In Cuba We Cannot Be Tourists

All photos by the lovely Anne Willis.

They bark at us, these Cuban canines, a rambunctious pack of 20- plus wagging, jumping, frolicking beast-children. They are small to medium-sized mutts with sharp, insistent voices. They are smelly but mostly healthy. There are a couple of cases of severe demodectic mange; I have to remind myself that it is not contagious when one of the pups flat-foot leaps onto the table next to me and proceeds to put her paws up on my shoulders, burying her nose in my hair, snuffling and sneezing, then licking my ear intimately. It’s strange to scratch a dog with hardly any hair, but I persevere, because every dog who wants to be loved deserves a belly rub.

I fall deeply and immediately in love with the biggest dog there – a long-legged, 50-pound, black and tan mutt with a lust for life in his eyes. He is brand new, Nora tells us, and is supposed to be in quarantine for a few days – behavioral more than biological, since most of the dogs have free run of a large, sunny courtyard, down long hallways between several areas in the facility, including a spic-and-span supply room full of racks of food and water bowls and the other materials needed to care for so many animals in the same place at the same time. Nora wants to give him a few days to adjust to the chaos and cacophony, to make sure every-dog gets along.

The shy niñas en la cocina.

I give Mr. Black-and-Tan ear-scratches through his wrought-iron gate. Before we leave he will sneak through the barriers twice and thrust his wet nose into our hands until Nora finds a way to enforce his temporary segregation. She tells me he was brought in by a Canadian tourist and he will wait out the time it takes for his adoption paperwork to be complete here at ANIPLANT before he makes his way to his new foreign home. This is increasingly a thing, we come to understand, perhaps because Canada does a better job than the U.S. at rescuing and adopting out stray dogs. Either way, and despite the fact that I am usually a proponent of adopting from your local shelters, my heart feels lighter knowing the dog I fell in love with has already been saved.

ANIPLANT can help about 20 dogs at a time in their homey facility.

Nora shows us the kitchen, where a pot of liver cooks into a stew on a huge burner and two shy canine ladies hide in the open spaces under the counter. I kneel down and look away from them, hoping to entice them out for a chest scratch. They want to be friends, but they just can’t quite trust me. And who can blame them? It’s not easy to be a stray dog, especially not in Cuba.

We take pictures in the waiting room where the dogs are not allowed, then move into the operating room with its antiseptic glow and prayer cards of Jesus and some patron saints. The old machines gleam and the glass-fronted supply cabinet has a picture of Dr. Edgar, the veterinarian, one of the many Cuban people who fight through not only the normal human stupidity dog rescues in the U.S. face, but also poverty, politics, and an embargo that makes getting veterinary medicines and supplies very difficult.

Nora shows us the operating room where ANIPLANT works hard to spay and neuter dogs despite their limited access to anesthesia.
“El jefe” guards the cabinet where our donations will someday reside.










The tour is a ritual honor for the hardy travelers who bring much-needed veterinary supplies to Havana. This is our reason, our justification for Cuba: humanitarian projects are one of the 12 reasons United Statesians are allowed by our government to travel here. In the week before our voyage we raised money and purchased several expensive boxes full of flea and tick treatments, dewormers, topical skin creams to help with mange, sutures, scalpels, bandages, antibiotics, specialized syringes, antiseptic, and much more.

Go-Fund-Me the Money

We had absolutely no issues checking our supplies at the Tallahassee airport.

Oh, my epic friends, you know who you are.

You who responded to our social media calls, email blast, or phone calls, you opened your wallets, your Paypal accounts, your checkbooks, and even your supply cabinets to donate to our cause.

Because of you, three hours into our campaign we had $400 in contributions.

Thirty-six hours later we had surpassed our $1000 goal.

We had a huge bag of veterinary supplies donated from my own vet, Cross Creek Animal Clinic. The animal rescue my mother volunteers for,  Cauzican Care, also donated a box of the flea and tick medicines Cuban dogs are desperate for.

Ultimately we collected about $1400. From you, you glorious, generous, supportive people. I love you all.

And so this blog post is for you, all for you. This is your thank you, in words and photos. Muchas gracias, y’all.

And Now For the Cliff-Hanger

Next week I’ll continue the story of our humanitarian mission to Cuba. There will be heroics, communism, and paperwork, and together we will learn a new Spanish verb you never want to hear in an airport in a foreign country: confiscar.

Supplies must be carried with travelers, typically in suitcases or boxes.
Cuban veterinarians have education, skills, and dedication, but the embargo limits the supplies they have to work with.

More Photos on Facebook

Want to see more photographs of Cuban animals and  some of the beautiful places we saw on the way to and from completing our humanitarian mission? Check out my Facebook albums.

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