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Animal Rights in the Dominican Republic
SODPRECA Director Marcos Polanco acknowledges Mrs. Pérez’s open-minded approach. He says that their organizations had very limited contact until Mrs. Pérez began working with PADELA about three years ago, and also admits his own organization’s difficult financial situation. Like Mrs. Pérez, he blames politics and rivalry for the lack of cooperation between organizations.

“You have to realize that everyone has their own vision,” says Polanco. “Occasionally there’s jealousy because in this business you don’t make money, you gain credit… but the first concern should be the animals.”

While PADELA focuses on direct animal care, they have little influence in cases of animal cruelty; this is where SODOPRECA takes over with their “Animal Control Unit”. Made up by several volunteers, the unit investigates cases of animal cruelty and enforces the little-known animal rights law #1268.

Law #1248 dates back to 1946, and was introduced during the rule of former Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. More of a symbolic law than anything; Trujillo’s main concern was to elevate Dominican society to the standard of developed nations. The law carries a maximum 30 days imprisonment for offenders and 60 days if the offender is the animal’s owner or has committed a similar offense in the past. According to Mr. Polanco, the law has never really been applied in its entire 60-year history until SODOPRECA became the first Dominican organization to bring two citizens to justice in the case of two brothers who stabbed a dog to death in the Ensanche Espaillat section of Santo Domingo in 2006. After being convicted, the two brothers were required to pay RD$7,000 to cover costs for the veterinary clinic that tried to save the dog’s life, perform community service and receive two hours of class concerning the ethical treatment of animals. Some may consider these penalties a mere slap on the wrist, but for SODOPRECA it was a major victory in the organization’s fight to protect animal rights.

“It’s not worth anything to have a law that’s not being applied,” says Polanco. “Most people here think they have the right to do whatever they want with their animals, but it’s not like that… so we have to teach the people… as Dominicans say, “we’ve been living like lawless goats,” but that’s over.”

SODOPRECA has also focused attention on another troubled animal in the DR, as stray cats and dogs aren’t the only ones with problems. A good argument can be made that horses are the worst off on the country’s streets. Skinny and overworked, these animals can be found throughout the DR hauling goods like fruits and vegetables. SODOPRECA has been working with the Santo Domingo city council as well as with horse-owners to try and put a stop to the exploitation. They are even in the process of building an animal refuge in Nizao that will eventually be able to house the horses they plan to confiscate. According to Mr. Polanco, 95% of these horses are stolen and sold into slavery by what he considers a “small criminal organization”. He says the individuals one sees with these horses are not their owners. What they do is rent the horse for RD$300 a day from these criminal organizations and are not required to give the animal food or water. These are costs the “illegal” owners are supposed to take care of.

“We say it’s a criminal organization because (the owners) of these horses are criminals… they have no right to these horses because they have no documents… they mistreat them and pay no type of tax to the state, so we don’t understand why (the horses) are still circulating,” says Polanco.

Like any social problem, educating the younger generation is one of the best ways to deal with the issue in the future. According to PADELA secretary Rosandry Vicioso, garnering support for educational programs on animal rights has proved almost impossible. PADELA’s repeated attempts to give educational talks at Santo Domingo’s primary and secondary schools have been met with many closed doors. Mrs. Vicioso admits that only one out of her list of 25, the Carol Morgan School, has opened their doors to PADELA in the past year.

“It’s not in (Dominican) culture to help others, let alone animals,” says Mrs. Vicioso. “The schools don’t pay any attention to our talks and that’s the root of the problem. The only school that supports us is Carol Morgan where we’ve given two talks… and that’s where it starts: educating the children. If there’s no education (Dominicans) are going to keep mistreating animals.”

PADELA’s ambitious future lies in a 1.5-acre farm in the town of Manoguayabo. A project now 20 years in the making due to a constant lack of support will, once completed, become a rural refuge for possibly hundreds of stray animals. Here, strays will be transported to the facility and receive the same services that are provided at PADELA’s current office, but with the advantage of not being locked up in a cage. So, when will the project be completed? “We’ll finish when we have people to help us,” says Mrs. Pérez. “We can’t do it alone.”

For some, such concern for animals in the Dominican Republic may be tough to swallow when there are so many pressing issues that involve, well, humans. While stray animals go hungry, so do many Dominican citizens, pushing animal welfare to the back of the line. Hurdles like these are nothing new for animal organizations in the DR. Whether it’s a lack of funds, education, support from Dominicans, or even from fellow organizations, somehow they’re surviving, and as a result, thousands of animals have benefited from their perseverance.

“It’s very difficult to speak about animal care in a third world country when there are so many poor people… and we see children on the street asking for money without any type of support, but someone has to do it,” says Mrs. Pérez, as Blondie, one of PADELA’s many success stories gives an approving stare. “Anything good takes a lot of work but we’re always there, on the front line.”

To find out how you can help or for more information on PADELA, SODOPRECA, or any of the previously mentioned organizations please use the link and/or contact information below.

Fundemar: Idelisa Bonnelly de Calventi
Tel: (809) 547-3677
Email: [email protected]

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