Once notorious for its violent past, Colombia is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination. The city of Cartagena, with its historic old town, colonial architecture and location on the Caribbean Sea is a particular tourist draw. The city is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As in many other cities in Latin America however, Cartagena harbors an abundance of stray dogs.
On a recent trip to Cartagena, I visited Dr. Hernandez Soto at her FRAD foundation, (La Fundación Rescate para Animales Desamparados), a community veterinary clinic and animal shelter located in Turbaco, a municipality just outside Cartagena, Colombia. Hernandez Soto founded the foundation in 1996 to care for the sick, injured and homeless animals of Cartagena.
The foundation consists of a veterinary clinic, where Hernandez Soto treats pets of all kinds from the local community, and a shelter for rescued animals in the back. Currently the shelter harbors 267 dogs, 110 cats and 4 donkeys, all rescued from the streets of Cartagena.
“There is no public policy in Cartagena to treat animals responsibly,” Hernandez Soto said. “There are also no sterilization programs to control the population. It’s not important to the people who own dogs what happens to them. They reproduce in the street, in the parks. It’s a lack of conscience.”
The foundation employs four workers who prepare food, clean, and care for the animals. To support the care and food requirements of so many animals, Hernandez Soto benefits from donations. “This is a non profit organization,” she explained. “We receive no help from the city or government.”
“A big problem is Cartagena doesn’t have a shelter,” Hernandez Soto said. “People often leave dogs and cats outside front door in boxes, or throw them over the fence. This morning I woke up and opened the door to the clinic, there on the ground was a box of five kittens.”
The foundation has recently moved to a new location, and in an attempt to cope with the problem of animals being abandoned at her front door, Hernandez Soto has opted not to publicise the new address. In a particularly tragic case, a small dog, ‘Bongo’ was dumped in a small box at FRAD. He had sustained a severe eye injury, probably from being hit in the head with a stick.
Despite surgery, Hernandez Soto was unable to save his eye, but he was treated to prevent infection and recovered rapidly from his operation. With the help of Cartagena Paws, a rescue that works closely with FRAD, Bongo was screened for heart worm, distemper, and parvo, all of which were negative. After a fundraising campaign by Cartagena Paws, Bongo was flown to Buffalo New York and adopted into a loving home.
“We work closely with Dr. Hernandez Soto,” Maureen Cattieu, the founder and director of Cartagena Paws explained. “We pull animals from FRAD, get them vet care and later into foster before they fly out to the states. We make sure to vaccinate, fix and spay the dogs and do all the tests to make sure the animal is healthy.”
Cartagena Paws then arranges flight volunteers to accompany the dogs to the Buffalo, New York area. Here, Cattieu works with two rescues; Buffalo Cares and Little One’s Animal Rescue to find forever homes for the dogs.
“I love him to death,” Bongo’s adopter Jim told me. “He’s got a great personality, its coming out more and more. He loves to cuddle with you.”
Bongo is fitting in well in his new home, and getting along well with Jim’s other two dogs, Dakota and Geno. “He’s a nice dog,” Jim said. “I can’t believe somebody would do this to him.”
“It’s definitely a happy ending for Bongo,” Cattieu said. “His eye is all better, and he’s doing great. I’m really, really happy, because that one definitely stole my heart.”
If you are traveling to Colombia and would like to volunteer at the foundation, adopt a dog, or would simply like to make a donation to help the strays of Cartagena, please visit the Cartagena Paws’ website.
Main image by Ralph Quinonez.