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A Publication of

From The Ark No. 193 - Spring 2003

South American breakthrough

The following is one of the most positive and encouraging letters the Editor received all last year, and continues the South American theme. The writer is an American Religious Sister now based in Ecuador.

From: FPA, 18 de Noviembre 04-60 e Imbabura, Segundo Pisa, Loja - Ecuador

Several years ago I contacted you inquiring about the Catholic Study Circle and seeking information about religion and attitudes toward animals in Latin America. You forwarded some very useful information, which we have used in our public education programme. Likewise I found great articles on your web site.

In case you don’t recall our communications, here is a brief history. For most of the past five years, I have been working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. Three years ago I helped establish the first animal-welfare organization in the area called the Fundación de Protección Animal (Animal Protection Foundation.) or FPA. Our mission is to improve the lives of animals through public-education and advocacy programmes and direct animal-conservation and protection activities. FPA is based in Loja, a midsize city with 150,000 residents and nestled in a small valley in the Andes.

In a methodical manner, FPA takes the steps, develops the programmes and provides the resources to create a culture of caring, appreciation and understanding of all animals. We work with the community and municipality to develop humane solutions to improve the welfare of animals. In FPA’s new offices, we hold classes for an Animals and Kids Club, are expanding a public environmental library, have Enrichment Workshops for elementary-school teachers and special seminars to teach vets and vet students proper surgical and anesthesia techniques. Soon we hope to start visiting rural neighbourhoods surrounding Loja to sterilize cats and dogs of families unable to transport their pets to our clinic.

Animal abuse is prevalent throughout Ecuador. Young monkeys are captured from the wild and kept as ‘pets’ in small metal cages. Dogs are tied up alone on cement roofs to guard houses, with no protection, water or human interaction. Mules are forced to haul such heavy loads on their backs that they frequently collapse, only to be beaten until they rise. Even at the local veterinary school, animals suffer unimaginable horrors. One particularly despairing, yet typical, example involved a dog who was caught from the streets by veterinary students. The students deliberately broke his hind leg to practice fracture repair. The leg was never properly repaired and after several weeks of suffering, he was electrocuted to death.

To combat animal abuse FPA uses a combination of public education to raise the community’s awareness about animals’ needs and the legal system to ensure protection of animals. Most recently, FPA created and successfully lobbied the local government to accept the first animal-control and protection ordinances in the country. People can no longer abuse their animals, and they must provide for their animals’ basic needs. Dogs must be walked with leashes, vaccinated against rabies and can’t roam freely in public areas. The municipality can no longer throw strychnine on the streets to control the stray animal population.

Since I arrived in Ecuador I have noticed that residents often don’t benefit from close, loving relationships with their animals. Children never experience the joy and comfort of the human-animal bond and never develop a sense of responsibility toward other living creatures. Sadly, animals are considered inferior beasts that don’t deserve our compassion. And incredibly, these attitudes are perpetuated by many priests in the Roman Catholic Church, the dominant religion in Ecuador.

We have decided that an affective method to teach the public about animal welfare is to use the words of the Church to change current perceptions toward animals. We are starting to use the Catechism and declarations from the Holy Father to convince local priests to adopt a more compassionate view toward animals. I’m thrilled to report that earlier this month a Colombian Padre invited families and their animals into his small church to be blessed. As far as we know this is the first time such an event has occurred in Ecuador. The response was fabulous. Over 90 people and 60 animals showed up for Mass. One family tried to bring their donkey up the steps into the church, but the donkey was too scared. The Padre went outside to bless the donkey on the steps. It was a great, emotional moment. (See opposite page 32).

Our efforts are resulting in positive changes for animals. Today I can look out our headquarters’ window and see dogs being walked with bright new leashes. Five years ago when I arrived, I never saw a dog being walked in Loja. Today local veterinary clinics are thriving instead of balancing on the verge of closure as more pet owners accept their responsibility to provide for their animals, including medical care. Citizens are banding together to protect wild animals. Today we receive weekly calls and cooperation from concerned residents reporting wild animals being held in captivity.

However, finding support for our animal-welfare programmes is not easy. Governmental funds don’t exist for such social programmes. Local and national organisations and businesses are reluctant to contribute to an animal society. I’m writing to you because I know you and the Catholic Study Circle understand and appreciate the importance of our work and the difficulty of our situation. In order to expand our impact on the Ecuadorian community, we are raising money to publish educational materials (posters and brochures) to share the Church’s positive view of animals. I believe using the Church’s powerful words in these educational materials will influence Ecuadorians and improve the care and respect of animals.

I’ve included a short video about FPA (in English).* You can also learn more about FPA and our work by visiting our new web site at . You can even donate on line!

Elizabeth Daut, DVM


* The video can be borrowed from the Editor, via email.

Return to The Ark No. 193

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