Please enjoy the final chapter of the international animal welfare experience known as the End of Summer Series.
Venezuela: A life-altering experience
I was sad to leave Colombia because the country and the people within its borders were absolutely amazing, but it was time to move on to Venezuela. My original plan was to travel overland from Colombia to Venezuela by bus, but many Colombians warned me about the safety hazards of such a plan (the bordering areas of Colombia and Venezuela were a bit unstable at the time). I decided to take another route and booked an affordable flight in order to enter Venezuela by air.
During my flight to Venezuela, I had a pinch in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. I guess I was a bit nervous being that I had previously heard several “unsavory” stories about the welfare of animals in Venezuela, but I knew I needed to see what it was like firsthand (I can be a little too curious sometimes).
Unlike the previous legs of my trip, I was unable to find an animal shelter to volunteer with while doing my research prior to starting my trip. I had been following South American politics for some time, though, and I was highly aware of the political “issues” of Venezuela. The country was in political chaos, but I had no idea how bad it truly was until I stepped foot in the country itself.
When my flight finally arrived in Venezuela, I walked off the plane and scanned the airport for an ATM. I found one and inserted my card, but something odd happened. The machine immediately returned my card. I thought nothing of it and inserted my card again. The same thing happened. I saw an airport security guard and told him my dilemma. Before I could finish my story, he looked at me, then at my bank card, and then shook his head. It turned out that Venezuelan ATM machines wouldn’t accept American cards at the time (at least not mine).
I decided there wasn’t any point in staring at the red “denial” screen on the ATM anymore, so I headed out of the airport and into the bustling city of Caracas. Fortunately, I was meeting up with some people so we could tour down to the Brazilian border together, so the thought of being alone quickly faded. I met up with my group and onward we went.
We traveled down to the border of Brazil, and the experiences along the way were upsetting to say the least. At the time, Venezuela was in a state of social and political turmoil, and many people were trying to flee the country. Dogs dominated the streets and oil pipelines lined the roads of the countryside.
As I traveled through the country, I observed the vast difference in the welfare of animals compared to other countries I previously visited. Every time I passed a dog on the street, my heart broke with the condition they were in, but domestic animals weren’t the only beings suffering from neglect. Like many parts of the world (including parts of the United States), wild animals are used as a source of income for a small group of people. Wild animals are used in roadside zoos and as “pets” around the globe for that matter, but one specific experience in Venezuela showed the ugly truths behind the exotic pet trade.
My group and I were traveling throughout a remote area of Venezuela when our motor boat whipped passed a group of homes (it was a floating village). As we slowly passed, I saw firsthand how wild animals are used to financially benefit humans.
As we slowly drifted pass the floating community, I saw a monkey chained down to a wooden deck of a house. He was bound with a heavy chain around his neck with little to no room to move around. While the petite primate was bouncing around on his short chain, a man yelled out from the house to see if we wanted to take pictures with the animal (for a fee).
When I saw this, I felt my body lose control and warm tears trickled down my cheeks. I was outraged and lost control of my mouth and yelled at the man who “housed” the primate and the park ranger who was leading the tour (we were on the outskirts of a national park). I was yelling so loud that I felt my veins trembling within my neck, but it didn’t make a difference. No difference at all. The park ranger said that he “didn’t understand why I was so angry because other tourists liked taking pictures with the monkey, so why didn’t I?” He also said that people trap wild animals all of the time in order to sell them throughout the world.
Right then and there I realized that the problem wasn’t solely the people who captured the animal(s), but it was also our society for accepting these practices. The sheer fact that there is an exotic pet trade is disturbing.
My experience with the chained monkey may seem minor to some people, but it was pretty intense to see firsthand (along with several local cock fighting rings along the way). The thought of animals around the globe living their entire lives on heavy chains or cramped in cages for entertainment purposes, made me sick to my stomach. I unfortunately saw this in many countries as well (I want to reiterate that this occurs across the globe, not just in Latin America).
One humid evening, my group and I decided to stay at a southern Venezuelan campground for the night. We were having a good night and we were almost to the Brazilian border (which meant I was getting closer to my next animal shelter volunteer opportunity). The excitement of entering the Brazilian portion of the Amazon rainforest had us in good spirits, and we were all excited to finally enter Brazil.
The following morning while eating breakfast, the owner of the campground ran by with a wooden pole in his hand while chasing a stray dog he found on his property (his dog recently had a litter of puppies I presume by the dog he was chasing). As the man ran by us attempting to beat the dog, I yelled “Stop!” and tried to grab him by the arm, but was pulled back by a person in my group. The man didn’t think twice because he finally caught up and beat the dog close to death. I will never forget wailing cries of the dog as the life was being beaten out of him. The man finally stopped beating the dog, but then threw his right arm down toward the injured canine and shot the dog with a pistol. To this day I can’t get the cries for help that the dog yelped that day out of my head. I cried for hours, and I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach for days. I was literally sick to my stomach and felt absolutely hopeless. If I couldn’t help that one dog; what made me think I could help other animals in need?
I visited several other countries after traveling through Venezuela, but I could go on and on for months talking about my experiences. I want to make it clear though that I met some remarkable people while traveling throughout Latin America. Every country had amazing things to offer, while some had various degrees of animal welfare. I’m going to be honest with you, I think I’m obsessive about my work not, only because it’s my passion, but also because of the dog I couldn’t save that day in Venezuela. I couldn’t stop his murder (although I continuously rethink the situation and how I could have stopped it), but I’m determined to change the lives of animals in need from now on.
Our country is fortunate to have compassionate animal shelters and people who truly care. Throughout my journey, I learned about the importance of social stability, compassion and awareness, but my international animal welfare experience made me realize how lucky we truly are.
Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month
October is Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog month. Come on in and select your new canine friend for a reduced adoption fee. The shelter is located at 812 S. McLane Road, open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily (excluding holidays). For more information, visit www.humane societycentralaz.org or call us at (928) 474-5590.
Sid is a 1-year-old male Lab/hound/ husky mix. This handsome little chap was found as a stray. He responds well to women and loves to talk.
Zuni is a 7-year-old female Akita mix.
Rhianna is a 2-year-old female domestic medium hair feline who was found as a stray.
Jack is a 2-year-old male hound/ Shepherd mix. He was surrendered because his owner could no longer care for him.
Bella is a 3-year-old female ridgeback hound mix who was surrendered because her owner moved.
Bobbie Jean is a 7-year-old female border collie mix who was found as a stray.