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Rescued Dogs of Havana Cuba: Sheltered by Museums

As many of you know, I’m a dog lover and have an on-going project documenting the work of people who rescue dogs.  And I love Cuba.   I love walking in Havana, photographing the elegant decay and witnessing the extraordinary changes happening there.  I love meeting the people, getting to know their hopes and worries, and always admiring their persistence, creativity and resourcefulness.   So this month, I decided to overlay these passions and dig a little deeper into the stories of the rescued dogs of Havana, Cuba and those sheltered by museums.

Street dogs are commonly seen in Havana, picking through the trash or teetering down the sidewalks.  It is heartbreaking and frustrating.  But in a country where food can be hard to come by for people, perhaps it is not unusual or unexpected.   One thing that has surprised me is that many museums in Old Havana have taken on the role of sheltering dogs.

On my first trip to Cuba I saw a fat little dog wearing a business card and sleeping near Fototeca in Plaza Vieja.  On subsequent trips, I saw more of these dogs with business cards…in front of other museums, in front of Havana’s University, and wandering around the old plazas…dogs who generally looked healthy and happy.  So, on this trip, I went looking for these card-carrying dogs to find out more about their lives and the people who care for them.

These are the five dogs of Museo de la Orfebrería (Museum of Metal/Silver Work), a quiet courtyard museum on Obispo near Plaza de Armas.  They are cared for by Margarita Garcia and Odalys Valdéz, who work at the museum as guides and security.  The dogs spend their days napping in the shade of the courtyard, or lazing on the sunny bricks in front of the museum.  During the day, they greet visitors politely–without fanfare or dogged attention.  And they keep Margarita and Odalys company during their 6 day shifts working 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  In return, Margarita and Odalys feed them and keep fresh water on hand.  The dogs are sheltered in the museum– partially in the role of protecting the museum from thieves–but most definitely to save the dogs from a hard street life.

After noticing a few strays outside who seemed to pace by regularly–as if looking in…one more time…for an opening, for an invitation, I asked Margarita if there were ever more than five here.  “No.  Only five.  We cannot feed or have more.  But these five?  Good for them.”  And good for Margarita and Odalys and all the guides who care for these precious little souls.

Entrance to Havana's Museo de la Orfebrería
Margarita Garcia stands at the entrance to Havana’s Museo de la Orfebrería, where she works and cares for the museum’s five rescued dogs.
Aparicio wears an identification card
Dogs under the care of Cuba’s museums wear cards identifying them. The cards have the dog’s name, where he/she lives and that he/she has been sterilized. These cards are intended to protect the dogs from being picked up by Havana’s dog-catchers.
Odalys and Margarita
Odalys and Margarita stand in the doorway of the Museum while dogs sleep in the background.
Dogs in the Courtyard
The five dogs have full access to the museum’s courtyard.
Preparing the meal
In a back room of the museum, Margarita prepares a meal of rice and a few bites of chicken for the dogs.
Dinner for Five Dogs
Margarita sets out a meal of rice and a little chicken for the dogs in the courtyard of the museum.
Sleeping Dog
Canelito enjoys cat-napping in the courtyard.
Vladimir at the front door of the Museo de la Orfebrería
Vladimir’s favorite place is at the door, greeting the many tourists walking past on Obispo near Plaza de Armas.
Odalys and Dogs
Guide Odalys enjoys passing the hours with the dogs.
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