by Blanka Hay, 29 November 2011.
As one of surprisingly few dog shelters to have been established in Argentina, El Campito Refugio rescues, recovers and rehabilitates literally hundreds of dogs.
Dog receiving much love at the ‘Campito Refuge’ (Photo: Blanka Hay)
A refuge unlike any other, it opens its doors to the public every Saturday, granting constant visibility of the level of care they offer, as well as affording their canine housemates some regular and invaluable human contact. With everyone welcome, I decided to find out what a day at El Campito had to offer.As the minivan moved off road into a field filled with barking dogs, my imagination immediately conjured up the scene from the dog pound in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. But in reality, the sound of caged dogs expressing their woes in various pitches of unified howl was replaced with the noise of excited barks, and my initial sadness was driven away.
The dogs, in their hundreds, were merely overwhelmed by the presence of people. “They feel great,” Marcela Gorla, public relations officer for El Campito exclaimed as she approached the pen to a crescendo of barking. “You can see they’re really happy!”
Clearly a well-established project, hundreds of visitors came prepared with parasols, blankets and food, and laced the field with dogs in hand. Many walked three at a time and knew each one by name.
As a first-timer, I was welcomed into a group of around twenty other newcomers. We were each handed observation sheets on which to note any unusual occurrences with the dogs we would look after, and besides some advice about feeding only small portions of rice, we were left on our own. Unprepared, without the cooked rice I was meant to bring as food, a lead or a sun cream, I stood in a sun-drenched field, burning, and sipping water from a bottle – the only thing I had remembered -and facing a seemingly overwhelming choice.
The decision was in fact, a lot easier than I expected. As I looked over a collection of adoring faces, I knew within a minute which one I wanted to walk. I pointed her out to a volunteer who brought her to me on a borrowed lead. Bocita, or ‘little mouth’, looked at me with her misaligned jaw and a tongue that hung heavily to the right, and I loved her immediately for her imperfections.
Elisa loves the puppies! (Photo: Blanka Hay)
But due to the heat she became docile and wanted only to sleep, and it was then that I found Elisa. Or she found me. Howling objectionably about being tied up on her own and desperate for some attention, we got off to a great start. We ran, we walked, I scavenged food from a fellow volunteer for her, she kissed the puppies when we visited them – she made my day.
But it’s not all hugs and kisses. Receiving no state funding, dog shelters such as El Campito rely only on donations and fund raising, and don’t have to stray too far to catch a glimpse of the underlying realities. Beside the puppies, playful in their cages, lies a shed where bandages are changed and fur is shaved off in preparation for any necessary operations, and the sight of sore amputated legs and fresh cuts can be hard to stomach.
Whilst it may be happy families every Saturday, when hundreds of visitors come to walk and play with the dogs, the conditions that the dogs are received in are not to be underestimated. “During weekdays the refuge is very different,“ says Marcela soberly. “That’s when the ‘real’ shelter work happens, like treatments. We’ll get a call that a dog has been hit by a car and it can’t move, so we pick it up and bring it here.”
Around 110 of the dogs at El Campito are left incapacitated through either amputation or paralysis, and a further 200 are abandoned dogs that the refuge hopes to find a loving family for – sometimes in which to spend the last months of their life.
Doggie can go for walks once more courtesy of the work of the ‘Campito Refuge’ (Photo: Blanka Hay)
The refuge currently boasts 80 successful adoption each month, a number they always look to increase in order to make way for new rescue cases. “We want to provide a home for them, not just somewhere to put them,” says Marcela of El Campito’s aims. An uncomplicated adoption process, with pre-adoption evaluations and post-adoption follow ups, ensures that the right dogs find the right homes.
Despite Argentina being the highest pet owning country in Latin America, a survey released this year by leading pet food manufacturer Mars, revealed that only 2% of the dogs bought by indirect means, are adopted from shelters – a statistic that El Campito is trying to change.
Their hope is that the more frequently people visit, the stronger the relationship they’ll form with a dog, and the more likely they’ll be to adopt. “Like this family,” Marcela says pointing to a father and mother washing a dog together with their young daughter. “They come every Saturday. We call them ‘godmother’ and ‘godfather’ cases. It’s likely they’ll adopt.”
But if your love for dogs or your current circumstances don’t allow you to extend your support beyond a day trip to El Campito, what is a rewarding experience for you can only be a positive benefit for the dogs. “For us it’s important that people come and see what we do, and recognise that all the dogs are well cared for. The best way to see it is to experience it at El Campito,” says Marcela.
Well behaved and ever grateful, these dogs may prove an eye opener from the plush poodle in the park, but they’re just as adorable.
El Campito Refugio, Longchamps, Hipólito Yrigoyen 18500.
Organised minivans cost $35 and leaves from the Obelisk at 12 midday every Saturday, with the exception of the first weekend of every month when the open day is changed to a Sunday. Places in the minivans are limited and must be reserved by email. The vans return at approximately 7.30pm. For more information visit elcampitorefugio.org or join the Facebook page.