Brazilians are well known for their spontaneous barbeques and happy go lucky attitudes. These spontaneous and noisy parties are perhaps an escape from the reality of a country severely divided into two financial classes. The rich and the poor and the gulf between them is huge. The same can be said of the dogs, says Janice Cabral who runs the dog charity 'Dogs In Brazil'.
They largely fall into the same category of either being pampered or completely neglected. The large majority of dogs in Brazil suffer a miserable existence. The streets are full of sick, hungry, mange ridden animals, fighting to exist in a harsh environment. The majority are abandoned dogs and dogs breeding in the streets. Dogs are disposable here and should one become sick, old, or have problematic behaviour, they are quickly dumped to fend for themselves.
They face many dangers from traffic accidents, diseases through lack of vaccinations; they are sacrificed during witchcraft ceremonies, and some are killed as people fear the diseases they assume they carry. The majority of the poor cannot afford veterinary treatment, vaccination spay or neuter. Their most basic needs aren’t met some survive on scraps the family throw them. Many live out their lives on the end of a chain acting as a living door bell.
A street dog, pictured here, sleeping rough
Hardly any are permitted to live inside and become part of the family as is common in the first world. Dogs are mainly considered dirty and a nuisance. I was once told that the average life span for a street dog, such as those pictured here, is 12-18 months old.
And he's not the only one, here are two other street dogs sleeping on the streets in Brazil
Many of the dogs that are roaming the streets have owners. They rarely have fenced properties; therefore the dog lives outside wandering the streets during the day looking to supplement their meagre diets and facing many of the same dangers faced by the street dogs.
Here's a street dog searching for food in rubbish left on the streets
There are, of course, some people who help these dogs. They are mainly privately funded any charities or non profits have more work than they can handle. Laws here do forbid the chaining of dogs and cruelty, but they are rarely implemented by the overburdened legal system in a country where crime is rife. Dogs In Brazil were funded privately from 2001 up to 2011 when a huge disaster hit the area where we are based. The tragedy made it impossible to continue without help. Ninety nine percent of our donations come from the first world.
And another searching a bin for food to survive
We take in any dog that we see at risk of dying through abuse, accident, starvation, disease, old age, or puppies too young to survive on their own. Whilst the dogs of the rich live their pampered lives out many on the streets are being abused. We have several badly abused dogs here. This culture seems endemic in the third world. In the rural areas it is worse than the larger towns. Of course, in the slums it is a rough life for any dog.
Nina, pictured here, was an abused dog rescued by Dogs In Brazil
Dogs are regularly poisoned here when they become a nuisance the neighbor just gives them some ground glass, rat poison, or lead in a sausage and they consider the problem solved. If Brazil as the seventh richest nation wants to move into the first world then many cultural changes would need to evolve. Education is probably the key to changing things. Schools should be working on projects to teach children to respect animals and their environment. The basic education for a poor person here is inadequate with huge numbers of illiterate people. Compassion for animals is not abundant. This lack of compassion is passed down from one generation to another.
We have saved some terrible cases of abuse Oscar was one of the worst. He was chained and starving. The owner didn’t want him so just stopped feeding him. He had a huge infestation of Bot fly larvae all over his bony body.
Oscar, pictured above, when he was first rescued
Oscar, pictured here, after spending some time with Carlos from Dogs In Brazil
This all sounds very pessimistic, but there has been a slight improvement in the last few years as more members of the population are getting involved with animal protection, unfortunately they are not backed up by the juridical system here. The shelters run by different municipals and funded by the local government can range from humane to death camps depending on the municipal. It’s a lottery for dogs. Adoption is very difficult here as there are so few good homes for the vast amount of unwanted dogs. Many people want a dog or a puppy but just don’t the conditions to maintain the dog in a healthy and safe environment. This is why we send our dogs to other countries. Of course, we know there are many abusers of animals globally but we usually know the person via Facebook and they take on the travel expenses and have to wait quite a while whilst the dog is prepared to travel.
So far we have been lucky and receive regular updates from dog adopters in Germany, the USA and Canada. These updates keep us motivated. There is nothing like seeing one of our dogs living in luxury like a real companion animal should do.
Faith was also in an appalling condition and now lives in California. She has a loving dog Dad, her own sofa, walks in the pet park and a canine best friend. She was dying of starvation and full of mange living off trash here. I often imagine the surprise her previous owners who dumped her would have if they knew where she was now.
Faith, pictured above, when she was first rescued by Dogs In Brazil
Faith, pictured here, settled into her new home with her canine friend in California
We have had numerous volunteers from all around the Globe. Khaya Castagnoli came here to help us and plans on coming back soon. Here is her take on the canine situation here.
Having visited Brazil regularly throughout my childhood, I had seen for myself that there was a nationwide problem with stray dogs and cats – many of them starved and dying. Whether it was sneaking them scraps from my plate or on occasion taking them in for the night, I had always wanted to help. I started following Dogs in Brazil on Facebook a couple of years ago and was immediately astounded by the stories of the dogs they had taken in, many of which are the worst cases of cruelty and neglect I have ever seen. The charity is run by married couple Jan and Carlos and their page keeps its followers constantly updated on their charges as they transform from being physically and mentally broken into healthy, happy dogs.
Khaya, pictured above, spending time with Oscar during her time voluteering with Dogs In Brazil
By the time I came to volunteer with Dogs In Brazil (DIB) I felt like I knew all the dogs personally already. I arrived in Teresopolis during a heat wave which had lasted for days, and was met by Carlos at the bus station. We arrived at the house to a chorus of barks and howls from the forty lucky dogs in residence at the DIB headquarters. Jan was inside preparing a large batch of liver and rice, surrounded by a congregation of eagerly anticipating dogs. While I stayed with them I assisted with the day to day chores, such as feeding, cleaning and applying medication, as well as giving extra cuddles to the dogs.
The more I learned about Jan and Carlos, the more in awe I was at their incredible strength and selflessness in the face of disaster. A few years ago they had a successful business in Petropolis which they ran alongside rescuing street dogs. However in January 2011 everything changed when devastating landslides devoured the mountainous towns of Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of people and animals were killed and it is clear that the memory of this still haunts them both. Their business ruined, Jan and Carlos set about rescuing people and dogs alike from the ruins of their neighbourhood. One dog in their care, Nicki, was found buried up to her neck in mud, surrounded by her dead human family.
The shadow of this incident was particularly palpable one evening during my stay when, three years to the day after the disaster, an enormous storm struck Teresopolis. The rain lasted for over 24 hours, leaking through the roof of their house. Hail stones as big as pennies smashed against the kennels and the electricity was down for hours. The dogs were terrified, and as we all sat in the dark, holding buckets under the leaks and trying to comfort the most distressed dogs, Jan and Nicki sat huddled together, united in their memories. Thankfully the storm eventually passed and the overwhelming heat that had been shrouding us for days finally subsided.
Khaya, pictured here, applying medications to help care for the dogs
Since the disaster Jan and Carlos’ existence has been purely devoted to Dogs In Brazil (DIB) having sold all their assets to put into the rescues they now rely entirely on donations, and as a tiny independent charity with a relatively small following these sometimes aren’t enough. Due to the amount of vulnerable, sick and elderly animals in their care, vet expenses mount up invariably. They take in the worst cases, the ones others can’t or won’t help. Multiple health problems arise constantly as well as general needs such as flea medication and spay/neuter surgeries. The vet care in Brazil is not the best and is vastly overpriced. One of the dogs I met during my stay, Minnie, passed away recently from renal failure, a disease which could have potentially been kept at bay had it been treated, but the necessary treatment in Brazil costs thousands of pounds, which DIB simply does not have. Even though Minnie eventually succumbed to her illness, she lived a life full of love and safety instead of dying alone on the street as is the fate of so many homeless dogs in Brazil.
Murphy, a zealous black lab, was on the brink of death when she was brought in with a machete wound across her body. She needed surgery and a blood transfusion but she beat the odds and is now DIB’s resident mum to the puppies in the house. Other essential treatments and medicines are at times impossible to buy in Brazil, and need to be flown in from abroad which of course add to costs even more.
The love they show each and every one of their charges is inspirational. They share toast with the dogs at breakfast time and have a special treat window in the kitchen which constantly has canine visitors. During my stay, Luiza, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier was found and brought in by Carlos.
Luiza, pictured here, when she first came into rescue suffering from the skin condition
She was completely bald and covered in sores from mange which meant she had to be kept separated from the other dogs due to the contagiousness of the disease.
Khaya, pictured here, bathing Luiza who was rescued with severe mange
She had been living on scraps in the street when Carlos brought her home; I helped Jan give her a treatment bath for her skin and she made little noises of pleasure at the relief of the cold water against her sores. Now she is almost completely recovered and has a beautiful shiny black coat. The transformation is truly incredible.
The dogs have a great home with Jan and Carlos, but in order for them to be able to continue taking in those in desperate need homes must be found for the dogs like Luiza who are now adoptable. Despite the lack of kennels and funds, DIB never turns away a dog in need. The most vulnerable, particularly the elderly and very young live inside the house, whilst the others have their own houses and outdoor areas in the grounds. Carlos spends much of his time building these by hand to make room for new recruits. It’s a slow process as helpers are few and far between and they cannot afford to hire someone on a day to day basis. If DIB had the funding they needed they could expand the grounds and offer shelter to so many more animals in need.
Khaya, pictured here, caring for Henry during her time volunteering with the rescue
Jan and Carlos devote their lives to the dogs in their care. From 6am until late at night they work tirelessly as a team to make sure all the dog’s needs are met. They home cook the dogs’ meals, treat them for their many ailments and on top of that ensure that every single one of them knows that they are loved - dedicating time to each dog personally to work on their mental scars. Under Jan and Carlos’ care, the dogs live a life of luxury, as for the couple themselves however, life is not so easy. They live very modestly, surviving on the bare minimum and day to day they struggle to accommodate the needs of an increasing number of dogs. This regularly results in Jan and Carlos going without basic necessities in order to keep the dogs looked after, whose needs are always put before their own. Far from feeling sorry for themselves, they told me they had never been happier.
One can’t help but be humbled by the pure selflessness and dedication shared by these two extraordinary people and the bravery and resilience shown by the animals who have overcome the most appalling treatment at the hands of humans. One of the worst cases, Tessa, had been beaten so severely by her previous owners that she would cringe away in fear when approached. Thanks to DIB she is learning to trust again, but it will take a lot of time and love before she realizes that she is truly safe from harm. If DIB don’t get the support they need, dogs like Tessa, pictured below, would have no hope of a happy life. The work never stops, nor do the expenses, yet still they carry on every day working themselves into the ground to save the lives of those in their protection.
I left Teresopolis with a heavy heart, wishing I could do more to help the two most inspirational people I’d ever met, and the dogs who were so very grateful to have been given a second chance. It was like leaving one big happy family, and I felt like I’d left part of me behind with them. They might not have much, but in their corner of the world they make a huge difference to a lot of lives – including mine.