For many North Americans who are used to spoiling their pets rotten and, in fact, treating them as their children (ahem, guilty as charged!), moving to a country like Panama can be a real eye-opener. Here, many parts of the culture have a rather different take on pet ownership; in fact, dogs are often kept for security purposes only and are treated in a manner that would not meet the approval of many folks back home. It can be difficult to understand, and heartbreaking, to see a half-starved dog chained up outside a house or packs of skeletal dogs roaming the streets and rooting through the garbage. But who are we to judge, coming from a country in which shocking stories of animal cruelty seem to be on the news every other day? (Side note: one thing you DON’T see down here are homeless people living on the streets. Panamanian families are very close-knit and people really take care of their own, which is so often not the case in the U.S.)
Nonetheless, Panama does have a serious overpopulation problem with dogs and cats. Until recently, automatically spaying or neutering a puppy or kitten has not been part of the mindset here. One group that’s out to change all that (and is having a real impact) is Amigos de Animales Boquete, a group that has sterilized literally thousands of dogs and cats (!) since its founding in 2005. Amigos is completely funded by donations and run by volunteers. Go here to learn more. And if you feel moved to make a donation, they could really use it.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Once a month, Amigos de Animales runs a day-long low-cost spay/neuter clinic, and John and I got to participate as volunteers yesterday. It was a wonderful experience, and one of the big takeaways was how many Panamanian families participate, as volunteers or by bringing their own pets. Clearly, many, many locals love their kitties and pups as much as any of us “gringos!”
The other big takeaway: this is one well-organized, smoothly operating machine – a veritable animal sterilization assembly line. Although at times it seemed like organized chaos, we were blown away by the professionalism and knowledge of the Animales leaders and how well-thought-out the entire operation is.