CITIZEN JOURNALISM – Animal Rescue on the Coast Expats Join In to Help

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by Jonh Keeble

A Cuenca animal rescue team steps through the earthquake devastation in Manabi province, carefully checking the area for the silent suffering left behind when the human victims were taken to safety or laid to rest.

The team, part of an Ecuadorian and expat effort, are looking for dogs, cats or any of the thousands of animals in need of veterinary attention, food or shelter.

 “In any disaster, people always
come first and the animals can be

 says Cristina Bernardi, the lead veterinarian, who holds dual Italian and Ecuadorean citizenship and switches easily between Spanish and English. “Animals suffer, like people, and we need to help them.”

This rescue mission is the second for the volunteer team, organised by the ARCA Foundation for Animal Protection. The first, two days after the April 16 earthquake, included emergency animal operations on the spot as human survivors were still being evacuated. On this trip, there are still injuries to treat, but most of the work is helping with diseases, parasites, bad treat-

ment and malnutrition.

“We still need to search for animals
living in ruins or on the streets,”

adds Cristina, a small animals surgery professor at the University of Cuenca and a long-time volunteer for ARCA. The ARCA team, using medicines and food donated in Cuenca by Ecuadorians and expats, are again based in Manta, one of the worst-hit areas, for this second rescue mission. A local vet is working with them and has given them the use of his house and surgery facilities as their base.

DAY 1 sees the team working in poor earthquake- damaged villages around Manta. The people have been told that there will be free clinics – and

queues form as the team sets up worktables and unloads the bags of animal food. In the background, as the team works, men are repairing damaged homes.

DAY 2 is a stark contrast: The team goes into the sealed off Ground Zero at Tarqui, once a vibrant center of life in Manta, now a place of death and destruction. The team searches for animals and rescues them before they face new dangers from demolition. Nearby,

people and animals are still living, and the team goes from animal to animal to give vaccinations, worming, medical treatment and food. Seven dogs are found to be gravely ill with distemper. There is nothing to be done except end their suffering.

DAY 3 means setting up a clinic in a park in the severely damaged town of Calceta. Animal patients arrive on foot and or riding with owners on bicycles and motorcycles. Part of the team, led by ARCA president Valentina León, goes to a UNHCR camp for displaced people. They find that only one dog has been allowed in, and they negotiate with the camp to allow families to go back for their pets and move them into the camp under the supervision of a local vet.

In the afternoon, the team drives to an army base at Chone collects three soldiers for protection and then

goes to a district where they set up a roadside clinic. The demand is enormous. People and their animals stream in, all suffering from poverty made worse by the earthquake. The soldiers push them into lines for assessment, treatment, and food. There is so much work that the clinic lasts into the evening and light has to be provided by mobile phone torches. The soldiers look increasingly tense because this is an area known to be lethally dangerous after dark, but no one will leave until the last animal is treated. Then the soldiers bundle the volunteers into their car and pickup and head back to the army base.

DAY 4 splits the team, some searching for abandoned animals, some going to the UNHCR camp, some going back to Ground Zero. Then everyone heads back to Cuenca, arriving just before midnight.

H O W  Y O U  C A N  H E L P

You can be part of ARCA’s next rescue mission by donating money, food and

other items. Use the website at

John Keeble

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