Cuenca, knows full well that pets are subjected to acts of cruelty far too often, not only in the mercados, but throughout the city. Although he has not personally seen pets discarded and thrown into trash bags, the stories are consistent and horrifying. “It is beyond comprehension that one would, in the course of an average day’s work,  select terrified puppies, throw them into a black garbage bag with other frightened and crying pups, tie the bag shut, and then toss them in with the garbage where they will slowly suffocate and die.  And do it again and again, month after month.”

This callous indifference to life defies all we have learned as human beings, and yet, too many appear to be unmoved.

Perhaps on this very day, a young child will ask, “Can I have a puppy? Please?” And, a loving parent will simply forgo the needs of forgotten pets in shelters throughout the city, all swollen to bursting with sweet little critters who are scared and anxious for a home. Instead, he, or she, will say, “Well, if you promise to love and care for it just as I do you, you can. Let’s go to Feria Libre.”

No responsible person should ever buy a pet from a puppy mill in Cuenca; certainly not when  shelters are desperate for people to rescue the too many sweet little orphans they care for. The privileged excuse of, “But, I have my heart set on a Mesopatanian Owl Chaser!” is shameful; it is selfishness at its worst. This profane indifference to the suffering of others must stop. No desire is so precious, no need so great, that buying a puppy over rescuing a homeless animal desperate for love is justified. Not now, not ever.

The sun will rise tomorrow, beginning another beautiful day in Cuenca. But, for the many early morning hunters of leftovers missed by EMAC, today, like every other day, will be spent in a constant quest for nourishment and warmth. There is no room for playfulness.

When I moved to Cuenca I was struck by, not only the numbers of abandoned pets, but their seeming indifference to our presence. At first, I thought they were merely preoccupied, but it is more than that, much more. They have learned profound disappointment. We were once thought of as being providers and companions but now we are routinely passed by without pause, no longer offering any affection and attention. For many street dogs, any remembrance of, “man’s best friend” has long since been cut from their hearts.

The needs of homeless animals are simple, immediate and important  —  and need our prompt attention. How we came to condone the brutal indifference to their fate, or look away in distraction, or uncaring, is a question that demands an answer — both personally and by the community as a whole. The homeless pet crisis is a clear indicator of our failure to provide even the most basic elements of care. They deserve better.

How well we treat animals is most often the indicator of how well we treat each other.