Cartagena Paws – A Dog’s Hope

Colombia is an incredible country, geographically remarkable with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Not to mention the impressive Andes which extend through a number of South American countries, Colombia being one of them.

As a tourist I’ve visited Bogota, the capital, located in a valley in the Andes, Pereira in the Coffee Region, and Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast. So much history and culture in every city, but Cartagena always calls me back.

On initial trips to Cartagena I stayed and played within the inner walled section of the city, the wall being tangible evidence of past Spanish colonization. El Centro is beautiful. Plazas, hidden patios, and ornate balconies hanging over the streets. All of the elements you expect in a place known for colonial architecture. So much to see in that fascinating old area. The more I visited, the more I noticed.

Including quite a few stray dogs.

On my last visit I ventured out a bit and stayed in a beachfront condo in the Bocagrande area of Cartagena, just minutes from El Centro. Here, instead of old colonial styles and fortress walls you see high-rises, hotel chains, and malls. Fun to pretend I was a local, simply crossing the street for groceries at a neighborhood market. Nearby shops offered hair cutting, dry cleaning, and other routine needs. Each time I took a walk I noticed something new.

Including even more stray dogs.

By the second morning of this particular visit I began to comprehend the magnitude of the stray dog issue. What spurred that realization may have been the dirty white dog sniffing around the steps of the condo, the three hound mixes running together across the street, or possibly the black dog sitting by a dumpster casually licking two whining puppies. Seven strays seen in just the time it took to walk across the street for coffee creamer. It got to me.

I began to obsess. In spite of their numbers (those seven were the tip of the iceberg) I rarely heard barking, fighting, and definitely no playing. Dogs roamed across sidewalks, rooted through trash bins, and sought bits of shade during the heat of the day. They were silent ghosts in the streets, almost zombie-like as they moved through the neighborhood doing – well, whatever it is that homeless dogs do.

Besides the occasional cab driver braking to allow one to cross the road, I saw little acknowledgment of their existence. People went about daily routines without much regard for the four-legged objects they hurried past. Instead of pestering and begging for food, hungry dogs stood and watched as sandwiches or snacks were eaten, checking for scraps only after the person moved on. Theirs seemed to be detached dismal lives of rejection.

On the last morning there I walked again to the market across the street. Outside, a young girl ate breakfast while a small brown dog stood motionless behind her. As she turned to toss her trash in the bin she noticed the dog. She said something sweetly in a baby voice, leaned down, and patted the dog’s head. The girl turned to leave and missed seeing the dog feebly wag its tail. Just once. Heartbreaking that from my perspective it appeared to have taken a minute for the dog to recognize the girl’s gesture as an expression of kindness.

But how kind was it, I wondered? That incident reminded me of a story I read as a child. I can’t recall the title or author, but it involved a puppy lost on the street. As the frightened little dog searched for home it was yelled at, kicked, and mistreated in various ways by several people. But as the story goes, the cruelest person of all was the one who actually stopped, patted its head and spoke kind words, yet still turned and walked away.

Loss of hope is a terrible thing. The invisible dogs of Cartagena have precious little from the start.

In spite of this sad reality, I once again left Cartagena with a great appreciation and love for the history, culture, and cuisine of this amazing city. But I also left with a somber curiosity about the plight of the strays. When I got home I began to search for answers.

The problem is not unique to Cartagena nor to Colombia as a whole. Stray dogs can be anywhere and everywhere, but they are apparently more of an issue in many Latin American countries where policies on animal welfare, if they exist at all, are often at various stages of development. As I searched specifically for steps being taken in Cartagena, I wasn’t encouraged. There are few substantial policies or programs and I found nothing that instilled much hope.

Until, that is, I clicked a link to the website for “Cartagena Paws”.

This organization, founded by Maureen Cattieu, was launched in 2015. She and her team work to carry out a mission promoting the adoption and fostering of animals and a capture/release program which spays or neuters. Also, perhaps most significant in terms of a lasting solution, they run an educational program that aims to change the mindset of how unwanted animals are viewed. The hope is that once more informed, people will then go out and become “active agents for change” in their own communities. Admirable objectives!

Curious to know even more, I emailed Cartagena Paws directly and quickly received a response from Maureen herself. She was happy to speak with me, answer questions, and tell the organization’s story. I learned that in addition to all they are working on right now, fundraising is currently underway for the purchase of land in Cartagena where they hope to build an educational-based rescue center.

Finally, I felt a bit hopeful about the plight of Cartagena’s street dogs. I wish Maureen and Cartagena Paws good luck and every success. I plan to help all that I can.

And of course I can’t wait to return to Cartagena, an amazing place on so many levels. Once again I’ll enjoy all that the spectacular city has to offer. And next time, when I see a stray dog standing alone in the street, I’ll know help is coming. Cartagena Paws might stop and pat them on the head, but they will never walk away.

Stuart M. Perkins

In case you’d like to read more about Cartagena Paws and the good work they do, and plan to do, below is the link to their website.





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39 responses to “Cartagena Paws – A Dog’s Hope

  1. Heartbreaking to see all those stray dogs, I bet … and even more so to see people oblivious to their plight. How could that sweet girl acknowledge the dog with a pat on the head and still throw the left-overs of her lunch in the garbage? I wouldn’t be able to do that! But maybe it’s because they do not feed the dogs from their tables that the dogs are able to stand back – and not be nuisance begging at outdoor restaurant tables. Tha would be a real deterrent to eating outside! But, I am happy to know exists and there is hope for the future. I’ll go check them out! Thanks for this post, Stuart.

    • Hi Jan! Yes, I’m not sure whether the girl fed the dog. I didn’t really see any of that, though I did see an occasional water bowl out at a storefront or gate to someone’s yard. It’s hard to explain because I saw no acts of cruelty myself (though I read about some) but the fact that there are that many strays at all seems cruel to us. They are working on that mentality there though! Thanks for the comment!

  2. Thank you so much for this. As you accurately point out this is a global problem. And many countries are not nearly as kind as where you were. By kind I mean not intentionally harming or killing them. Better that they are ignored considering those alternatives. I’d not heard of this particular rescue and will also help all I can.

    • Exactly, the indifference (although there actually were real acts of kindness like random water bowls) is a better alternative to outright cruelty. I was happy to read there are at least some small measures being taken to work on the issue.

  3. I can’t vacation in these kind of places, for this reason…and it’s because it affects me so greatly that I’m in emotional pain the whole time. I have to go to places that I can pretend for a few days that the world is a wonderful place for all. Not easy to find. Thank you for bringing awareness to their plight.

  4. annkantx

    Remarkable journey into your soul through the telling of stray dog stories. Thank you.

  5. Glad that there is help coming! I lived on the Navajo reservation while teaching on the rez. There were many stray dogs there and I know that Mexico has a problem with them, too. It seems to be more of a problem in low income countries and places.

  6. Thank you for this post, friend. We share this planet with so many creatures, and they all deserve to live healthy and happy lives. May we all continue to educate ourselves and others, and work toward creating an inclusive society for us all.

  7. I was in South America nearly 40 years ago and the situation was the same. When we dined outside a very polite dog would sit nearby and watch. My daughter recently visited another SA country and the situation was the same. They said they could euthanize the dogs, but they also did not take them in. I’m glad our situation is better here.

  8. Unfortunately, spay/neutering is not as prevalent in many foreign locales. Greece is the same way.

  9. Indifference is one of the greatest forms of cruelty. Thank you for highlighting the plight of the pups in Cartagena and, indeed, everywhere.

  10. It makes me so sad to see animals neglected, but for a lot of the world’s people, animals are a part of nature just like birds and other wild animals; they have to look after themselves. I wish this organization much success as they try to make a difference.

  11. I understand your feelings, Stuart. I had the same experience when we visited Greece in 2007. I couldn’t believe the number of stray dogs and cats milling around on the streets of every island we visited. The Greek vistas were gorgeous wherever we looked, but I couldn’t believe the lost dogs looking to us for … anything. I admire your support of the animals in Cartagena through Cartagena Paws. You are a good missionary for those in need.Thank you for your post and for your caring.

    • Thanks Sheila. I haven’t been to Greece but I’ve heard stories similar to yours from friends who have been. Pretty sad! Hopefully things will change… one day. Thanks for the comment!

  12. Your writing made me cry. I love dogs and cannot comprehend cruelty to them. It is so sad and heartbreaking to realize that there are so many that are starving not only for food but also for affection. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Great article. I have noticed the same thing in the small towns of Cuba. It breaks your heart to see these poor dogs wandering around. You described the situation very well. Cartagena Paws sounds like they have good goals.

    • I’ve heard from others that the same issue is pretty bad in some other countries. I believe it! This was just the first I’d seen it. Sad, but maybe things will change. We can hope anyway… Thanks for the comment!

  14. Diane P Ruxer

    Thanks, Stuart, for another though provoking story. Your writing was so vivid; I felt like I was there too. I had a similar experience when I visited Bonaire, a sister island of Aruba, with dogs waiting near the tables of outside restaurants. We are lucky to have shelters and so many groups working hard to rehome unwanted pets. Thank you for highlighting this group working to help pups in Cartagena. We should join forces at some point and go there to do good AND have fun!

    • Thanks Diane! Yes it’s a shame about the animals but there’s at least a sliver of hope that something could be done. I think the fact that there are discussions at all is definitely a good sign. And yes, let’s go! We’ll all be ready to travel once this fog lifts… what a mess out there.

  15. Thanks for this sad story and for looking into the plight of the dogs for a glimmer of hope.

  16. This post, which I read with much interest, broke my heart even though I’m fully aware of cultures which have different views about animals. Very well written. Thanks and take care during this difficult time.

  17. I know your post was more about the plight of homeless dogs but it does paint a very attractive picture of Cartagena. Makes us really want to visit the city!

  18. I love the name of your wordpress by the way😀😀😀

  19. Reminds me of Puerto Rico and Spain. So many beautiful little dogs. I adopted one from PR. She was born to a dog belonging to my sister’s in laws. They had frequent litters and let the pups run like squirrels. Yes they did at least feed them, but no vet care, and no interaction. When i befriended a little one that had joined me on a porch with my cup of coffee one morning, bathing it, clipping away mats, it ended up finding me wherever i was in the neighborhood. I’d scoop it up for a pat and the many little cousins would look at me like in wonder. I offered to let them pet it and you would think they were petting a captured raccoon. The next year when another litter was born, i sent money for care and had one of the pups flown to new england. We had her for 16 years. I think education and understanding is the biggest challenge. When so many are struggling, finding the noney and the heart to care for dogs can be an uphill battle. Glad to hear the the organization in Cartagena is getting support.

  20. Often our dog friends are disrespected and unloved.😞🐶

  21. This could have very well been an account of India. Stray dogs have been ill treated for years but now, both governmental & nongovernmental organizations have come up to protect them… A lot of individuals have also taken upon themselves to feed the dogs & keep them protected in harsh weather!

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