No exageration - there was one balanced on my shoulder cleaning himself; another was tucked inside the zip-up of my sweatshirt; a third was curled on my lap and a fourth was napping under my knees.
Those of you who already know me, will not be surprised in the least to learn that since arriving in Bogota, I have already found an animal shelter at which to volunteer. (Quickie for those of you unfamiliar: I spent a very rewarding 2 1/2 years volunteering with "Purrfect Pals" in the Seattle area www.PurrfectPals.org. Or, you might've noticed the title of this blog and presumed that I am fur-friendly.)
For the past month, Tim and I have been spending one day per week (and Tim twice a week) caring for the kitties, dogs and horses of Bogota at ADA (Asociacion Defensora de Animales y del Ambiente www.ADAcolombia.org). When we first agreed to volunteer, and before visiting the shelter, I was worried that the I would grow to care for the animals, only to have certain ones "not be there" the next week and I would be sick with worry about what happened to whomever. I was also concerned that the shelter environment would be institutional and not to the standards that I'd known at Purrfect Pals.
I was so wrong.
First, ADA is a no-kill shelter. Yay!
Second, while they scrape by (as most non-profits do) with the income from their vet and grooming clinic and public donations -the animals do not feel the brunt of their tight budget. The cats have a great "catera" where they get to hang out all day (in the literal sense of the word: see photo below), and large individual cages at night. The dogs have their own kennels and are walked in the neighborhood by volunteers everyday.
And there are horses! Bogota has a large population of recylers (I mentioned them once earlier) who drive horse-carts through every section of town collecting recyclable materials. Unfortunately, these folks are not known for their horse-husbandry, and frequently the police have to confiscate an animal due to mistreatment. These horses are brought to ADA for temporary care or for permanent rescue and rehoming. Those with injuries or needing immediate care (many) will stay in one of the shelter's four stalls until they are healthy enough to go to the "finca" (farm) in the country. From there, they are able to continue rehabilitation and either retire or go on to second careers as riding horses.
|Catera door with residents|
|Author with Director Martha and "Miguel"|
|Horseshoes made of bent rebar.|
|Catera where the kittes spend their days|
|Isabel with her litter|
|Catera resident in cat-hammock (from below)|
While Tim walks dogs in the neighborhood and to small local parks, I take care of cats and kittens. Frequently a new horse (or horses) will be in and I work with the shelter Director Martha and her daughter Daniela in either preparing their meals or tending to their wounds. And unfortunately, some of the wounds I've seen from these recyclers' horses have been pretty horrific. From either abuse, traffic accidents or harnesses - in my life of horsemanship, I haven't seen wounds like these before. The horses are typically very small "criollo" (mixed breeds) horses that are often far too young to be doing the hard labor that they do, and especially in the conditions where they're kept and worked. They are usually far, far underweight and overworked. Colombia has laws govering the use of these recyclers' horses, dictating the appropriate age range (between ages 3-10 only) and the owners must have a "carnet" (an ID card from the state) with them showing that the animals have received inspection, innoculations and that they are in the proper age range. In order to receive these carnets, state vets gather the recyclers regularly (by contacting the leaders of these groups in each barrio) to inspect the horses, vaccinate them and then issue the carnets. Last weekend, shelter director Martha and Daniela joined the team of vets and inspected over 70 horses in various barrios of the city. However, despite these inspections and regulations - mistreatment and poor care is still rampant and it seems that every week there is a new horse or two in the shelter.
Fortunately, the shelter has a resident veterinarian to oversee the animals' care and treatment and to do all the spays and neuters for the adoptable dogs and cats. The cats seem to be more quickly adopted, but the dogs often take longer as it seems the citizens are pre-disposed to wanting purebreds and these are, well, shelter dogs. They are mixed breeds, naturally, and not always the prettiest. But they're fun, friendly and loving and Tim has been enjoying getting to know each of them as they walk through central Bogota's streets.
The next sentence may sound defamatory to Colombians, but please understand that this opinion is not one that I created from my own observations, but rather one that has been repeated to me time and time again by Colombians themselves: There simply is not a history or tradition of giving towards animal charities here. Children - yes, but animals - no. And it's not because people don't own and love their own pets here, as they certainly do, but a custom of donating towards animal shelters or animal charites simply hasn't taken strong root. The night before Tim and I went to ADA for the first time, we were at a pub where we were chatting with a group of Colombians professionals. When we told them what we were planning for the next day, the look of "What? Why would you be doing that?" was clearly evident on each of their faces. For a city of over 8 million people, ADA is the only animal shelter within the city. It is not state-funded. They have been around since 1964 and are doing amazing work for such an enormous demand.
Can you see where I'm going with this?
I'd like to put out a request to our friends and families for some small donation towards ADA. They have a nice website - naturally in Spanish - but there are able to take donations online. Don't get scared when it asks for $50,000 or $100,000... you don't need a second mortgage! The Colombian Peso is about $1900 to one $1 US dollar; therefore $50,000 is about $25-27 and $100,000 is about $50-53 (cut the number in half and chop off three zeroes).
At this address to donate here, you can follow the links to donate, and as you fill in the form with visa information, you'll see the question asking how many "Cuotas" you want. Just put 1, as in Colombia people have the choice of how many payments they want to make to pay off the specific charge, but as we all know with international credit cards (not Colombian), we can pay as we like. Anyway - I hate giving a hard sell, but if you are considering a charity, please know that this is a very good one and Tim and I have been spending 12 hours per week with them. However they are carrying an enormous burden in a city this size.
Thank you for reading and for considering a way to help. I'm trying hard not to bring home any more tabbies to tow, and am enjoying letting them clamber all over me in the catera instead.
Next week: back to FS life.