Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Street dogs in Havana, Cuba

Saving street dogs in Havana - one dog at a time.

For Havana's dogs, it's not the best of times, but it's not the worst either.  Some improvement is due to the efforts of the non-governmental Cuban Association for the Protection of Animals and Plants (ANIPLANT) focused on improving the lives of dogs and other animals in Cuba.

A typical Havana street dog
making her daily rounds.

Founded in 1988 by nationally famous Cuban entertainer Maria Alveres Riso, and Cuba's first prima ballerina, Alisia Alonso, ANIPLANT  is an organization dedicated to the protection of animals (and plants, too, but honestly I don't know anything about this part).  Its mission is to eliminate the suffering of Cuban animals through massive spay and neuter campaigns, public education, assisting animals in need, promoting animal health and hands-on intervention in cases of animal suffering.
Sleeping it off! 
ANIPLANT rounds up and 
sterilizes thousands of dogs each year.
Photo courtesy of ANIPLANT

ANIPLANT also educates the public with a Saturday radio program and classroom seminars to teach the importance of animal welfare.
Cuba's next generation: 
Raising awareness about caring
for unfortunate animals.

Maria's daughter, Nora Garcia, who is now president of the organization, talked with us during a visit to the ANIPLANT facility, a re-purposed house located within walking distance of the heart of Old Havana.  The neighborhood, like many in Havana is a contradiction - tidy and clean in spite of decades of neglect.

ANIPLANT director, 
Nora Garcia with Ernesto.

Prior to my November 2012 arrival in Cuba, without too much difficulty I'd arranged to meet Nora. When my friend, Florence, and I arrived, we received a warm wet-nose welcome from 11 rambunctious happy residential dogs including Xabi, Ninamoza, Bella, Presidente, Ernesto, and Eva.


Like most Havana street dogs, they weigh between 15 and 30 pounds. All are street rescues, but unlike their street counterparts, they are on the portly side, mange and parasite free, confident and playful.

Safe inside, looking outside

The 2000 square foot building, originally a 1920s home, was officially turned over to ANIPLANT in 2007, in very bad shape.  Donors, usually dog-loving tourists, helped to rebuild the interior, donating office equipment, lights, chairs, time and money.  But money goes only so far in Cuba, because there is very little to buy.  The reception area was welcoming, squeaky clean and decorated with photos of dogs before they were rescued accompanied by after photos as well.

An ANIPLANT  success story
before she was rescued

Staffed by a few dedicated volunteers, the clinic is open two days a week. Veterinarians volunteer their time as well, but are sometimes paid a small fee when possible.  No other people, including Nora, receive salaries.

In urban Havana, people who own dogs often give them free range in the neighborhoods.  I saw a few dogs wearing hand-made ID tags, indicating that someone takes care of them.  However, taxes and tags are very expensive, so most people own dogs unofficially.

Her paper tag encased in plastic says: 
"My name is Candle. I am 
carmel colored. I am sterilized.
I live at 113 Obispo Street."

From what I saw, Daschhunds are a very popular breed.
Here a companion pooch looks out her front door.

A Dalmatian enjoys an afternoon on his second story balcony.  Balconies and roof tops, like our fenced yards, give dogs restricted freedom, but keep them safe.

Cubans love dogs. 
Nora told us that most street dogs are taken care of by someone.

Only about ten to fifteen percent are true strays.  The others are sustained by some type of care, from food and water, to real meals, to indoor privileges. Below is a an un-owned dog on the left, and a dog likely owned on the right.

ANIPLANT rescues dogs in jeopardy. But they also respond to phone calls from concerned citizens.  Many are from tourists, who often make donations for the rescue and care of specific dogs, usually ones that frequent the hotels. Some tourists want to take the dogs home, but this is especially tough in a country like Cuba.  Ninamoza, pictured below, was rescued after Nora received a phone call.  The dog was terrified, hiding in a sewer pipe, and unwilling to come out to drink or eat.  Nora used some ham to lure her out, piece by piece, step by little step, until she could grab her.  Today she lives a contented life at the clinic.


Most rescued dogs suffer from mange, anemia, distemper, gastroenteritis issues, tape worm, ear mites and renal infections. Due to lack of space, money, homes and people  that can afford to care for a pet, dogs are medically rehabilitated, sterilized, then placed back on the street where they hopefully receive care from neighborhood dog lovers.  Special case dogs stay on as permanent residents.

There are veterinary clinics in Havana, although I don't know how much it costs to vaccinate and care for dogs. Leaning through an open window, I took the photo below of a Havana veterinary clinic.  The woman has a black dog on a leash.

We took a tour of the ANIPLANT clinic and kennel. The kennels are more like rooms and corridors that can be closed off when necessary with ancient wrought iron gates.  Except for the office upstairs, the facility seems to be open for free-run.
Looking from the waiting room into a
courtyard that serves as a kennel space.
Nora gives treats to one of the dogs.
Florence, our unofficial
translator, walks from the courtyard 
with three canine guides.
An old surgical table and crickety cabinet
full of donated meds make up the bare
necessities in the surgical prep area
just adjacent to the operating room.
Nora cooks a meal on the 
kitchen hot plate, consisting of 
rice, left over viscera from 
butchers and farmers 
markets, and clear broth.  

Probably more nutritious than
our commercial dog food brands.

In Havana homes, interior rooms open to a patio courtyard and this one is no different. I'd be stretching it to say this is an outdoor exercise area.  It's more like a lounging area where dogs siesta and soak up sunshine.  For easy clean up, they are trained to pee and poop in potted plants. Building materials are neatly stacked outside, waiting for money and an opportunity to be turned into something more useful than just shade. But shade is good.

Nora, Lourdes, Florence and 
several dogs peek over 
and through the fence 
to see rescued turtles.
Dogs usually have free range of the 
entire facility, and the patio is 
a good place hang out.
The small office upstairs is used 
mostly for storage, filled with 
boxes of desperately needed supplies.
 No dogs allowed upstairs, 

thank you very much.
Nora shows us a hand-made wheel chair.
People donate whatever they can.
A donated quilt brightens 
up Nora's little office.

Lourdes with a fund-raising tool:  A sandwich board touting ANIPLANT's overarching theme - dogs before and after rescue. Draped with sandwich boards, volunteers walk through crowded Havana tourist areas to raise awareness and money.

In 2007 it was estimated that 20 thousand dogs roamed Havana streets. You can help by supporting the on-going spay/neuter campaign. To find out more, contact ANIPLANT.


  1. I guess in an area like that it is harder with pets and strays roaming the streets and it is nice that someone helps out by giving care to those that need it.


  2. A bitter sweet story, bless those that care for these hapless creatures, when I look at my two, they have no idea they are alive!!!!

  3. A beautiful song about this:


  4. Do they host veterinarians or do you know of any organizations in Cuba that do?

  5. Lorong L Telok Kurau is off Still Road, on the left towards the ECP. Bright Centre is a 3-storey building located on the junction of Telok Kurau Road and Lorong L Telok Kurau. The nearest highways are ECP (Marine Parade) and PIE (Eunos Link). veterinarian omaha