March 2012

Why not Adopt
Rather than Buy?

The crowd pushing the boundaries of the sidewalk outside the stadium gates is commonplace, what is not, is the product. From German Shepherds to Bull Terriers, Chihuahuas to Golden Retrievers, they squirm one atop of another, faces press against the wire of cages, bodies splay on the hot ground with the irresistible chubbiness found only in puppies. This puppy market can be found on Sundays at Avenida Costanera. Some vendors offer catalogues of their wares for Cochabambinos to page through while others go straight for the heart – wander through the crowd with a tiny terrier in the crook of their arm. It is clear that the citizens of Cochabamba have a fondness for puppies, but what of full-grown dogs? It only takes a glance across the street to the pack of thin and dirty streetdogs nosing through dirt and garbage to know that not all of these puppies will have happy homes once they leave the market.

By: Laura Dennis
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Vancouver - Canada

Looking for a new home?
Photo: Laura Dennis

A few feet away, members of ISIS – Programa de Protección Animal y Ambiental, hang a large poster urging people to “Adoptar No Comprar”, adopt a dog rather than purchase one in the market. The concern with animal welfare is a relatively new movement in Bolivia; the Association for the Defense of Animal Rights (ADDA) formed only fifteen years ago while the first North American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) began in 1866. The fact that Bolivia is a nation that is still developing, means that other social issues, such as poverty and food security, understandably took priority, but now eyes are being opened to the plight of Bolivia´s animals. ISIS is a part of the Department of Environment (CER) and is an organization focused on the welfare of the environment by creating awareness and respect for animal life. They are not a group focused on education, something that the pet-owners in Cochabamba need.

It is clear that the citizens of Cochabamba have a fondness for puppies, but what of full-grown dogs?

The mission of ISIS is to “Create moral values that work toward a world free of animal suffering, where humans both care for and respect the natural environment surrounding them.” Their strategy is to educate the public through campaigns that involve the whole population while remaining mindful of local customs. The areas that ISIS focus on are education and communication about animal welfare, wildlife conservation, ensuring population control and humane handling of street animals and finally, to provide veterinary and economic support for rehabilitation of animals and their adoption.

Public awareness to the issue of dog population control is heightened in Cochabamba due to a recent string of rabies infections that, unfortunately, became fatal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), rabies is present in the animal populations of almost every country on earth. The virus spreads from animals to humans through contact with infected saliva, usually through bites. Rabies spreads through the central nervous system causing fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Once symptoms develop, the disease is usually fatal. Dogs are the main host and transmitters of rabies and the source of 99% of rabies deaths.

In 2005, the Bolivian government issued a regulation for rabies control due to the increase of both dog and human cases in the recent years and a vaccination campaign for pets followed. And, according to the Servicio Departamental de Salud (SEDES), such vaccinations have been put in place every year since. Unfortunately, in 2011, Cochabamba became one of the areas in Bolivia most affected by the rabies virus, as reported by the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID). In October of 2011, a 7 year-old girl died because of a bite from a rabid dog and eleven other children were treated for bites from a rabid 2-month-old puppy. This followed an incident in September where four rabies cases were reported in one day. A vaccination campaign targeting 600,000 dogs began on October 2 where 250,000 domestic animals were vaccinated on the first day, but was not enough to stop the fatality later that month. Libertad Lujan, the official in charge of the rabies program at SEDES, stated that, from the beginning of 2011 until the October incidents, there had been seventy-eight canine rabies cases reported in the Cochabamba area.

Puppies for sell at Stadium fair
Photo: Laura Dennis

“Rabies virus will continue to circulate in the environment,” Efrain Vallejos, director of epidemiology at SEDES, told FM Bolivia following the fatality. “In Cochabamba, despite the rabies vaccination campaigns that we have carried out, people have dogs and raise them without control.” Vallejos adds that it is the large amount of transient dogs in the streets, eating garbage and fighting amongst themselves that can be pinpointed as the main cause of the spread of rabies.

As well as the concern for human health, citizens of Cochabamba should think about the quality of life of a street dog. While they seem to enjoy roaming the streets alone or in packs, this life of freedom has its downfalls. In the search for safe food and water, these dogs must negotiate busy lanes of traffic, which can result in accidents that can harm both the dog, and the occupants of the vehicle. ISIS says that there are also many incidents of cruelty towards the animals, both in the form of violence and, sometimes, poison. ISIS hopes that, through education about these animals, more people will look to adoption. It would take both homeless dogs out of shelters and reduce the prevalence of puppy sales that lead to abandonment.

Not all of these puppies will have happy homes once they leave the market.

ISIS also advocates another humane way to control the dog population – sterilization or neutering. In many countries around the world, domestic animals are only available for purchase or adoption after neutering and ISIS is hoping that this way of thinking will begin to inundate the Bolivian culture. For this to happen, ISIS needs to debunk myths about sterilization through education.

Sterilization is a surgical procedure that prevents reproduction in both males and females. All sexual organs and behaviors remain intact. The same procedure is used on humans (vasectomy, tubal ligation). The preferred method of dog population control is neutering. This procedure takes away the ability to reproduce and eliminates the hormones associated with reproduction. Neutering is recommended because it can eliminate aggression in males and provides complete protection from reproduction.

Many myths surround the sterilization of pets and in their educational material ISIS addresses ones such as the belief that the animals will get fat, their character will change, all females should give birth at least once, and that the dog will no longer be a good protector. They also address factors such as cost - educating pet owners that the onetime cost of sterilizing their dog outweighs the cost of caring for the pet through pregnancy and the care of the puppies. Both sterilization and neutering surgeries are available at veterinarians and the cost varies due to factors such as gender and age of the dog. An organization known as the Humane Society in the United States has a group called the Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS) that brings free services such as neutering and education of citizens to countries such as Bolivia. They have previously visited La Paz and will be in Santa Cruz for February and March of this year.

While the dogs seem to enjoy roaming the streets alone or in packs, this life of freedom has its downfalls.

Through education and the sharing of information on their website and in their materials, ISIS hopes to show citizens that adopting a dog rather than buying one will help to minimize the animal trade and lower the number of dogs on the street. In addition, by sterilizing your pet, you can help to keep thousands of dogs off the street. That is the desired result, not only for the welfare of the animals but to prevent the spread of fatal diseases such as rabies which has been running rampant through Cochabamba.

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