Tag Archives: homeless

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.

https://www.cartagenapaws.com/

 

 

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Giving is for the Birds

I read the simple message while driving to work that morning. It was quite a few years ago but I remember the church’s sign: “Give To Others – Sacrifice” was its straightforward directive. As I pondered those words, I noticed another sign at a fast-food place across the street.

“Try Our Blueberry Biscuits”

Those words required no pondering.

I would indeed try them. Having ample time before work, I would even go inside to sit as I enjoyed their flaky goodness. I could smell the biscuits when I walked in to place my order. On a large rack behind the cashier, someone from the kitchen drizzled icing generously over a dozen or so freshly baked blueberry delights. I ordered two.

After all, the sign had clearly indicated plural.

My mouth watered as I sat at a table between a window and a row of potted palms. I spread my blueberry biscuits before me, smelled their warm icing, and heard their plump blueberries call to me. I noticed movement on the other side of the potted palms but excitement over my biscuits kept me from looking up. Just as I was about to pick up the first biscuit, the movement stopped and I heard a woman’s voice.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked.

Not sure I had correctly heard such a question, I wiped the anticipatory biscuit drool from my mouth and waited for a second.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked again.

I turned to see a frowning elderly woman staring through the potted palms. I assumed she might be homeless when I saw her. Her clothes were frayed and wrinkled, and although her hair was pulled neatly back and held in place by a clean red ribbon, she was otherwise very disheveled and dirty. She carried a soiled tote bag on her arm.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked me for the third time. She frowned a bit harder.

I admit that I slid my blueberry biscuits away from her and towards the window on the far side of the table before I responded.

“No Ma’am”. I said. “Definitely not.” I spread an extra concealing napkin over my biscuits.

I thought she might leave once I cleared up that little misidentification, but she lingered quietly by the potted palms. I kept the biscuits covered and willed my salivary glands to cease working. She edged closer to my table. I pushed the biscuits closer to the window.

She sat down across from me.

My biscuits cooled, my mouth watered, and guilt crept over me as I remembered the first message I had read that morning. “Give to Others – Sacrifice”.

Well, great. Why did I have to see the church’s sign just before being shown the door to blueberry deliciousness! Oh well. I removed one biscuit from its hiding place and slid it towards the elderly woman.

“You can have this.” I said.

She said absolutely nothing but took the biscuit, wrapped it tightly in the napkin, and slipped it into her tote bag. She still frowned. Not even the slightest smile.

There. I had “given to others”. I felt better, she had eagerly taken the biscuit, and as soon as she got up I could still enjoy the one I had left. I could smell it there under the napkin.

She didn’t get up.

“You have a good day, Ma’am.” I said, thinking she might move along.

She still didn’t get up. She frowned at the lump under my napkin.

I had already checked my watch several times and knew I had to get to work soon. I just wanted to eat my blueberry biscuit! I had done what the church sign said. I had “given to others”!

Well, the sign had said a little more than that, I thought as the elderly woman frowned persistently.

I uncovered my second biscuit and handed it to her, saying nothing. She took the second as eagerly as the first. She wrapped it quickly, slipped it into her tote bag, and walked to the door to go outside. She frowned all the while.

No matter, I thought. I could simply pick up another biscuit, or two, on my way out.

“We stopped making blueberry biscuits twenty minutes ago.” the cashier said. “No more back there.”

My stomach growled. So did I. One of my biscuits handed to the elderly woman was “giving”. Both of my biscuits handed to her, now that was “sacrifice”! But, she would enjoy them I kept telling myself, as I imagined her biting into the icing covered blueberry treats.

As I headed to my car, I heard their wings flapping before I saw them. Pigeons. So many pigeons flying in that they blocked my view of what attracted them. Then, through an opening in the flock, I saw what they were after.

An elderly woman with a tote bag. She crumbled and tossed piece after piece of blueberry biscuit into the air as pigeons scrambled to eat them.

She was finally smiling.

Stuart M. Perkins

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