Trying to fly under-the-radar, small groups of volunteers are assembling in Venezuela with the mission of tending to the street animals. While these volunteers quietly drop to their knees to serve meals to animals on the sidewalks, the country sways at the edge of a very steep cliff. As long as Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro maintains his death grip, the demand for heroes is at an all-time high.
Meet Hero Carolina Franco
“I work part-time in a telephone call center, and with that, I support myself and my mother,” explains 26-year-old animal rescuer Carolina Franco who earns the equivalent of just 5 American dollars each month (3.8 pounds sterling).
Today Carolina, her mother, and two other volunteers share the responsibility of their fledgling rescue group called Patitas Guau Guau, which roughly translates to Little Legs – Bark, Bark.
“We are a small organization, and 2 years ago, we set ourselves the task of helping the animals,” Carolina explains. “Currently due to the crisis in our country there is a high rate of abandonment and mistreatment of animals. People abandon their lifelong animals because they do not have enough to eat.”
Help Needed to Buy More Food
“We try to save many, but here everything is extremely expensive,” Carolina continues. “We have a mega inflation of 10,000%. And that is why we are in crisis because money does not even reach for a person’s food. Croquettes (kibble) for dogs and cats are around $200 and $400 per bag for type A. If you buy the type C, that is the worst quality, it costs between $30 and $40 a bag. That’s why I explain that with a monthly salary you cannot live.”
“Currently our country has political and economic problems that affect us all,” Carolina continues as rolling blackouts and a halt in the flow of drinking water are further squeezing all forms of life as a result of long-standing mismanagement of the country’s electrical grid. “We do not have light in Venezuela. We have not had drinking water for more than 20 days. Everybody stands desperate. And, of course, we do not have enough to eat. But the donations people give help us to be able to feed the animals.”
“We make feeding patrols every day as long as we have the food,” Carolina explains. “We feed approximately 80 dogs and 25 cats each day and could do more with more help. We have cured sickness, treated emergencies and rescued many animals. We do not have a shelter so we go out to the streets to feed and save as much as we can.”
Patitas Guau Guau has asked for kibble, rice, protein and water. They, of course, would also like medicines for the animals but that is a little more challenging. Sending supplies has become extremely complex now that food is so scarce. Trucks are routinely stopped and looted.
“The police stop you, they want to take the merchandise from your car,” international shipper Gilberto Altuve told America’s National Public Radio (NPR) this week. “Even the firefighters, if they go to your place, if they see someone’s cell phone, they see anything they like, they want to take it.”
And Carolina herself has to be careful.
“I will keep sharing photos of our work in the streets every day, but I must be quick with the camera phone,” Carolina says. “If someone sees it, they will rob me.”
“This is a young woman with a heart of gold,” charitable supporter Anna Smigorska said describing Carolina and her rescue group yesterday. “I don’t mind helping her with money, but it’s just a small amount compared to what they need to feed all the animals and all the vet care.”
“The worst thing is that, because of the crisis in Venezuela, people are moving out of the country but leaving their animals behind,” Anna continued. “What’s more horrible is that they are leaving them locked up in their house or chained up in the garden so they have no chance of surviving. I can’t even imagine the horror for these poor dogs and cats to be left like that to starve to death. Carolina and her family have sometimes been forced to break into a house to save animals that are often very sick and starved.”
Patitas Guau Guau is just one of many volunteer-run rescue groups who are operating daily feeding patrols for animals in the street, making a virtual dinner table wherever they spot an animal in need. It’s emotionally difficult work, but there are people in this world who run toward a problem instead of away from it.
In fact, our street feeders all over the world face daily assault from the weather, from those who hate animals and from men who frequently sexually harass the women. Despite the hardship, the Harmony Fund sustains a large number of street feeding teams in many countries around the world.
“I am so grateful that we can offer a daily meal to the animals who have no home,” Harmony Fund Founder Laura Simpson said. “Relieving the ache of hunger is such a simple thing, but it means so much.”