The Hungry Abandoned Dogs of Crisis-Hit Venezuela

Struggling to feed families, Venezuelans are abandoning their pets. 

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Venezuelans struggling to feed their families, let alone their pets, during the country’s deep economic crisis are increasingly abandoning emaciated dogs on the streets, public parks and makeshift shelters, because they no longer can afford to care for them.

At one dilapidated sanctuary in the hills outside the capital Caracas, hundreds of scrawny dogs bark and claw through wire mesh to scavenge for food in the streets and forest land nearby.

“The crisis has hit hard,” said Maria Arteaga, 53, who began looking after stray dogs in her own home before founding the shelter in Los Teques, the capital of Miranda state.

People are abandoning their dogs because they can’t afford food and because they’re leaving the country.
Maria Arteaga

Every few hours, vehicles pull up and people hand over dogs, including pedigrees. Volunteers arrive daily to donate and help distribute food to the animals.

Though Arteaga does not have a formal register, she has seen an increase in the number of dogs arriving in recent months, with nine poodles dropped off just in the past two weeks.

  • Aguja (needle) was given the name because of the shape of her body. She is skinny and long. “She is very happy and loves to jump at people so that they carry her and caress her like a baby,” said Maria Silva who takes care of dogs at the shelter.
  • Ojitos (eyes) has been given that name because she has blue eyes. “She arrived at the shelter two years ago and from the very first moment has always been very loving. She never fights  with the others. She has been offered up for adoption on many occasions, but no one wanted to keep her,” said Maria Silva who takes care of dogs at the shelter.
  •  Pastora (shepherd) was given that name because she looks like a German shepherd. “She is very calm and never fights with anyone, but she is afraid of people. When someone approaches her, she immediately reacts as if they were going to beat her,” said Maria Silva who takes care of dogs at the shelter. 
  • Cucurucha has never been given up for adoption because she is very nervous. When someone approaches, she begins to whine and react immediately. She never fights with anyone, but she likes stealing food from the other dogs,” said Maria Silva who takes care of dogs at the shelter.
  • “Bolibomba arrived at the shelter two years ago and is very playful. She loves water. Whenever she can, she gets inside a bucket or bowl with water. If she lived in a house with a pool, she would never come out of it,” said Maria Silva who takes care of dogs at the shelter
  • Enfermera (Nurse) was given that name because she was rescued by a nurse outside of a hospital. “She suffered a stroke and although she never recovered completely, she is a very good guard dog. She lives outside of the shelter and when someone approaches, she starts barking,” said Maria Silva
  • La China died the following week after the photo was taken. “The loving but fearful dog did not like to leave the space where she slept, even to eat,” said Maria Silva who takes care of dogs at the shelter. 
  • Maria Silva, Milena Cortes, Maria Arteaga, Jackeline Bastidas and Gissy Abello pose for a picture at the Famproa dogs shelter where they work, in Los Teques, Venezuela, August 25, 2016.

Suffering through a third year of recession, Venezuelans are experiencing shortages of food and medicine, and are finding salaries wrecked by triple-digit inflation.

A 20-kilogram (44-pound) bag of dog food, for example, costs around $50 at the black-market exchange rate, nearly double its price in the United States and out of reach for many in Venezuela, where the minimum wage is $23 per month.

So sanctuaries like Arteaga’s are proliferating, while ever more stray dogs turn up on the streets. Pet shops are struggling to stock shelves with food and medicine.

The plight of the pets comes despite pushes in the past by the socialist government to protect animal rights. In 2013, for example, President Nicolas Maduro set up Mission Nevado, named for independence hero Simon Bolivar’s dog, to rescue and protect strays. But now even police are rationing food in order to feed their sniffer dogs.

On one recent day, systems engineer Maria Rodriguez, 33, said she came across a stray dog in Los Teques and her 12-year-old son begged her to keep it to accompany the family’s border collie.

“Sadly our income isn’t enough for us to eat, so how can I give food to two or three dogs?” Rodriguez said, after dropping off the animal at Arteaga’s sanctuary.

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