Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dusting off the Soapbox

It's been one of those weeks - you can only rub a person up the wrong way so much before the spleen requires venting. Aren't you lucky to be in the firing line!

The Belmopan Humane Society are having a valentine fundraiser this coming weekend, so I've been spending far too much time brushing up my DTP skills (sorry - is that an outdated phrase these days? Talking to parrots all day doesn't exactly keep you at the cutting edge of modern lingo)

It's a sad fact that too many of these funds raised are spent in putting dogs and cats "out of their misery" and far too few on rescue and re-homing. By the time these animals become apparent to us, it's often too late. Belize undoubtedly suffers from the 'humans first, animals hardly ever' syndrome of a lot of countries with limited resources. Allowing a dog to die on it's chain in the back yard is not uncommon, and kicking an animal out on the streets when it's nearly dead is even less uncommon: saves the trouble of dealing with the corpse. Animals are cheap to obtain and cheap to run: one family wondered why their dog was nearly dead until our Chairman pointed out that raw vegetable waste really wasn't really enough to sustain a dog. Even then, I'm not sure they got the concept of spending money on food specifically for their walking burglar alarm.

Anyway, the reason why I work with the humane society is not that I am particularly active in the dog and cat department, but given this fuzzy line of pet/wild animal status that parrots tend to straddle I work toward the same goals as they do: appropriate and adequate care leads to a better quality of life, therefore extended lifespan, therefore reduced turnover of replacement animals. With a side helping of encouraging interaction with your pet: oh yes, dogs can be caged and ignored just as much as parrots. On top of all the problems Belizean dogs may encounter, some of our younger citizens, impressed by TV borne gang-bling and prison-pants have allowed the creeping cancer of dog fighting to enter their world, with all the guts and glory that go with it. That is a very tough nut to crack indeed and needs a far bigger hammer than we have at our disposal. (Did I use enough cliches there, do you think?)

The web counter tells me that very few Belizeans read this blog compared to US residents, and I don't blame them. I sound like I'm on their case the whole time - which I probably am. But if you look at British history, we were bear & badger baiting, and cock & dog fighting with the best of them, but we moved on. I'm sure the pit-bull and terrier breeders in Merrie Olde England were kicking and screaming as their livelihood went down the pan, but they undoubtedly found something else to do - like beating up on old ladies, probably.

In much the same way, Belize will eventually have to move on (I call it moving on, others may call it damnable interference and a loss of cultural identity). This is no longer a world of isolation and ignorance, and countries like Belize that rely on tourism to boost their economy cannot afford to ignore aforementioned damnable interference, particularly when it's directed at something as visible as the state of their domestic/captive animals. Tourists really don't care if they have to drive through potholes or pee in the bushes - they probably find it quite quaint for a week or two. But show them a starving dog chained up in a yard, or a baby monkey who's mother was shot so her offspring could spend its life on a chain, or a croc dragged off and killed because the locals would not stop feeding it to raise a dollar, then they really take offense - and they vote with their feet.

On the bright side of humane education, and largely thanks to the tireless efforts of long-standing Humane Society members throughout the country, we are starting to see kids take to the concept of 'walking your dog' and 'training your dog'. We are seeing an increase in the purchase of good quality dog chow and of visits to the vet for shots. We get positive feedback from TV interviews with board members and we rejoice when movies like Marley & Me become blockbusters: it's what's missing for Belizean children. I don't care if putting human emotions into an animal is not the 'right thing to do', where children are concerned - it works. My friend has an excellent programme and is desperate for educators to champion her cause throughout Belize. Check out her page and give it a go!

Cultivating an attitude of active compassion amongst the vast majority of the population starts with domestic animals, and hopefully leads to respect for all living creatures, wild or domestic and once you have such a majority attitude, those that abuse or neglect will be shamed and bullied into changing their ways. Until then, it's like that 70's slogan: "Apathy Rules - and I don't give a sh*t.

PS I have to apologise for my sweeping generalisations. I've always done it. I can't help it - it's a compulsion. I don't really mean 'most' or 'all' but... well, more like: "quite a lot". Generally speaking, that is.


  1. Thanks for writing this Nikki. It needs to be written and it needs to be read. I know people who do not like to visit Belize specifically because of the treatment of domestic animals there. (You will likely know one soon as well.) And I know we who live elsewhere, who have all the advantages, are not supposed to be critical. But the fact is that cruelty or neglect, whether through intent or ignorance, is not relative to advantage. It is unnecessary and avoidable and it speaks poorly of its perpetrators wherever they are and whatever their advantages or lack thereof.


  2. Now why can't I write like that? You said everything I tried to say in one short one paragraph! :-)

  3. that was great post, Nikki. Everything you said (despite the sweeping generalizations) was true. When we first started coming to Belize (and Guatemala), I was really freaked out on the condition of many animals in the street and in back yards. Now I am used to it (not for the better), but oddly enough it seems like I see more healthy dogs than I used to, and not just in Placencia area where there are a lot of ex-pats. I am sure that over-population of dogs and cats is a huge problem, as it is everywhere, but in Belize maybe more because people don't have the extra money to get their animals fixed (or culturally don't accept that idea?).