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Animal Protection in Santa Clara, Cuba: Popular Tradition Driven by a Donkey

A donkey wanders through the city. He knocks on doors with one of his front hooves. He wants bread. Neighbors don’t turn their backs on him: they stroke him, protect him, feed him. He only has one owner, but many who care. He roams the streets alone. Nobody is afraid of him, nobody beats him, nobody takes him. His name is Perico and it’s the 1930s and ‘40s in Santa Clara.

Gustavo Mena Artola knows this story off by heart. He remembers it sometimes, while “diving” in the trash. He finds rusty tanks without a bottom, old car tires, jugs and pots. He doesn’t care that people call him a “diver” because he rummages about in the garbage, or that people think he is mad. Gustavo is only mad about his dogs, the 40 dogs he looks after at one of the animal shelters in Santa Clara.

Gustavo doesn’t have a license or permit. Nor is there a ban that prohibits him from keeping animals on his property. Neighbors don’t complain. The contrary in fact, they help in any way they can: with food, cleaning, medicine.

“My grandson brings his friends and they help me out with many things around the shelter: cleaning, feeding the animals, looking after them,” he says.

Even though Gustavo has had many animals in his home for years now, the San Lazaro Vigio shelter has only existed since 2018. There are only two shelters like this one in Santa Clara, which house almost a hundred animals. However, this isn’t enough.

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