Antigua Street Dogs – Making a difference
Original submission by By Dr. Dennys Marroquín and Amber Eastman (photos: Eduardo Montepeque)
When visitors and tourists come to our beautiful city they are often disheartened by the large number of homeless dogs they see on the streets, many suffering from extreme malnourishment, injury, skin disease, and abandonment. It can be utterly heartbreaking to witness and feel so compelled yet unable to help them all.
Many of us who live here feel the same and often feed the rib-thin dogs and while this act feels heartwarming, we know it does nothing to stop the deeper cause and long term issue of these poor unwanted animals being born in the first place. This scenario is what earlier this year brought together a group of concerned Guatemalans and expats to discuss what could be done on a greater scale to help and prevent the future growing population of these homeless animals in and around La Antigua – but actualized in an effective and humane way. With the compassion and the dream to do more for these animals, The Antigua Street Dogs non-profit Association was formed.
But you might say there are already a number of animal welfare groups operating in La Antigua. While we recognized the wonderful & necessary work that others are already doing here, Antigua Street Dogs is different because it focuses on the importance of education and by 1) building a cooperative and working relationship with local municipalities and health centers, 2) educating the communities (especially the children) on animal compassion, welfare & healthcare and 3) offering regular low cost (and free where necessary) spay/neuter clinics – solely in the communities. This multi-angled plan of action we feel is absolutely imperative if we are to achieve any real or positive long term change here.
First presentation talk: Our first educational presentation was held in the local village of San Juan del Obispo Sacatepéquez in October. We were accompanied by Dr Marroquin who gave an engaging and dynamic presentation about the major diseases affecting domestic and livestock animals, methods of prevention and vaccination plans, emphasizing on diseases such as those diseases transmitted from animals to people such as rabies and parasites. We discussed the impact the over-population of dogs & cats has on public health, the health & safety of the children and also the image of their villages. We also brought up the concepts of animal compassion & welfare and the importance of responsible pet ownership; keeping their animals free from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury & disease & the prevention of unwanted litters by sterilizing their pets. During this presentation, community members told us that part of the problem was a lack of education, awareness and advice on these issues as well as a lack of financial resources which can be common. That day we signed up 10 pet owners to bring their dogs & cats to be sterilized at the clinic the following week.
First clinic: With the medical assistance of Dr Marroquin, the Maya Vet team and a group of volunteers, the following week in San Juan del Obispo we held the first spay/neuter clinic where 11 dogs and 3 cats were brought to us to be sterilized. The clinic was a great success and we really felt the support and gratitude of the community members who recognized the value of caring for their pets while preventing the abundance of unwanted litters in their village. A nice surprise was as the day progressed and word travelled around town, we began to receive curious visitors who wished to sign-up their pets for the next clinic.
Without their own transportation, pet owners carried their post-op fur babies’ home in blankets, bags and some of the larger dogs even went home in a wheel barrow!
There are many challenges Antigua Street Dogs will have to face as it grows. Of course funding is huge and it will also be necessary to reach out to volunteers to help us in the public awareness campaigns, the educational outreach and development programs (for the schools especially), and the necessity of working hard to overcome certain cultural stigmas such as the neutering of male cats, but especially dogs as well as helping to foster a new found respect for the noble ‘mestizo’ (mutt) as it is still considered prestigious to own a purebred dog here. But we are confident that with the continued support of those who love La Antigua, who love animals and from the surrounding community village leaders – we can accomplish significantly notable change & prevent the unnecessary birth/suffering/death cycle of hundreds if not thousands upon thousands of dogs and cats whose bleak futures’ consist of a harsh and miserable sub-existence on the streets.
Antigua Street Dog’s synopsis mission: to work in the communities to have better educated pet owners & family members who will have access to affordable spay/neuter/vaccine clinics held in their villages = resulting in healthier, happier pets + a significant reduction of unwanted litters and animals roaming the streets = healthier communities and villages with less animal suffering and less transmittable diseases.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Guatemala and la Antigua still has some ways to go…but we are confident we will improve the animal welfare standards.
If you are called to our project and are able to contribute your time, have any skills to share or can donate to the cause, please do contact us at our Facebook page: Antigua Street Dogs – Guatemala- we’d love to hear from you. Also look out for the new donation boxes we shall be placing around Antigua soon!
Why San Juan del Obispo? The municipal authorities had spoken to us about their concerns about public health, animal health and environmental health and we agreed to help. We held our first educational activity by talking to the community about the breeding pets and backyard animals by women and the value this has to the family’s economy, self-sustainability and food security.
We believe the only way for a long lasting reduction of street dogs and cats is through offering ongoing educational presentation programs developed for schools and community centers whilst at the same time, offering regular spay/neuter clinics – all in cooperation with local municipalities and hence the formation of Antigua Street Dogs.
We want to work by asking and listening to the people in surrounding villages on what issues they may have with caring for their livestock as well as their pets and always being sensitive to the fact that animals maybe their only means of income. Working from a position of trust and understanding in the communities we can create programs that will have long lasting benefits to everyone.