A Personal Journey to help the Dogs in Peru

A personal journey by Jim Elliott, the founder of PAWS, the Peru Animal Welfare Society and Globalteer, a registered charity in the UK and Peru.

When I first arrived in Cusco, I had a lot of positive feelings. The people seemed really friendly, the city itself was beautiful and the climate was pretty agreeable to an Englishman abroad.

But having been on the road non-stop for a year, I also noticed a few other things that were not so positive about Cusco. The quality of driving was below average, way too much litter everywhere and all the dogs… so many dogs!

How I started caring about the Dog issue in Cusco

After spending more and more time in Cusco, I wished that something could be done about those few niggling negatives about such a wonderful city. I would often tip taxi drivers who drove carefully and congratulated them on being such good drivers. Surely that would solve the poor driving issue! Obviously not, but it made me feel good about trying. Besides, those safe drivers were always happy (and surprised) with a tip.

The litter, rubbish, garbage, basura—however you name it—was everywhere, mostly when you left the tourist areas. Cusco’s financial wellbeing is based around tourism. So the government would not want to jeopardise that cash flow by littering up the wonderful historical centre.

And then there were the dogs. They were mostly friendly, but it was definitely a problem for a city to have so many animals on the streets. And it certainly does not help with the cleanliness of the city! Out of all the problems the city faces, the dog problem bothered me by far the most, simply because of the daily suffering of the animals. The dogs are in danger from territorial fights, disease, hunger, cold and most of all, those drivers who are not very well trained in the art of driving.

As the famous quote goes – “I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. Then I realised I was somebody.”

“Corruption at its best…They say ‘anger is energy,’ and now I felt fully energised.”
Finding like-minded people

I felt that my first job was to search for like-minded people, as I obviously could not tackle this problem alone. There were a few shelters run by dog-loving residents of Cusco, but they were mostly small and only scratching the surface of the problem. However, one shelter was willing to take it to the next level and go with me to the local government.

We found the department responsible for the issue of dogs on the streets in Cusco, set up a meeting and were hopeful for a fruitful partnership. In the meeting, we explained that we wanted to help, to work together, and to solve the problem together! To our surprise, the response was “How much?” A bit confused we asked, “What do you mean exactly by how much?” The response still annoys me to this day: “How much money will you give me (personally) to have my permission to carry out your work with the dogs?” Corruption at its best. He had no interest in the dogs’ welfare or the associated issues of the number of dogs on the streets. He was interested in making as much money as possible using his governmental position.

This meeting also explained another reason why the problem is so bad in Cusco – all the government money designated to solving the problem was going through this man. So I presumed he drove a nice car and lived in a very nice house in a wealthy neighbourhood that did not have many dogs on the street outside!

As they say, ‘anger is an energy’… and I now felt fully energised to find like-minded people to work with to help end the suffering of dogs in Cusco.

“At the end of the day, dog shelters are trying to solve a never-ending problem.”
What could WE do about this?

So, I finally concentrated all efforts on supporting shelters and the dogs rescued from the streets. Most of the dogs on the streets in Cusco had owners. They just let them out on the streets all day. We were able to provide help to the shelters. Including finances, volunteer help, and just as important, a feeling that someone else cared!

Over the years, I still wished that I could do more. Living in Cusco, I would see so many dogs killed or injured by cars, people abusing dogs, and hearing of the poisoning of dogs by residents fed up with aggressive dogs or the mess they left. Even the local government was poisoning dogs to reduce the population. Indeed, Cusco’s solution of culling dogs obviously didn't work. It is cruel and ineffective as populations quickly recover.

I would see dogs giving birth to litters in my village over and over again. It always made me sad to think of the fate of the pups. The villagers did not want the responsibility to feed the dogs. So they would take them to the city and sell them for pennies. In the end, just to cover the return bus fare. If they could not sell the puppies, they would leave them in the street or tragically throw them into bins.

The shelters are doing great things. And the shelter I still work with, Soy Callejerito, is one of those places where the owners’ passion is infectious. They have been rescuing dogs in Cusco for decades. As well as adopting dogs back to responsible families. Dogs are their life, and they are rescuing more dogs than any organisation in Cusco.

But at the end of the day, dog shelters are trying to solve a never-ending problem. The mission of any charity is for the problem they are trying to solve to no longer exist. The end goal for any dog charity in Cusco must be no more dogs suffering and no need for rescue shelters to exist.

The biggest factor in reducing the suffering of dogs must be sterilisation. This, along with local education, is the most effective way to help the animals.

“PAWS has the vision not only to support existing shelters. But also to reduce the problem in the long-term through an ongoing sterilisation programme.”
PAWS' mobile clinic - The Start of a Solution

When I first arrived in Cusco there were very few veterinary clinics. Over the years, more and more vet clinics opened in the city centre, meaning people had access to the means to care for their dogs. People were becoming more educated, dogs could be seen on leads, and were being vaccinated and neutered. That still left the major problem of dogs breeding and suffering in villages outside the city, where people remained uneducated about caring for their dogs and had no access to veterinary services.

In the village where I live, the average number of dogs is about 5 dogs per household. The people just cannot afford to feed anymore dogs, so they sell or abandon them. The question became: How do we access remote villages in and around Cusco to provide the dogs care, sterilisations and educate the people to be able to care for their dogs? The solution had to be a mobile veterinary clinic to get to the heart of the problem.

Along with the charity that I work for, Globalteer, we created PAWS—the Peru Animal Welfare Society. PAWS has the vision not only to support existing shelters, but also to reduce the problem in the long-term through an ongoing sterilisation programme.

Through the charity, we were lucky enough to receive a grant from The Summerlee Foundation for our dream of a mobile clinic. We could now get to work on stemming the source of suffering dogs in Cusco, the breeding happening in the villages.

The system is simple but effective. We go to a village and talk with the local mayor. We make an agreement to return on a designated date with the mobile clinic and treat all the dogs in the village. We provide health checks, vaccinations and hand out leaflets to help educate the community on how to care for their animals. The mayor in return helps us in promoting the visit and takes his or her part of the credit from the village, getting boost for the next re-election!

During the first care visit, we talk with the dog owners about sterilisation. The following week, we return to a queue of pet owners in the village wanting their dogs sterilised.

“To make this programme successful, we need the help of people from around the world….”

If you love dogs and want to lend a helping paw, you can be part of something amazing! 
What can YOU do to help us

About 10 to 20% of the dogs in villages around Cusco are truly street dogs with no owners. They tend to be fed by the villagers and often rely on restaurants as their source of food. The big issue in the villages is not the supply of food but the access to veterinary care. The villagers can often be persuaded to adopt the street dogs that they are already feeding if they are happy that we will make regular visits in the mobile clinic to provide health care for the dogs.

To make this programme successful, we need donations for medicines, supplies, veterinarians and to get to these villages and vaccinate, care for and sterilise the dogs.

If you love dogs and want to lend a helping paw, you can be part of something amazing! We offer volunteering opportunities with the dog shelter in Cusco. If you cannot volunteer, then please consider helping us with the mobile clinic efforts. Donating a small amount monthly to cover the costs of vaccinating and neuter a few dogs every month is greatest way you can help us from your home. Every little bit helps reduce the suffering of dogs in Cusco, we could not do this without people like you!