On my way home from the pharmacy one morning last year, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to surprise my husband, Ken, with a visit to his workshop in our newly adopted city of Cuenca. As I arrived, I saw a flurry of black fur in the overgrown grass outside his shop, and emitting a tiny yelp, the most adorable little puppy bounced up to greet me, immediately rolling over at my feet for a belly rub. With squeals of delight (from the dog and me), the surprise element of my visit was abandoned, as I scooped up the little scrap of fluff and carried her inside. Within about two minutes I’d already named her Sally, from the Spanish “salchicha” (meaning “sausage”), her absurdly long body and short legs hinting at some Dachshund lineage.
Little Sally was in a pretty sorry state that day. Riddled with fleas and clearly malnourished, I rushed to the nearest vet and procured all the necessary medications that she would need to get rid of the parasites and bugs. I also bought her a food dish, a tiny harness and leash, and a big bag of dog kibble. She was very young, barely weaned from her mother, and kept falling asleep in my arms. I asked around the neighborhood to see if anyone knew where she might have come from, but was told repeatedly that she was just a “perra botada”–an abandoned dog.
By the time I’d returned to Ken’s shop I already knew we would be keeping her, despite him muttering something along the lines of “there is absolutely no way we are taking this dog home with us”. Digging deep into my reserves of duplicity, I fooled my husband into believing that we would just foster her for a few days while we tried to find a nice family for her, but I knew he would come around pretty quickly to the idea of keeping her permanently! A quick phone call to our apartment landlord secured the necessary permissions, and that was how young Sally came into our lives. She is now a healthy, happy, almost-two-year-old pup and has been a continual source of joy for both of us.
So here are my top five reasons why anyone living in, or moving to, Cuenca should consider adopting a street or rescue dog. I promise you that it is absolutely the best thing you could ever do:
1. The Need
Ecuador has more street dogs than anywhere else I’ve been to in Latin America. The reasons behind this are complex and varied, ranging from economical to cultural, but the reality is that they are everywhere. And while many of them get by OK, forging out a life on the streets, a great number end up malnourished, sick, or often being maimed by traffic, poisoned, or worse. Many end up in shelters, run by dedicated volunteers, who struggle to keep up with the huge volume of dogs coming through their doors. So, there is a great need to find safe, loving homes for these furry critters who have often had a rough time in life. Aside from the shelters, many street dogs will simply follow you home, or show up on your doorstep one day–in other words, they will adopt you, if you allow them to! They always seem to make the most grateful pets too, never forgetting that you’ve saved them from an otherwise tough existence. We’ll never know how Sally ended up where we found her, but she most likely would not have survived very long by herself.
2. Affordable Veterinary Care
In stark contrast to the U.S., veterinary care in Ecuador is very affordable. The clinic that we use, which has several competent vets on staff, charges just $8 for a consultation. We never have to book an appointment in advance and Sally has always received excellent care. We had her spayed last summer and it cost $90, which included the “deluxe” service of a gas-style anesthetic (deemed safer than the intravenous method), and a special skin suit to stop her scratching at the stitches (instead of the more commonly used plastic “cone of shame”!). This fee also included medications and a follow-up visit to remove the stitches. Many veterinary practices offer spaying and neutering for as little as $30 for a small dog, and this is probably fine, but we wanted to ensure Sally received the best possible care. Vaccinations are also much cheaper than in the U.S.: Sally recently had her annual shots for a grand total of $16! And if you’re worried about what to do with Fido when you travel, boarding costs are also very low–from as little as $10 per day. Alternatively, you could use a reliable housesitting network such as Trusted Housesitters. Cuenca is a very attractive destination for overseas travelers looking to secure free accommodation in exchange for pet-sitting duties. Many people understandably choose not to own a pet because of the associated costs, and while owning a dog here in Ecuador will certainly add a little to your monthly expenses, it’s a whole lot cheaper than you would expect to pay at home.
3. The Social Benefits
It’s no exaggeration to say that 90% of the friends we have today in Cuenca have been made through Sally! Over the last year a large group of Cuencanos and Expats has formed, meeting on a daily basis at a local park to let their pups run around and play together. This is always a fun social outlet for both the dogs and their owners. Whenever we take Sally for a walk along the river, which is about three times a day (lucky girl!), we inevitably strike up conversations with fellow dog owners. This has led to us developing many acquaintances and some real friendships. It’s always an icebreaker when your dog runs up to someone else’s dog in the park, and we’ve had numerous conversations with locals that would probably not have otherwise occurred if we had been “sin perro” (dogless). If you are a newcomer to Cuenca, and particularly if you relocated by yourself, then adopting a furry companion really could be a great way to help you make friends and get out and about in your new neighborhood.
4. Cuenca is Dog-Friendly!
In Cuenca, and I suspect many other cities throughout Ecuador, business owners do not bat an eye if you bring your furry friend along. It’s quite common to see street dogs wander into restaurants looking for scraps of food, or just hang out in the doorways of eating establishments. We almost always take Sally with us to restaurants and cafés with outdoor seating, and restaurant owners will often bring out a bowl of water for her without us having to ask. One of our favorite restaurants in Cuenca even offers a special hamburger dish just for your furry companion! Taxi drivers have never had any problem with Sally hopping up on our laps in the backseat when we ride into the city. My hairdresser said it would be fine to bring her with me to my appointments if I needed to; even our immigration attorney has a sign on the door saying “Well behaved pets are welcome!” True, Sally is a relatively small dog (about 20 pounds), but we have friends with large dogs who have had similar positive experiences when taking Fido around town. So, having a dog in Cuenca doesn’t have to restrict your social life–quite the opposite!
5. Cuenca’s Abundance of Parks and River Trails
Everyone knows that having a dog forces you to get out and exercise, and Cuenca is one of the most pleasant places to take your new furry companion for long walks. There are miles and miles of riverside trails throughout the city, and dozens of lovely parks where you can let your pup scamper around. Cuenca’s year-round, spring-like climate is also conducive to you being able to go out pretty much every day of the year–no hot summers or freezing-cold winters to worry about. We usually take Sally out three times a day and it’s great for us and her! There are some wonderful hiking opportunities in the countryside surrounding Cuenca, and as long as you don’t enter the boundaries of Cajas National Park, you can take a dog on pretty much any trail.
So, what are you waiting for? Check out an animal rescue shelter, such as Patán Animal Rescue or Fundación Arca, and start looking for your new best friend. Or perhaps he or she will find you as you walk home one day, and persuade you to take them with you. And although this article focuses on dogs, there are of course plenty of cats available for adoption too that will also make excellent companions. It’s a win-win situation for pets and people, if you ask me!