A quick stroll around even some of Bogotá’s more affluent neighborhoods often leads to encounters with what passes for “wildlife” in the densely urban metropolis: stray dogs and cats.
And yet, in a city of almost 9 million human inhabitants with hundreds of government, private and non-profit organizations designed to protect their rights and welfare, Bogotá’s abandoned animals have only one line of defense, and thanks to a bitter legal battle, they could soon be left on their own.
The Association for the Defense of Animals and the Environment (ADA), the only organization of its kind in Colombia’s capital city, runs a bustling shelter in the centrally located Alcazares neighborhood, where they provide affordable veterinary treatment, sterilize pets and strays and offer food and refuge to abandoned dogs, cats, and cart horses.
“Defending animals has never been a priority here in Colombia,” explained Martha Ciro Aguirre, president of ADA. “People always ask us why don’t we do something for children, but somebody has to look out for the animals. We’re the only option they have.”
A non-government organization, ADA thrived for almost 50 years thanks to income from the veterinary clinic, fundraising efforts and private donations. Today, they employ a handful of trained veterinarians and caretakers in addition to a dedicated group of volunteers, most of whom are foreigners.
Though the past few years brought enormous progress in terms of legal and financial organization for the association, which is now completely solvent and employs lawyers for contract negotiations, ADA was created and run for decades by dedicated animal lovers with little business knowledge.
As a result, a former veterinarian who left ADA after 15 years of service managed to successfully sue the organization in 2011 for retroactive payment of years of social security payments owed her due to a confusion regarding the type of contract she signed.
Colombia’s social security administration could take months to come up with the total debt ADA owes the former employee, but lawyers estimate the sum to be as much as $200 million pesos, far exceeding ADA’s capacity to pay without liquidating its assets and shutting down most operations.
“We have to pay. There’s no other legal action we can take at this point,” noted Ciro Aguirre. “Right now we only have the lot for the shelter and a refuge outside of Bogotá to pay her with, and it would be a loss of so much time and work.”
Few people understand the time and effort put into making ADA a successful organization better than Lina Chaves, a former administrator and president of ADA whose relationship with the association began almost 20 years ago.
She noted that, while the situation for animals in Bogotá seems significantly better than when she first started working with ADA, much work remains to be done, particularly with regards to educating people about animal rights and improving pertinent laws.
“Animal welfare is tied to human welfare, but people still don’t realize that,” said Chaves, while noting that perspectives are changing.
ADA’s impact on public opinion shines most clearly in the gradually dwindling number of dogs in the streets and continued pressure to retire the outdated and inhumane practice of using horse-drawn carts to collect recyclables throughout the city.
The association spays and neuters pets at more affordable prices than most veterinarians and continuously pressures politicians in the hope that Bogotá, the last South American capital to allow horse carts within city limits, will comply with promises to ban horses in its streets.
“The work of ADA has been very effective in changing mentalities,” mentioned Chaves. “But there is still much more to do. There will always be more work.”
Unfortunately, such efforts could suffer major setbacks, and Bogotá’s animals risk losing their most prominent champion, if ADA can’t manage to rally support for their cause.
“We want to keep working. We’re viable financially, and we’d love to grow and improve conditions,” said Daniela Neira Ciro, the association’s volunteer coordinator, who plans to help organize a number of fundraisers in the coming months.
For the moment, ADA hopes mainly to spread awareness of their work and the ways in which people both locally and internationally can help their cause.
People can donate anything or can consider adopting an animal, said Martha Ciro Aguirre, who also reminded that, “a million donations of a few pesos each would take us where we need to go.”
Until then, Bogotá’s residents, both two and four-legged, remain optimistic that one of the city’s oldest and staunchest defenders of animal rights not only survives, but prospers.
ADA accepts donations in person at their refuge in Calle 63 No. 26-40, online at www.adacolombia.org, or through their account at Davivienda.
This article and photos are property of Ed Buckley and The City Paper Bogotá and may not be reused without permission.