By: Tadia Toussaint
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – Dogs are everywhere in Haiti: under parked cars, dead on the roadside, roaming the streets. Not only are they everywhere but they’re hungry. You find dogs climbing the piles of trash on the street corners with their noses buried looking for just about anything to relieve their hunger.
The dogs, most of which are mutts, are referred to as chien peyi or “country dogs” on the island. Their rib cages pierce through their fur and many of them are bruised in the face or have broken legs.
The street vendors throw rocks at the dogs when they come fishing through their merchandise for food. The street dogs don’t bark. Their tails don’t wag. The dogs are afraid of people.
“If the people are living under poor conditions, it’s normal for animals to be in poor condition too,” said Dr. Wousvel Jean Jacques, a veterinarian working on the Street Dog Project.
In a country where human health needs cannot be met, animals’ welfare become even less of a priority.
“People here don’t see the urgency to help the dogs,” Dr. Wousvel said. “First and foremost they don’t develop the love relationship with the animals, secondly they don’t see that if they take care of the animals, provide shelter and feed them, they could resolve a lot of problems.”
The dogs that are abandoned from the home become the street dogs of Haiti. A lot of dogs were displaced after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Many of them ended up dead, injured, neglected or out in the wild leaving every dog for themselves.
“The dogs are exposed to a lot of danger and anything could happen when they are in the streets,” Dr. Wousvel said.
The dogs’ poor health is a threat to people, if they get vicious and bite. Many of the dogs aren’t vaccinated and are exposed to bacteria in the dirty water they drink off the street.
“The animals in the streets have never received care. They are infested with parasites which can eventually be transmitted to people,” Dr. Wousvel said. “We have communicated with people from the Ministry of Agriculture who should be handling these issues however they don’t have the resources– the money nor the amount of people, to help solve this problem.”
The people themselves are exposed to a number of illnesses and malnutrition because of financial barriers. Water contamination has been a major concern.
The Haitian government provides free rabies vaccines twice a year and owners take their dogs. However, the street dogs don’t receive that level of care.
Diane Gillard is the founder and executive director of Haiti’s Street Dog Project. The Haitian-American who moved to Haiti last year, started the dog project after seeing the conditions of the dogs.
“The street dog project is dear to my heart,” Gillard said. “I realized the number of dogs in the streets that were homeless and really didn’t have any direction or care. So, I used my own money and start feeding dogs in the streets.”
Gillard said she called animal agencies in the states but found no programs or anyone readily available to assist her when she sought for consultation and help.
In the states, there are tons of advocacy groups and stray animal organizations addressing homeless and abandoned pets. These initiatives are efforts to minimize the number of street animals. Organizations like Hope for Paws and Street Dog Foundation provide the animals with shelter, food and adoption opportunities.
Currently, Gillard and the administrators of the dog project are scouting a location to run a pilot of the program. During the pilot, they plan to educate the residents of that community about pet care, teach them health and nutrition tips needed to care for pets.
She launched the Facebook page — to raise awareness about the project. The project Gillard hopes will address the street dog issue by collaborating with the Haitian veterinarians partnering with the Haitian government to create an infrastructure that enforces animal control, animal safety and animal shelter.
The pilot will also give them an idea of the capacity and resources needed to manage the dogs in a single community.
“In Haiti, it’s really out of control, which is why our project will focus on population management,” Gillard said.
In rural Haiti, she says, animals/dogs have owners but there really is no accountability method to track who owns a particular dog.
“Our program is going to design models so that people can be accountable for their dogs and to track dogs that are owned versus the dogs that are strays,” Gillard said.
The objective of Haiti’s Street Dog Project is to be Haiti’s first animal control system where people can bring their pets for healthcare and families can adopt animals to bring into their homes. They’ve been in contact with the Ministry of Agriculture to assist with establishing proper care for the country’s animals. They need $100,000 USD to get it up and running. Their GoFundMe campaign has raised $1720 so far.
Humane Society International, a large international organization addressing Haiti’s street dog dilemma visited Haiti after the earthquake and participated in the Ministry of Agriculture’s 2012 rabies vaccination campaign where 250,000 street dogs were reached.
Dr. Wousvel also said they plan to sit and discuss with the Ministry of Agriculture how the government can help contribute to the project whether it be vaccines or land to build the establishment.
For now, Haiti’s streets are operating under the dog eat dog motto, literally, until Haiti Street Dog Project gets off the ground.