Animal welfare in Cuba is a daunting challenge. On my recent trip to Cuba, I had the honor of meeting Nora Garcia Pérez, the founder of Aniplant, an animal care and protection organization in Havana. Nora has dedicated the past 28 years of her life to the animals of Cuba: from big ventures like founding Aniplant and promoting animal welfare on Cuban radio and TV, to smaller efforts like traveling around Havana in a little yellow Fiat with the passenger seat removed to make room for two street dogs who sleep in the car every night.
Aniplant, or Asociación Cubana para la Protección de Animales y Plantas, is located in Centro Havana, not far from the University and only steps from the beautiful Malecón sea wall. Aniplant seeks to eliminate the suffering of Cuban animals through sterilization campaigns to reduce the number of strays, public education to promote the need for good veterinary care and animal health, facilitation of dog/cat adoptions, and hands-on intervention in cases of animal abuse.
If you’re a dog lover and have ever been to Cuba–or to any third world country for that matter–you know the helpless heartache of seeing painfully thin and sick animals on the streets. And while Cuba is a highly educated, healthy and empathetic population, their lack of resources is a tremendous problem. Often, people simply do not have the means to properly care for animals. That means that many dogs/cats go without spaying/neutering, resulting in unwanted animals roaming the streets in search of food and shelter. The Cuban government collects strays from city streets, and almost all of those dogs/cats are immediately euthanized by poisoning or electrocution. Aniplant’s main mission is to reduce the number of strays by providing as many spay/neuters as possible. They have performed nearly 5,000 sterilizations each year since 2012 and are currently trying to expand operations throughout Havana and all of Cuba. Like everything related to Cuba, it is complicated. While Aniplant is the only animal protection organization permitted to function in Cuba, there are ministries and permissions to deal with and there are the obstacles of getting medical supplies and donations around the U.S. embargo.
The Aniplant location at 128 Principe is home to 19 dogs: 16 adoptable ones and 3 waiting to be on their way to homes in the UK and the USA. The dogs have the run of the back areas of Aniplant–the kitchen, a play area outside and a little room just off the courtyard. There are employees at Aniplant who work to train and socialize the dogs, and to prepare their meals of rice and meat. A veterinarian and vet tech are also on staff for routine procedures and emergency care. And every Friday, hundreds of pounds of meat for dog food are delivered to Aniplant to be sold to the community for fundraising. The place is immaculate, colorful, lively and upbeat–the receptionist sings on occasion and offers tiny cups of strong coffee to those waiting patiently for services. Dog and cat owners chat with each other and hold their pets close in the tiled lobby. Potential adopters check in at reception and discuss the adoption application process. And every now and then, the dogs break into barks or whines as a visitor makes their way back through the courtyard.
I spent several days at Aniplant, photographing and videotaping and will have a short multimedia piece to share with you soon. In the meantime, if you are moved by this story, please consider a small donation to the Aniplant Project. Considering that veterinarians in Cuba make only about $250 a year, any amount of money donated will go a long way to helping the animals. Donate to Aniplant. Nora’s wish list also includes a truck or large van to take the Aniplant spay/neuter clinic on the road and a small animal ventilator. If you, or anyone you know can help with those items, please contact me.