Havana: Havana’s streets teem with abandoned animals and are littered with carcasses of chickens sacrificed in religious rituals, while, behind closed doors, dogs are thrown into illegal deadly fights. But things are changing in Cuba thanks to pressure from a growing middle class, and the island nation will soon pass a law to protect animal rights.
In April, 2019, 500 people marched through Havana to demand a law protecting animals – it was the first independent and non-political demonstration authorized by the one-party state. A year and a half later, the communist government will next month pass its first law to protect animal rights, in a bid to wrestle the initiative from a movement with the potential to mushroom.
In Havana’s San Miguel del Padron neighborhood, 49-year-old housewife Noris Perez organizes her life around 23 cats and 38 rugged dogs, the first of which was rescued eight years ago from a pavement where it was suffering from epileptic fits. The large dogs live in kennels on the roof while the smaller ones and cats call the kitchen home. At meal times, a cacophony of barks and purrs fills the air as Perez hands out an individual bowl to each and every one.
“All this I do alone” with a little help from her husband, daughter and sometimes some neighbors, she says. The hardest part is feeding them, given that the average Cuban wage is $40 a month and shortages are frequent.
In the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood, Grettel Montes de Oca, 48, lives with 55 cats and four dogs that roam freely all over her house, except the living room. “I have a friend that says this is the ugliest dog in the world,” she laughed while stroking Yoki, an old black dog with damaged teeth and tatty coat that indicate a past of mistreatment.
A professional dancer, Montes de Oca had never owned a pet until she picked up a black cat in 2007. “Once you start saving them, you can never stop,” she said. She’s set u
p a foundation to protect animals that is tolerated by authorities, although not legal.In a sharp contrast, at the Don Silver salon in the Santa Fe neighborhood, cocker spaniel Docky yawns as his claws are filed before receiving a shampooing to remove itchy ticks.
On the next table, chihuahua Luna jumps as a hairdryer is turned on to style her coat. It was one of the first canine beauty salons to open in Cuba, in 2012, by owner Loretta Rivero, 50.
She says “lots of people have put pressure” on the government to enact change. “We fight, like people who want progress and change, against others who are more attached to tradition … things that are basically from the third world.”