Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dispatches From Havana

Here is the first in a series of reports directly from Havana.
Susana Hurlich is Spanky Project's Coordinator of Projects.

Susana reporting from the field…

Report #1 of our mini-sterilization campaign of mini-dogs at Quinta de los Molinos

Our mini-sterilization campaign for mini (or small) dogs began at Quinta de los Molinos on Sunday, November 2nd. With the Spanky Project providing all the essential medications and disposable supplies, our wonderful collaborating veterinarian at Quinta – Dr. Leyssan Cepero Fiallo, DMV – was the operating surgeon. Leyssan is also the veterinarian for the Historian’s Office of Havana. Here he is at his microscope that we provided to Quinta last year:

He was assisted by his wife, Dr. Yanaisy (Nana) Pino Quintana, who did the anaesthetic and post-operative care. Nana, who actually specializes in birds, is the veterinarian at the nearby Asociación Ornitológica de Cuba (Cuban Ornithological Association). Below you can meet Nana holding a young bird in her care:

The third member of the team was Yoany Alfonso, a second year veterinarian student at the Veterinarian Faculty of the Universidad Agraria de la Habana. Because this campaign will be going at a slow pace – two or three animals each Sunday for the next five or six weeks – it provides an excellent opportunity for the two young vet students (the other is Ernesto, a third year student), who occasionally assist Leyssan, to have some hands-on practice. Not, however, with the surgery itself, which doesn’t begin until their fifth (last) year of studies. Here’s an image of Yoany (green shirt) and Leyssan (blue shirt) in the small Quinta lab, where the surgeries are taking place.

 However, at today’s campaign, instead of sterilizing small dogs, we sterilized two small cats! The reason is that October 27th is Día del Gato Cubano (Cuban Cat Day), and in honour of this special day, we decided to kick off our campaign sterilizing two cats!

Before I tell you about the two cats, let me tell you a little bit about Día del Gato Cubano. The celebration of this day is thanks to the Asociación Cubana de Aficionados a los Gatos (ACAG, or Cuban Cat Fanciers Association, of which I’m a member thanks to the four kitties with whom I share my life), which chose this day to pay homage to cats, as it was on October 27, 1991 that ACAG was founded. With more than twenty years of existence, this organization is dedicated, above all, to the conservation and protection of felines. Since 1992, ACAG members and Cuban cat lovers in general celebrate this day with various activities, such as children’s art programs and exhibitions dealing with the theme of cats. Cuba isn’t the only country in the world that has a special day for cats. Similar days exist in Italy (February 17), Poland (February 19), Argentina (February 20), Russia (March 1), Great Britain (August 8), the US (October 29) and Belgium (the second Sunday in May).

OK, now back to the campaign – and our two symbolic but very real cats! And here they are – in Leyssan’s arms before surgery. The yellow tabby is called Yelow (one l as two ll’s, in Spanish, is pronounced like a “ye” sound) and the black and white kitty is called Musita.

And they have an interesting story to tell. Musita and Yelow live at Conde de Villanueva, a fairly upscale hostel in Habana Vieja. Like many hotels, restaurants and museums in Habana Vieja, workers at this hotel have “adopted” abandoned dogs and cats. In the case of Conde de Villanueva, they have two cats (Yelow and Musita) and three dogs. The director and vice-director (Lili) – a married couple who love animals – have decided that the hotel can’t support any more than these five animals, and wanted the two cats sterilized. These two cats, who are now about eight months old – and hence ready to reproduce! – were taken in by Lili when they were just tiny abandoned kittens. They are fed regularly with (delicious) scraps from the kitchen. Because their primary caretakers had to work the day of the surgeries, they were brought to Quinta the evening before where Leyssan kept them in a large cage provided by the Spanky Project.

The surgeries went very well and both kitties received a tattoo in their left ear, which is the symbol used by Quinta for dogs and cats sterilized on their premises. The tattoo is SP for the Spanky Project, which was their creation and something we only learned about very recently! The kitties recovered quickly and returned to their home Sunday afternoon.

Next, two small dogs are scheduled to be sterilized, both of whom are in early stages of pregnancy. Leyssan calls the owners beforehand and has a small waiting list readily at hand…