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Animal Rights in the Dominican Republic
It’s 10am on a Saturday morning in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone. Today, instead of watching the morning news, I’m firmly holding the tail end of a surgical table in a desperate attempt to demonstrate to my girlfriend that I’m strong enough to handle what’s happening before our eyes.

The surgeon, searching the patient’s entrails with his right pointer finger, jokingly says, “Wow… no electricity today. It feels weird not having electricity in the Dominican Republic.” I let out a whimper of a laugh since I’m still trying to hold down the cereal and milk I had eaten just an hour before.

I let my eyes wander, in order to avoid fixing my sight on the patient’s wide-open stomach. “Not the nicest facilities,” I think to myself: a dark operating room, a surgical table that looked like it had been used during the battle of Gettysburg, noisy patients in the waiting area and the obvious lack of a secretary to answer the numerous calls.

“Focus,” I say to myself, as I concentrate once again on the surgery at hand, now alone, as my girlfriend had since fled the surgery room, too grossed out to see more. In front of me are two young men in their 20s, working as a team to finish the first of this morning’s operations. The procedure seems very complicated and tedious, as the head surgeon pokes and prods through the stomach of the unconscious patient.

After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably a half an hour), the target is ready to be removed. With the assistant holding it in place, the head surgeon cuts the object out, placing it on the metal surface of the surgical table. Less than a minute later, another object, identical to the first, is placed in a V shape formation next to its partner. “What’s that?” I think to myself. After wiping some blood from the surgical opening, the surgeon answers my question. “This is what they call the V of the fallopian tubes,” he says. “This is where the egg is fertilized.”

On this Saturday morning I find myself at the Patronato Amigos de los Animales (PADELA) - one of the few animal protection agencies in the Dominican Republic. Founded in 1983, this non-profit organization has been quietly helping improve conditions for the capital’s stray cat and dog populations through a variety of services that include collecting the animals off the street, administering proper vaccinations, performing sterilizations, and finally, putting them up for adoption or returning the animal to the place from which it was collected.

Now, as the organization approaches its 25th anniversary, PADELA is falling on hard times. In a country where animal rights and abuse are ranked far lower on the list of priorities than other social problems, organizations such as PADELA suffer greatly in their attempt to collect the funds they need for their intended missions.

“Sometimes all the cages we have are full and up to four dogs are loose in the office so we can’t bring in any more,” says Manuel Híchez, a veterinarian who works part time at PADELA. “People have told me that they will let them loose if we don’t accept their dog … and they throw them out on the street. But sadly, because of our limited space, we can’t have too many animals.”

Due to its status as an official non-governmental organization (NGO), the Dominican government earmarks a total of RD$10,800 a month to PADELA, an amount that sometimes takes several months to be paid and usually only covers the cost of the office utilities. PADELA itself is left with the task of drumming up enough resources to support their very needy patients. These funds usually trickle in from sparse donations and at times from the pockets of their own staff. One peek inside PADELA’s humble office/shelter suggests that although the money doesn’t pour in as fast as the strays, somehow things are being held together.

“The government funding is supposed to pay for everything, but that money covers next to nothing. (The dogs) are like children, you can’t tell them that they’re not going to eat today. You have to find (the money) any way you can for food and medicine,” says Híchez.

PADELA may be going through tough times, but they are not alone in their support for animals. There are around five registered animal protection agencies throughout the country. These include: The Sociedad Dominicana Para La Prevención de Crueldad a los Animales (SODOPRECA), Fundación Salvavidas, Fundación Dominicana de Estudios Marinos (FUNDEMAR) and the Sosua-based Amigos de los Animales. The funds available for these organizations vary quite a bit, with some enjoying a larger resource pool than others. Despite the difference in wallet size, each of these organizations has more or less the same mission: to protect the rights of animals and promote their wellbeing, so, why can’t they work together? PADELA’s vice-president Luisa Pérez admits that she has contacted SODOPRECA at times for cases she cannot handle, but also attributes the ultimate lack of teamwork to personal politics. She mentions that in the Dominican Republic especially, many prefer to take the credit rather than share it with others.

“I’m not the type of person who believes in self-promotion, and I don’t do things so that others can say, “Luisa you did it”- it’s not like that,” says Pérez. “Yes, there is rivalry between the groups, but I don’t see why we can’t help each other. It’s a small country, but none of us can expect to do anything alone.”
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