Monday, May 31, 2010

For-Real "Slumdogs" in Brazil: Monday Journal #1 (of 2)

The Brazilian town of Caxias do Sul has found a novel way to deal with its rampant stray-dog problem. Because shelter space is so scarce, the organization called So Ama (Just Love) has built and housed over 1000 dogs and about 200 cats in a shanty-town, or favela, comprised of small dog houses and tin shacks.  Favelas are also used to house the city's poor; most would call these units slums.

In other words, "homeless" dogs in Brazil now have their own slums in which to live.

When I first saw the story, on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, my emotions were mixed.

Perhaps my initial reaction of distaste was based on the negative connotation of "slum" as a desperate, despairing place of crime and poverty.   Maybe a better word for what So Ama has built would be "shelter', which has a much more humane connotation, as I would be the first to agree. 

Still, before I read more about So Ama's naive wish to change the world for these unfortunate animals, and to provide them with shelter space before the demand far exceeded the supply of shelter housing, I had to pause.  It looked like a mockery of human poverty, and a sad reminder that much of the world regards animals as unfeeling creatures, helpless in the face of human ignorance and neglect.  I thought how terrible it must be to be chained to a doghouse indefinitely, to deal with the natural elements like rain, mud, insects, and extreme heat.  I wondered if the animals got exercise beyond the reach of the leashes that chained them to their houses, whether the houses received regular repairs, if the area was secured against abuse and threat of injury or violent death, and if there was any emotional care and love beyond basic feeding and (I hoped) cleaning.

Given the poverty of the area, and the meager government resources, the organization has done the best that it could, providing 12 tons of food per month, paying over $14000 in monthly veterinary bills, and caring for all of these creatures with a staff of only 15 volunteers

Knowing how daunting it can be to feed and clean and walk 2 dozen dogs in a 2-hour shift on a Tuesday evening, I could not comprehend the amount of time needed to provide daily care for what would amount to nearly 100 dogs, and about a dozen cats, per volunteer.

I realized that the Brazilian climate was likely more conducive to outdoor living, and that our harsh winters and hot humid summers would be a death sentence to our shelter dogs if housed in the same way. 

The "slum dogs" are all available for adoption, but Brazilians seem more reluctant to adopt shelter dogs, opting instead for pure breeds.  Many of these animals will never leave the favela.

I wondered if the government would consider subsidizing human families who resided in "slum" housing, provided they could take in and demonstrate care given to one of the So Ama dogs.  But that is my naive view of a perfect world.  There is no easy way around the dilemma.  I applaud the organization for providing care for these creatures on such a massive scale.  But I long to see a world in which So Ama, The Buddy Foundation, and all of the animal advocacy and anti-cruelty groups would cease needing to exist.

Here's a link to an aricle in Reuters, which provided much of my information. On the link is a 2-minute video of the favela and interviews with So Ama representatives.  I would like to know what others think about this solution to caring for homeless animals.


  1. Fascinating and yet heartbreaking story, Tom! While I commend the government and So Ama for trying to alleviate the suffering of these animals, it's sad that for most of them their lives will be spent sitting at the end of a six foot leash waiting for a salvation that never comes. I like your idea about partnering the government's assistance for the homeless with the stray dogs, but human nature being what it is, I can only imagine the abuses that the dogs would suffer at the hands of uncaring people. What is truly disgusting is the Brazilian's haughty attitude about only wanting purebred dogs. That so many dogs have to suffer because these status-crazy snobs can't open their hearts to a loving mutt is the real crime here. Shameful.

  2. Tom, I appreciate your impassioned statements here. Lately I have been so emotional and uncomprehending when I see more stories about how so many animals are abused and neglected. Here at least an effort is being made, but it almost seems to be a losing cause.
    All I can do is keep publishing what I see and offering my own perspective, and I hope I can continue to count on you and others to champion the cause. Thank you!