Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Canines of Cuba

Brittany Cardoza, reporting from Havana
There were dogs everywhere. It was within the first few hours of my first day exploring the city of Havana that I noticed the heavy presence of dogs. They were around every corner and outside of many doors. They were all colors and sizes. As a dog lover, I was intrigued by these dogs and took the time to observe their role in Cuban culture. What I discovered was entertaining, interesting and heartwarming. As our tour guide said, “Cubans LOVE their dogs.”

Across the street from our hotel was the home of a man who lived by himself with his dog. His dog would run up and down the streets and return home periodically throughout the day. The dog was called Blackie. Blackie became my buddy. He would greet me at the hotel each day and allowed me to pick him up and pet him. He was a sweet dog and very trusting. The man who owned Blackie showed me how he shared his own dinner – a small amount of rice and beans – with his dog each night.

When speaking with some Canadian citizens who were visiting family in Cuba that the stray dogs were fed to the lions at the zoo, I was horrified. I asked our tour guide if this was true. He took great offense to this statement was shocked that anyone would say that. I believed him and felt bad that he was so upset by this statement.

I saw another example of the love Cubans have for their canine friends while walking through the different squares of Havana. There are approximately 20,000 dogs roaming the streets of Cuba. While on our tour of the city I began noticing the stray dogs wearing tags around their necks. I got closer to the dogs and read what the tags said. Each tag had a headshot of the dog and a name. It also identified which government agency was responsible for the dogs and whether or not they had been neutered or spayed. This struck me as interesting. I had never seen or heard of anything like this. I was told later that since there is no humane society system like we have in the United States, the government assigns different Cuban groups to take care of these stray dogs. They are fed and given water in bowls right in the squares by those who take care of them.

The temperament of the stray dogs was excellent. Stray dogs in the United States get a bad rap. They can be aggressive. They beg for food. They could have rabies. The Cuban dogs on the other hand are none of the above. They are sweet dogs who mind their own business and show little interest in engaging with humans. If approached they would wag their tail and most would let you pet them. Despite my reservations about petting a stray dog that is inherited as an American, I found that these dogs were very well socialized. They were not clean by any means but they were not filthy either. They had coarse fur that was sometimes sticky. I always washed my hands after petting the dogs but I never felt like I was in serious danger of obtaining a disease or illness from them.

The most surprising trait of these dogs was that they did not beg for food. They did not even take food from me when I offered it to them. I would try to hand them bread and they would sniff it and walk the other direction. If I left the piece on the ground like their owners and caretakers do in the squares they also would not eat it. This struck me as very interesting because my overfed, spoiled Golden Retriever at home begs constantly.

While most of the dogs I interacted with were stray, many Cubans own dogs. In a country that people barely make enough money to buy food, it was interesting that they owned dogs. In the United States it is expensive to care for pets. Veterinarian bills can be pricey. The time it takes to keep the dog happy and healthy is significant. This does not seem to bother Cubans. They give their dogs what food is left over and they rarely seek veterinary care. They do not know any different. Dogs partake in the Cuban lifestyle that is mainly outdoors. People socialize in the streets and walk everywhere they need to go. The dogs roam and come home for meals and sleep. They are affectionate, independent, loyal and loving just like the dogs we have here in the United States. 

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