Authorities in Cuzco, Peru allegedly want to control the city’s stray dog population by poisoning them, but if Angela Rozas Cuba has anything to say about it, that’s not going to happen.
“We are marching to protest the poisoning,” Cuba says. “The mayor says the strays are not good for the Plaza de Armas [Cuzco’s main square]. He says they are sick and bring illness, and some are aggressive. But the dogs aren’t aggressive, they are accustomed to tourists.”
As the director of animal welfare group Angeles de 4 Patas, Cuba had organized the march on a busy Saturday afternoon in the Plaza de Armas. Having rounded up several strays in the area, Cuba and her small group affixed signs to the dogs so they could participate in the march.
“We are a non-profit organization,” Cuba says. “We don’t have the means, but we do everything we can for money. Selling clothes for dogs, hand made pastries and burritos. With the money we collect we rescue dogs that are in need of a home or need sterilization.”
With the strays in tow, the group of a dozen or so protesters marched around the plaza, holding signs calling for their humane treatment. For the most part, the group received nods of agreement and supportive cheers from both tourists and Cuzco natives alike.
As in many Latin American countries, Peru has an abundance of stray dogs. Many are homeless and are subject to illness, starvation and abuse. Some are known as free-roaming dogs. These dogs have owners who let them in at night, feed them and provide a safe place to sleep, but they roam freely throughout the day. This culture of dog ownership is common in Peru.
Because many of the free-roaming dogs are not sterilized, they mate with the homeless strays and add to the stray dog overpopulation problem in Peru. Tragically, a common means of attempting to control this problem is by culling (selective slaughter) stray animals. In Peru, no centralized governmental program for stray dog overpopulation control exists, and the management is thus left up to each separate municipality.
Cusco Protección de Animales is another small non-profit working on behalf of stray dogs. The group was founded in 2010 by Milagros (Mila) Romero, who was inspired as a young child who witnessed government culling campaigns in Peru.
“I grew up in Peru and saw a lot of dogs in the street killed with sticks embedded with nails,” Romero says. “It traumatized me forever.”
Romero operates a small shelter from her house on the outskirts of Cuzco. The shelter harbors about 30 rescued dogs, and most are available for adoption.
“Our project is like a tree,” Romero says. “The most important trunk is the spay and neuter, and the branches are education, volunteering and adoption.”
Romero operates her sterilization campaigns with a mobile clinic—a donated van modified with a surgery table and refrigerator for medicines.
“This car is important for our project,” she says. “We can rescue from the street, [then] do surgery and post surgery care. We prefer to spay and neuter than take in all the dogs.”
Her trap-neuter-release campaigns have been well received in several nearby municipalities, where Romero is also planning to perform educational outreach to schools and workplaces.
Because of the local perception of street dogs in Peru, Romero prefers to adopt out her dogs internationally. Oftentimes, a volunteer will fall in love with a dog at the shelter, or a visiting tourist will become attached to a stray. Romero helps facilitate the adoption process which, for the U.S. and Canada, simply requires a certificate from a veterinarian and proof of vaccinations.
Recently, a young male stray was rescued by an American family near a hotel in Machu Picchu. With Romero’s help, he was cleared by a vet, given his vaccinations and flown to his forever home in Virginia.
Romero credits tourism and access to information for changing the culture toward animals in Peru for the better.
“The change is starting because of the internet, [now] we have lots of information,” she says. “The children, they grow up talking with the tourists, they have another point of view.”
In November 2015, the Peruvian congress approved the Animal Protection and Welfare Law. This new law classifies animals as sentient beings, and punishes those found guilty of animal cruelty with three to five years in prison. This new law has been warmly welcomed by the animal welfare workers in Peru and is another sign of progress in the right direction.
Romero is also encouraged with the election of Peru’s new president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. “Our new president loves dogs,” she says. “His family is very nice with animals.”
Soy Callejerito, which translates to “I am a little street wanderer,” is a small shelter founded and operated by Anyelo Espejo and Maite Carreno Flores. Located on a small plot of land on the outskirts of Cuzco, the shelter houses about 100 dogs in wire fence pens with dirt floors.
The two friends started working together about six years ago and operate the shelter with only donations and the help of volunteers. Both have other jobs and still struggle to meet the financial needs of the shelter.
“We are the founders, the workers, and we have a lot of experience,” Espejo says. “But it’s difficult because we have little money. Apart from rent we must also pay for electricity, gas and dog food. And if we get a sick dog, we must also pay a doctor.”
In addition to rescuing strays, Espejo plans to fund sterilization campaigns with funds from a new volunteer project.
“The dogs need help,” he says. “There’s a lot of stray dogs in Cuzco. Their life on the street is very sad. I will change this.”
In Lima, Peru’s capital city, Sara Moran has slightly different priorities for street dog rescue.
She runs her shelter, Milagros Perrunos, out of her home on a quiet residential street in a Lima suburb. Her shelter is home to many paralyzed and disabled dogs, some in wheelchairs.
The converted living area of her home is lined on either side by cribs, all utilized as sleeping quarters for eight paralyzed dogs. All of these dogs were rescued from the streets of Lima, and most sustained their injuries from getting hit by cars.
Moran started the shelter about nine years ago with the rescue of Bruno, a paralyzed dog who still lives in the shelter and uses a wheelchair to get around. Currently home to about 60 dogs, the shelter receives no government assistance and relies on donations.
“All the dogs are up for adoption,” Moran says. “People find us on Facebook, fill out the paperwork, and we send them the dog. But its a small number, about four a year.”
Moran works at the shelter every day. She admits it’s hard work, but takes inspiration from the sick and disabled dogs.
“Lobo had cancer and lay in the street for two months,” she says, pointing to the dog sitting at her feet. “If you had cancer for two months, wouldn’t you cry? Him, no. He has dignity, dignity for life.”
There are, of course, many other dog rescue groups working in Peru for the benefit of the abandoned and homeless dogs—work that doesn’t seem to end.
Espejo sums it up best.
“Here in Peru there is very limited help,” he says. “There is not much culture for animals with the government, they help the sick and the poor, but they are able to speak. The animals—they cannot speak.”