How does one keep a pet in Cuba?
Animals are amongst those that bear the brunt of an economic crisis. They are the voiceless, right-deprived victims of a system that does not even work for their owners.
According to Ana, a Spanish resident in Cuba, the treatment some pets receive is a reflection of a society "impoverished by constant economic crises." She recounts how one night, while waiting at a veterinary clinic in Playa for her dog to be treated, another was brought in that had been stabbed by an irritated neighbor.
Hilda, another lover of dogs notes, "to have dogs at home one must be aware of the responsibility they entail."
"Dogs are not like cats, which take less time to train, and are more independent. They depend on us completely; otherwise they become a nuisance for which the State lacks any humane solution."
Zoonosis is the institution dedicated to animal control in Cuba, and the only solution it applies to abandoned animals is euthanization.
There are canine clubs, but to operate they must register with the Ministry of Agriculture and become part of a bureaucratic system that ends up exhausting their members. Such was the case with the Cuban Greyhounds Club, which, after many efforts, was ultimately shut down.
Irina Echerry's's fifth floor space in Alamar serves as a dog shelter. After getting them off the streets, she heals, feeds and tries to relocate them through PAC (City Animal Protection), the only organization that is currently doing work that is "worthwhile".
"One locates them by mail or phone, and the management is totally autonomous," she explains.
PACCUBA offers two channels through which interested parties can access the organization: Facebook, and at firstname.lastname@example.org. It depends entirely on the goodwill of supporters.
The State does not guarantee any legal status or economic support for these initiatives, nor does it have any kind of facility in which to house abandoned pets.
Zoila, a member of PAC, fears that if the issue of stray dogs in the city is handled superficially there will be "more executions at Zoonosis."
"It is a problem of public awareness; if we are weak in terms of how we treat each other, we can hardly expect much with regards to animals," she adds.
She is not the only one who thinks along these lines. "A State's indifference can only generate misery. And abandoned or abused animals are the worst manifestation of this situation," says Hilda.
Keeping a pet costs money
And it's not easy to keep a pet in Cuba.
Animal lovers, under certain circumstances, are capable of sharing their plate of food with them. Adriana goes to the fish seller weekly to buy catfish for her cat; Milay gives her dog what the State claims is "ground beef," issued to her with her son's ration card; Yenny buys her Pekinese dry dog food, paying 11 CUC for two kilos; and Eva makes a special menu for her Labrador: boiled rice with kidney, liver and other viscera.
Although not everyone can afford the same things, in most cases people make a "major effort to keep their pets clean and pretty," says Alina.
Among the stores opened by Cuban entrepreneurs in Havana are shops and private clinics for pets.
"It's a business that people consider a luxury, and there is a lot of money in it," says Alain Osorio, a veterinarian with over 15 years of experience.
"But there is also a lot of social work, because there are always those who show up, and you can tell that they have no money, so I, at least, tell them not to pay. And all self-respecting veterinarians do the same thing. That's an unwritten rule among us," he adds.
A consultation costs between 5 and 10 CUC, but customers can pay up to 20 CUC. Hexavalent and pentavalent canine vaccines used to cost between 8 and 10 CUC, but have now risen to between 15 and 20 CUC.
Dog sanitization, which including bathing and clipping nails, is charged depending on the animal's size, fur and the danger involved.
The price difference between services provided by private parties and the State is huge. The Carlos III Clinic, one of the most centrally located, only charges 8 Cuban pesos per consult, but drugs are usually scarce and the building's condition, at least in the on-duty area, is deplorable.
Alain, who also worked for a few years at the Carlos III Clinic, says that "the whole world is talking about comprehensive health," because "when a pet gets sick the owner is at risk of getting sick too."
"But here we have to put up with doctors who underestimate the issue, a health system that does not validate veterinarians' prescriptions at any pharmacies, and the fact that there is no animal protection law," he criticizes. "That's why people abandon them, without any mercy."
While some people cannot afford the services that are being provided by the self-employed, their products have been well received.
A flea collar costs 10 CUC; a muzzle, 5 to 15 CUC; and a dewormer, Parentel, 3 CUC.
Among the products that some might consider a luxury are a padded bed, costing between 25 and 30 CUC; clothes for dogs, 5 to 12 CUC; a trough, 25 CUC; a brush, 10 CUC; rubber toys, 4 to 7 CUC, and a crate, from 100 to 500 CUC.