Monday, August 09, 2004

Commentary

Saving a Life Matters Even If It Is a Cat

By Clarisel Gonzalez
Puerto Rico Sun

SAN JUAN -- "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress may be judged according to the way its animals are treated."
That's a quote from Ghandi.
Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is simply not doing a good job at caring for its cats and dogs. That is obvious in the strays all over the San Juan metro area and everywhere on the island. The animal overpopulation is a serious problem, largely because people dump the responsibility on someone else, leaving cats and dogs to fend for themselves on the streets.
So, don't be surprised if you see a dead cat or dog on a corner as you walk on the street or drive around one on a highway as you head to your favorite tourist destination. Don't be surprised to see hungry dogs breaking garbage bags open in the middle of the day as you wait for a bus. Don't be surprised to see cats and dogs, dodging cars and buses as they try to cross busy streets. It's all part of the local attraction.
When I first arrived to the island four years ago from Massachusetts, I moved my two cats, Kris and Annie, with me. I had rescued Kris, a yellow cat I met meowing for food on a bitter cold Christmas night in the north Bronx. I drove him home with me to Springfield, MA, and a year later Annie, my Maine Coon, was given to me as a gift.
The pair was complete. Annie and Kris were sterilized. When I decided to move to the island, I brought my cats with me because they are part of my family. Even though several heartless people told me to "open the door and let them leave," I couldn't leave them behind, so I paid for their airfare and vet bills to move them. I couldn't abandon them because you don't do that to family.
What I didn't realize then was that I was going to inherit a cat problem here up close and personal. Today, I, with the help of my mother, care for five more cats. This is thanks to an irresponsible pet owner (a police officer) who adopted a female cat and then just dumped the cat to make more cats.
The pet owner was so irresponsible that she moved out the neighborhood and left her cat with kittens behind. It was not the pet owner's responsibility to make sure to get her cat a home or take her to a shelter. She just walked out.
Careless pet owners think it is OK to dump their cats and dogs on the streets because they are "animals" and survivors. The truth is that animals face many dangers on the streets, ranging from being hit by cars to heartless neighbors who poison and kill them.
Pinta, the name we gave the beautiful young Calico cat, was simply the victim of a careless pet owner. She became pregnant twice. One pregnancy after the other.
Pinta had a total of six cats. Thankfully, one of Pinta's kittens (from her second pregnancy) was adopted by a neighbor's friend.
I have since adopted or care for the other five cats, seeking loving homes for them. It isn't easy. It isn't cheap.
I also have a dog, a stray that showed up at my door on New Year's Day, running away from the sounds of fireworks and bullets.
It costs money to care for so many pets, but the joy they bring makes the sacrifices worthwhile.
Some of my friends joke, saying I am becoming a "cat lady." But I fell into this mission completely by the circumstances. Although I always wanted to adopt a boricua cat, I didn't expect to have so many.
I saw a cat who was abandoned and the things she went through: two pregnancies and an attack by a group of dogs that nearly killed her. Pinta proved to be a real fighter for her and her cats. She doesn't deserve to be killed on the streets and neither do her cats.
According to The Humane Society of Puerto Rico website, animal overpopulation is a serious problem with too many pets and not enough homes. The local shelter is receiving about 40 to 60 animals a day, and one of the most common excuses why people abandon or relinquish their pets is because they are moving, states the society's website.
While taking a cat or a dog to a shelter should be a last resort, it is preferred than dumping the cat or dog on the streets to fend for itself. Citizens are actually urged by the humane society not to abandon their pets on the streets because "this is extremely cruel and illegal."
But the truth is that shelters are overburdened with the amount of cats and dogs needing homes that outnumber the families looking to adopt them. Many of these animals are not adopted and are put to sleep.
The best way to save lives and cut down on the overpopulation problem is by helping to reduce the number of puppies and kittens actually born. The best way to do that is by neutering and spaying cats and dogs.
The good news is that I know there are people here trying to promote this message and helping to save lives.
Among them is my friend Gilda Padilla, a school teacher and an animal activist with her own "colony of cats and dogs."
Recently, Padilla was among four animal advocacy organizations who were profiled in the local Spanish newspaper "Primera Hora" for their work in rescuing and helping to find homes for cats and dogs.
Padilla, who is also studying to be a veterinarian assistant, runs "Rescate y Adopcion de Animales Realengos, Inc.," a nonprofit staffed by four volunteers who visit neighborhoods to help rescue, cure and sterilize as many stray animals as possible. The group's goal is to promote the adoption of cats and dogs. They do this work without any financial help.
Among the things they aim to do is help provide food and medical care for dogs and cats, especially cats in the San Juan metropolitan area.
But government sadly does little to support organizations like Padilla's and the three others profiled in the article.
According to the "Primera Hora" article published July 31 and written by Adela Davila Estelritz: "The good news is that in Puerto Rico there are many who defend animal rights; the bad news is that practically none of them receives government support.
"If it weren't for the volunteers, the donations...these nonprofit entities would not be able to sustain themselves," Davila wrote in the article titled "Entre angeles y verdugos" ("Between angels and tyrants").
No wonder locals treat animals the way they do! Government is not doing enough to help support people who are trying to save animals from being killed on the streets or euthanized at the shelter.
And, I know from personal experience that people like Padilla are making a real difference. Every little bit helps, as they say.
With Padilla's help, I am slowly but surely taking in the rest of my cats for sterilization. Padilla made contact with the folks at The Save a Sato Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for homeless and abused animals on the island, and then she made an appointment for Pinta at the vet. Thanks to the generosity of Save a Sato and Dr. Ernesto R. Casta, Pinta was sterilized in June at the Hospital Veterinario de San Juan.
Pinta's daughter Sol, who lost part of her ear and her tail in a car accident when she lived on the streets, is next on line to be spayed. My dog Brownie is also on line. While I have a coupon from Save a Sato to sterilize the two of them for free, I have to find a vet to do the job.
Meanwhile, my mother and I continue to care for the cats and dog as part of the family. But I am hoping to find homes for Pinta's cats, especially because I may have to relocate to New York City. And, I'd prefer not to take them to the shelter because there is no guarantee they will be adopted, especially my Sol, a pretty yellow and white cat who is playful, curious and feisty.
They all deserve to live with loving families. For now, I am blessed to have them home with me.


"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man," St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
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