A Million Dogs Roam the Streets in Costa Rica

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McKee ProjectOn Friday morning, young Sofia McLean and her mother Ivonne Morales were outside the Teletica Channel 7 studios near La Sabana, looking for a new family member. After looking around and carefully discussing the delicate matter, they settled on Kenay -the offspring puppy of a stray mother that was rescued just a couple of months ago.

Kenay was lucky. Dozens of other dogs and seven cats awaited adoption outside of Teletica; they were taken there by members of Rescate Animal (Animal Rescue) a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of animals that roam the streets of Costa Rica or that have been victims of abuse and neglect. In Kenay’s case, Rescate Animal’s representatives will advocate for her safe placement and development with her adoptive family.

Zaguates in Costa Rica: The Situation

More than a million dogs roam the streets of Costa Rica, where they mingle with motorists, pedestrians and neighborhood dogs. It is important to tell the difference between strays and community or neighborhood dogs; this has been previously discussed in the pages of The Costa Rica Star: Many Ticos choose to not keep their pets on a leash and allow them to run around the neighborhood; they are fed and cared for by the community at large. When these community dogs end up far from their homes, they don’t always end up turning feral; they will, however, refuse to be put on a leash.

Free-roaming zaguates (mutts) cared for by members of the community where they choose to roam are not part of the million or so dogs that the National Animal Health Service (SENASA in Spanish) estimates as being true strays. These are the rib-thin, diseased dogs you see tearing through garbage bags in search of nourishment. Chances are that if these strays have been abused they will eventually turn feral and violent.

SENASA admits that it does not have enough resources to conduct major rescue operations and control the stray population in Costa Rica; this is a government agency that is also responsible for breaking up underground dog-fighting rings, going after exotic bird traffickers, controlling illegal livestock operations, etc. Groups such as Rescate Animal and the English-speaking CR Dogs – Adopt a Street Dog from Costa Rica typically have their hands full with rescue and placement efforts. Animal control seems like the most sensible option.

Spay and Neuter – The McKee Project

In 2009, the president of the Animal Protection Agency of Costa Rica told La Nacion:

Rescue shelters in our country are overburdened; they receive between 15 and 70 daily calls from people who want to leave their pets there. Look, neither euthanasia nor rescue shelters are solutions: The only way is to curb their reproduction.

Pet owners in Costa Rica need to exercise better control when it comes to sterilization, which is essentially a low-cost procedure that is only practiced about 28 percent of the time in our country. Enter the McKee Project, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable foundation in the United States of America, which has developed and taught versatile spay and neuter techniques to more than 650 veterinarians in many Latin American countries.

The Costa Rica Star supports the McKee Project. In the past, we have written about this organization:

The result of McKee Project’s training has in fact created a cultural shift where veterinarians are shown that spay and neuter of companion animals can be commercially viable by the creation of a new client base of dog and cat owners, as well as creating a new relationship between owners and their healthier pets.

The McKee Project estimates that a 70 percent rate of spay-and-neuter procedures in a community translates into improved quality of life for pets and their owners. Remember, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals” – Immanuel Kant.

If you want to get involved with The McKee Project please send an email at [email protected] to learn more about veterinarian training and community spay neuter programs happening regularly in Costa Rica and around Latin America. Together we can make a difference, one day at a time.

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