Cuba, in winter, remains almost balmy, at least by Canadian standards. Food appears to be plentiful, with locals and tourists alike tossing crumbs and scraps to the prettily but respectfully begging outdoor dogs. The dogs display no fear of or aggression towards humans, an indicator that for the most part and with the exception of a roof over their heads, they are treated kindly.
Access to bathing is clearly at a minimum and, a quick stroke of a pups head yields rather a YUK response and in the case of an OCD pet parent, the urge to run an enormous bubble bath for the el fresco animals.
In downtown Havana, multiple dogs were decorated with collars which bore name tags. Dogs wearing these collars are mainly street living however, they have a human sponsor that takes responsibility for feeding them as well as providing a place to sleep at night. Such sponsored dogs are safe from the city pound and are be permitted to stay on the streets.
Mama dogs moved in and out of human and vehicular traffic in search of enough food to keep their milk supply up. It takes an incredible bravery for nursing mothers to stow their helpless babies in order to find a meal. The sight of these intently focused mothers was a particularly moving one. But, being born and bred on the streets, I suspect that these stray Mama dogs experience less emotion towards their plight than I did.
The way that strays are treated in this small Island country is in such a contrast to the way the stray population is managed here at home. Many Northern Communities experience huge numbers of strays and the relationship between humans and dogs is strained and often times violent. Within city limits, local animal control officers will quickly swoop in and contain stray dogs in hopes that an owner will come forth to claim the dog. If no owner is found, the dog will generally become part of the adoption program or, depending on the organization, will be euthanized after a certain time period has lapsed.
Witnessing the stark differences was a bit troubling for this rescuer/blogger. Apparently all it takes to co-exist with stray dogs is a bit of a change in perspective and tolerance. Stray dogs do not need to be “the enemy” at all, with a bit of compassion, respect and, understanding, strays everywhere might lead better lives instead of being treated like four legged criminals.
If strays are inherently terrified of humans, it makes the job of rescuers and caring citizens much more difficult. With increased trust and understanding, rescues are better able to intervene with spay and neuter programs which in turn reduces the stray population in our communities. In order to improve conditions for both humans and dogs, humans will obviously have to take the lead. Dogs are out there just being dogs and it is not generally on a dog’s agenda to make human lives miserable. Unless they have the good fortune to live in a good year-round climate (think Cuba), dogs are really going to struggle on a day to day basis.