Esperanza (Hope) – Compassion Without Borders
by Carie Broecker
Photos Courtesy of Compassion Without Borders
Esperanza. Hope. Definition: To wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment.
In June 2001, Christi Camblor, a graduate student, accepted a one-year internship with an animal shelter in Mexico City. She traveled south of the border to work at Refugio Franciscano. She was no stranger to the plight of homeless animals, but nothing she had experienced in northern California shelters prepared her for what she would witness in Mexico.
Refugio Franciscano was home to 2,000 dogs. Many of the dogs were not vaccinated or altered. Many had untreated medical needs. The woman who ran the shelter was kind hearted and compassionate but lacked the resources she needed to properly care for all the dogs she had taken in.
Christi’s responsibilities at the shelter included everything from cleaning and food prep to providing medical care. She worked seven days a week from early morning until late into the evening trying to take care of as many dogs as possible. Over the course of the year, Christi was also able to start a rescue program, which over the next few years altered and vaccinated all the dogs at the shelter and found homes in the United States for hundreds of the dogs that would otherwise have lived out their lives at the crowded shelter.
Although Christi made a huge difference in the lives of the dogs at this particular shelter, she still saw starving and ill dogs on the streets every day. These dogs were rounded up and warehoused – the large with the small, the aggressive with the meek, puppies with adults, moms with their newborns among all the rest, injured and ill among the healthy. They were then killed by the barbaric method of electrocution.
How to help?
Christi met Moncho, a Mexican native, while in Mexico City. They fell in love, married, and together founded the nonprofit organization Compassion Without Borders (CWOB). Their plan was a four pronged approach to help reduce the suffering of Mexican dogs: 1) rescue those they could, 2) establish on-going community spay/neuter protocols, 3) provide humane education and 4) convince the Mexican government to end the horrifying practice of electrocution.
Moncho was instrumental in building the programs, and his knowledge of Mexican culture and his contacts throughout the country were invaluable to their success.
CWOB started with a bang and the group began with airlifts of 12-16 dogs at a time from Mexico City. Once in the United States, they networked with rescue groups and shelters in Northern California that had a need for the small, cute, young, healthy dogs that were abundant in Mexico.
CWOB now has a rescue van that travels to Mexico six times a year and brings back up to 18 dogs per trip. Once the dogs have a health exam and are vaccinated, they have no trouble bringing them over the border. Once in the United States, the dogs are housed in foster homes until adoption.
CWOB goes to the most impoverished communities in Mexico to set up on-going spay/neuter programs. The communities must have a facility with water, electricity, an available community room, and a local advocacy group with at least one local veterinarian committed to carrying on the program once it is set up.
CWOB brings cages, tables, anesthesia and all other supplies and sets up camp for a week spaying and neutering as many animals as they can. At the same time they are training the local veterinarian and animal group how to run the camp themselves.
They come back for two more weeklong camps and then hand the program over to the locals to continue. CWOB continues to provide the supplies to keep the program going, but they are now free to move into another community and repeat the process. CWOB has also set up two permanent, stationary spay/neuter clinics in Mexico that provide free spay/neuter and veterinary care on an ongoing basis.
In every community they serve, CWOB distributes coloring/activity books to the children that teach them valuable lessons about how animals feel, what they need, and how they should be treated.
They also spread their message of compassion and the spay/neuter solution throughout the community and media, as well as offering resources and support to local animal protection groups.
When Christi entered her first government run animal control facility it was a grim scene. The dogs were in a large warehouse in crowded pens. They had no food, no water, and waited sometimes up to a week to be electrocuted. It is a violent, painful end of life.
Christi’s first obstacle was convincing the Mexican government why they should do things differently. There was a lot of resistance, but finally in 2004 in the city of Juarez in the state of Chihuahua, CWOB was allowed to provide the supplies and training necessary to begin a humane euthanasia protocol in the city’s animal shelter. Every city in the state of Chihuahua has now embraced humane euthanasia as the only acceptable euthanasia practice. This is now a point of pride for the state of Chihuahua and a model for other Mexican states to follow.
Right before speaking with Christi for this interview, I reviewed the CWOB website. I was moved to tears after reading about their work and viewing the photo gallery and slide show on their site. This all-volunteer organization was started by two people who refused to give up in the face of profound suffering. They are an inspiration to anyone who ever dreamed of making a difference in the lives of animals.
Compassion Without Borders is funded by private donations. To donate to CWOB or find out how you can help visit www.cwob.org or call (707) 474-3345. Order the documentary about CWOB, produced by the Santa Cruz based animal rescue and advocacy group, CAPE. “Viva Los Perros!,” is a 30-minute inspiring DVD available from www.capeanimals.org. CAPE, founded in 1992, sponsors, supports and produces Education Programs designed to inform people about issues animals face in society today and has rescued thousands of animals as well.
“I was standing in Anapra, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Mexico. Anapra, a suburb in the border town of Juarez, literally forms the border with El Paso, Texas; its fenced outskirts just feet from US soil. Standing in Anapra, I found myself surrounded by desperate, suffering animals, animals that were literally starving to death, covered in mange and inflicted with preventable disease-- disease they hadn’t been vaccinated against and would never be treated for. Hundreds and hundreds of homeless animals were scrounging the streets and trying to survive. There were injured animals, limping and wounded, searching for food. There were packs of puppies roaming, and emaciated mother dogs sniffing every inch of the ground for nourishment, to no avail. It was awful.
I had just come from the local animal control center where I had seen large groups of dogs crowded in pens in horrific conditions. There were dead dogs in with live dogs, sick and injured dogs mixed with healthy ones. There were convulsing animals. Animal corpses were decaying in the aisles. The animals had no food and they were all filthy and frightened. These animals, like animals in Mexican animal control centers all over the country, were simply being warehoused until they could be killed via the commonly practiced method of electrocution.
I remember thinking to myself, as I gazed not a mile away at the high rises of El Paso, how can this be? How can the situation for animals be so bad just a stone’s throw from the United States? And I knew if people could just see what I see and know for one minute the kind of suffering we are working to alleviate, they would never again ask me why I do what I do, nor would they care about arbitrary borders or national divisions.
These animals are in our backyard. Mexico is our neighboring country. We have the tools, the experience, the knowledge and the resources to help them. So, of course, without question, we should.
And, we are.
Their suffering knows no borders and neither does our compassion. It’s as simple as that.”
~Christi Camblor, Co-founder Compassion Without Borders