San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Meet Your Dog in San Ramón

Helene Wirt believes there is a dog for everyone. There are dogs to share your daily walks. Dogs to make you feel safer. Dogs to keep you company, and dogs to enjoy.

Wirt never had a dog before she came to Costa Rica in 1991. Now she has 83, and she would like to find homes for some of them – good homes.

A former tax lawyer from Vienna, Austria, Wirt came to Costa Rica for the climate and to retire. After a divorce in 1997, she felt lonely until someone brought her a dog that had been abandoned. From then on, Wirt began taking in dogs and caring for them. Her first, Baldwin, still shares her home, but the other 82 have spacious, clean kennels on a twohectare farm in Piedades Sur de San Ramón, some 65 kilometers west of San José.

Dogs are grouped by size and personality, six to a kennel that includes a shelter big enough for feeding dishes and six doggy beds. The outdoor areas have concrete tables and benches for active dogs to climb and for visitors to observe and select the bowser for them. All dogs are spayed or neutered and have thick, furry coats. Wirt has high standards for her charges. Veterinarians visit, and waste material is organically treated and disposed of.

These were street dogs, abandoned, mistreated or simply left with Wirt to be looked after. She loves them all. Almost all are mixed breeds, but lineage shows through in many. We see German shepherd types, obvious dachshund traits and cocker and collie backgrounds. There are some puppies that came with their mothers, but most are about three or four years old, according to Wirt.

“People want puppies, but adult dogs are a better choice,” she says. “Puppies chew things up and leave messes all over the house.” Adults are easier to live with, she adds.

Thanks to her new Web page,, Wirt is finding homes for the dogs, as well as volunteers. Caitlin Kwan, 26, from the U.S. state of Oregon, came for a month and loved it so much she plans to come back.

“Helene is amazing. Just during one month she took in three more dogs. She also helps others with dog care, even taking in sick dogs to care for and return to their owners,” Kwan says.

“For many people, a street dog is just that – not worth helping,” Wirt says. “Other dogs are kept on chains or neglected.”

One example is Marcelo, a shepherd-rottweiler mix whose hair is coming back thick and shiny where a chain was once imbedded around his neck and where sores covered his backside. After only three weeks, he’s been neutered, fed, given vitamins and good care. Wirt and Kwan are proud of his newfound health.

For Wirt, dogs are like children, so she wants to be sure adoptive families will appreciate them and give them good care. Her farm is 12 kilometers from San Ramón in San Francisco de Piedades Sur, and she is happy to guide prospective parents or volunteers to meet the dogs. She will also provide part-time dogs for part-time residents who want a pet during their time here, or who want to sponsor a dog or two to help with finances and care. Anyone interested can check or call Wirt at 8371-3825.


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