BARRANCA, Puntarenas – Three months ago, 52-year-old Luis Castrillo Rojas picked up an undernourished stray pup and took it home. The dog took well to his care and gained some weight.
A few weeks ago, he called a veterinary clinic to ask about spaying “Lucky,” but the high cost deterred him. The receptionist, however, steered him to a mobile clinic in Barranca, an inland town 15 kilometers east of the central Pacific town of Puntarenas, where dogs and cats are spayed and neutered for a small price.
The clinic, run by the Association for Animal Rescue of Puntarenas, is largely a volunteer organization that consists of local veterinarians and students from the University of Costa Rica (UCR). Together, they have been trying to reduce the number of strays since 1999 in two of the poorest neighborhoods of the Puntarenas province: Barranca and Chacarita.
“People always throw dogs and cats out into the street,” Rojas says. “There used to be a lot of dogs in the street. This campaign is a very good thing because there are fewer dogs in the streets now.”
Nine years ago, Vilma Soto, one of the founders, and a handful of volunteers counted 25 dogs for every five square kilometers in Puntarenas.
“We surveyed 5,000 households and looked for the two poorest districts that would benefit most from a campaign like this,” Soto says.
Since the operation began, the number of strays has dropped to 17. Residents of these two areas bring their dogs or cats to the mobile clinic and pay ¢3,000 for the surgery. If they can’t afford the fee, they don’t have to pay. On occasion, clinic volunteers will go out into the communities to trap strays.
Set up like an assembly line, the clinic handles up to 50 dogs or cats in one day. Residents line up early to drop off their pets, which are tagged, weighed and prepped by the student volunteers.
“They trained us how to do this work,” says Verónica Pérez Zeledón, a 23-year-old UCR student who is completing her 300 of community work at the clinic.
Two or three veterinarians perform the surgeries in a small, yet fully equipped trailer donated by World Society for the Protection of Animals in April 2007.
The campaign sets up the clinic every two weeks, and hours of operation depend largely on whether any of the veterinarians are available to donate their services.
On a recent Saturday, 38 dogs and cats were spayed and neutered. Soto says that since they began nine years ago, they have performed almost 4,000 surgeries. In their first year, they only managed to neuter five dogs.
Now they average 1,000 animals per year since they received the donated mobile clinic.
The future of the campaign, however, is in doubt.
For now, WSPA is funding the campaign, but the donation is only for two years. This April, Soto and her staff will have to find other funding sources.
“The government hasn’t helped us, and the municipality says they would help, but they haven’t specifically said how,” she said.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen when the donation runs out.”
Still, Soto is proud of the campaign because the communities have responded well.
“We’ve changed the culture from that of throwing dogs into the streets to having people spay and neuter their pets. Now, some people won’t even adopt dogs or cats that aren’t neutered.”
Help Fido and Fluffy
To help reduce the number of stray animals, call the Association for Animal Rescue of Puntarenas, 2663-3305.