The plight of animals in Guatemala
Animals are generally not well treated in Guatemala. They are usually regarded as something which serves a purpose - as food, or as a source of work, such as carrying loads, or guarding the house. A domestic animal is often not so much seen as a pet, but as a status symbol. Guatemala is a poor country, and conditions are tough and life difficult for many people. Poverty combined with a non-benevolent attitude towards animals makes for a largely unhealthy situation, for domestic animals, and for animals in general.
Nests are robbed to sell baby parrots, macaws, toucans or monkeys in the market or on the street to tourists. Birds and small mammals such as squirrels are systematically hunted either for food or for sport - or to destroy what is perceived to be a competitor for scant resources. Horses and mules are required to carry disproportionate loads - as, indeed, are many humans - whilst being given an inadequate diet and inappropriate treatment. When an animal can no longer work, or becomes sick or is injured, it will simply be abandoned. The plight of animals in Guatemala is not so much a question of cruelty, but one of neglect and lack of understanding.
Veterinary care is often unavailable or too expensive. It is easier to abandon a sick animal than to attempt to cure it. The solution of municipal authorities to what is perceived as the ‘Rabies Problem’ is the indiscriminate distribution of meat poisoned with strychnine, killing in unnecessary agony animals infected or not, homeless or not. These is often put into effect just before public holidays - for example, Easter Week, in the hope that tourists will not be offended by the sight of the street dogs, and take away a negative image of Guatemala.
The street dog problem is acute, and heartbreaking - and could be relieved by regular, low-cost spay/neuter clinics. It is not easy to ignore the sight of an almost hairless dog, ribs protruding, scavenging for food at the roadside with its last reserves of strength and the light of desperation in its eye, teats so distended after so many litters as almost to touch the ground, knowing that it can scarcely feed itself, let alone the puppies, who will surely die - possibly becoming playthings for children beforehand.
It is sad to see the behavior of children towards these street animals. A four-year-old child swinging a kick at a hungry dog, who cringes away from what it has learned is the human menace. AWARE has rescued kittens that were being thrown, by a teenager, to provide entertainment and eventually food for his dog.
People view domestic animals with a great deal of nonchalance and a terrible lack of fore-thought. They are often regarded as a status symbol rather than a pet - to be abandoned once the novelty wears off, or as the fashion changes. A young couple will get themselves a puppy - and then abandon it when the wife becomes pregnant. Someone living in a large house with a garden will be able to provide a good home for a dog - until they move to an apartment in the city, when they will have no qualms about leaving their faithful companion to the mercy of the street.
Plight of animals:
There is a systematic lack of education about animal welfare and their proper care. The standard food for the family dog is tortillas - not surprising when the family may very well not have much else with which to feed themselves, but ultimately fatal for the dog. Thanks to endemic crime, the family dog is often no more than a guardian, and as such left tied to a 1-metre piece of rope throughout its life, living and sleeping in its own excrement, often on a concrete terrace in constant exposure to the sun.
The solution to all these problems is, of course, proper education, and this is central to AWARE’s policy and aims, in tandem with spay/neuter clinics and the promotion of spay/neuter awareness. The suffering of animals in Guatemala can be relieved, with the consequent improvement to the overall quality of life of the human population. What is required is a good example for people to follow, and appropriate and effective education of children. With time, those street dogs could disappear - because they will all have been taken in by loving and caring homes.