Sunday, June 6, 2010

Museo Hemingway, La Habana

After settling into my room and a nights sleep it was straight to work on my first full day in Havana
Susana Hurlich, who has been living in Cuba for 20 years and has become a big part of the Spanky Project’s work in Cuba has put together a great report on the big development to come out of this trip.

With her permission I offer some excerpts to you ....

June 3, 2010.

Hola -

This morning , for a good two hours, we had our first meeting at Museo Hemingway to discuss what to do about Hemingway's legacy of cats and dogs. No one asked me to prepare notes and perhaps I won't remember everything, as most of the time I was translating, but it seems a good idea to me to begin to document what is going to turn into a very interesting and far-reaching project.

First, the participants:

For Museo Hemingway: Ada Rosa Alfonso (director), Rosalba Diaz (in charge of restoration and conservation), Cari and Omar (two of the museo's approx 50 staff members - more on them below.

For the Spanky Project: Terry Shewchuk, founder and head (this project has been working in Cuba since 2003)

For PATAS PAWS Cuba: Tony Toffoli, founder and head (being created now but already starting to provide some assistance to dog and cat wellbeing in Cuba)

Collaborator with the Spanky Project and PAWS and well-known cat lover: Susana (that's me!)

Collaborator with the Spanky Project and well-known within Cuba's cat and dog community and much, much more: Gladys Morales

Finca Vigia's animal population: 13 dogs and one pregnant cat

After introducing those who hadn't previously met, we got right into the topic. The background of the situation is as follows: There are presently 13 resident dogs at Finca Vigia, most of whom are a fairly steady population. They are all very friendly tale-wagging beings who clearly love people. They are also canines and, as such, have typical canine behaviour: they live in a pack that consists of four males and nine females, including some who are still quite young and who haven't yet entered their first heat. The alpha male is Pinto, who is an attractive black and white dog bearing the scars of his winning fights with great dignity. In times past, the dogs and cats lived together quite well and Finca Vigia has photos that show some of them sleeping together happily and with mutual confidence. Until Pinto got it into his head that he could hunt and kill cats. And, since he's the leader, and the rest of the lot behaves like a typical canine pack, they all get into it. The result is that the Finca's cat populatoin has dramatically diminished to its present population of one cat.

And what a sweetheart! Ñeñe (pronounced nye-nye) she's called, and she's Mariposita-sized, white with a black tale and black on her ears.

Back to the one kitty sweetheart that still lives at Finca Vigia - She's pregnant, due to have her babies in the next week or so. Her second litter. And everyone is worried about her wellbeing. She's been "adopted" by Cari, one of the workers at the Finca, who adores cats. Ñeñe stays with her non-stop at her work site. She gave birth to her first litter on Cari's lap.......

As for where her babies will be born, there is a small closed-in cement structure on the property with a grilled iron entrance on the front. About one and a half metres square. Shaded. It's where the Finca's newborn puppies are kept but now it's going to be the birth and kitten house. (The English speakers laughed when I translated the Spanish word for this as "cat house", and then I had to explain to the Cubans why this was so funny...) Cari is going to be cleaning it out today and Omar - ahh, now you see why they're so important - is going to put a wire mesh on the front so that the Finca's smaller dogs can't get inside, meanwhile leaving one small hole where Ñeñe herself can go in and out. Cari is also going to bring an old piece of clothing or towel from home, all covered with her odour, and several times a day go with this and Ñeñe into the little structure so that she'll feel comfortable - safe odours all round - and know that this will be her new home.

That's the plan for the one cat, anyway, for the moment.

Now, as for specific action plans that came out of this first meeting: before the cat population will be able to grow, the dog pack has to be stabilized and somewhat pacified. As I mentioned, there are four males and nine females, and only two of the females have been spayed. As spaying and neutering usually - not 100% but generally, in most cases - calms animals down, this is the first thing that needs to be done. And we're going to start with Pinto. He's quite a nice dog. To date, a good number of the male staff at the Finca have been against having him fixed. For sure, they like the fact that he's guapo and strong and a leader. But when Ada Rosa and Rosalba began to say to these particular colleagues: "This is Finca Vigia, a historic site, and our plan is to have a viable cat and dog population to reflect Hemingway's life. If you don't want Pinto fixed, take him home with you and keep him as your very own dog." - and there were no takers. Well, Pinto's fate is fixed.

But when we - the Spanky Project and others - realized that there weren't any firm dates for dealing with Pinto, we suggested that we do the operation a day or so before Terry returns to Canada (on Wed). Although there's a good vet in the immediate community, says Rosalba, the vet with whom they like to work lives several km away in San Miguel del Padron. So we suggested they call her, right there and then - and Ada Rosa, being an amazing doer and not just a talker - immediately asked that their cell phone be brought and they called her on the spot. (We were all sitting around the little tables, outside, under the trees, where we had the snacks when you were there, Brian.) It was a kind of conference call, with lots of back and forth and translations. The Spanky Project said they would provide all the supplies for the surgery. PAWS is helping to provide post-operative foods for Pinto (powdered milk, honey, eggs). But when we spoke with the vet, she said that she only has enough ketamine, a good general veterinary anaesthetic, to operate on one animal, and this was being saved for one of the females at the Finca who's presently in heat, but as soon as she's out of heat, kablomb! she gets spayed. Terry said that it's not a problem that Danis doesn't have much ketamine, as he had brought in lots of propofol, another kind of anaesthetic used for veterinary work. And he said he could get lots more propofol for vet work in Cuba, as it's much easier to obtain in Canada, and export, than ketamine as ketamine is also a hallucinatory drug that's been used by people, so Canada has much tighter controls on its acquisition and export. Then Danis explained that she had never worked with propofol. That's no problem, either, said Terry, as we can arrange a propofol-experienced Cuban vet to come with us who would do the surgical procedure, and in the process, teach Danis how to work with propofol.

So, a plan quickly emerged: On Tuesday, June 8th, at 10am, our team - Spanky (all the surgical supplies plus the propofol-experienced vet), PAWS (post-operative food supplies), Susana (contributing some eggs to the post-operative recuperative diet) and Gladys will appear at Finca Vigia. Danis will also be there. And Pinto with a capital P will become pinto with a small p. Rosalba will do post-operative care...

...Now, this brings up another interesting piece of the puzzle: Rosalba. A highly trained and qualified specialist in conservation and restoration. And a heart that embraces all living things. She has been one of the main caregivers of the dogs at Finca Vigia, often buying food and medications out of her own pocket to keep them in good health. Doing it willingly and would never complain, but obviously it's hard to sustain in the long run. (It was Ada Rosa who talked about this, not Rosalba...) And some of the other workers help as well, as when we were introduced to several, it appears that each staff member has his or her favourite among the lot and gives them tidbits from their own meals.

What we suggested is that we do a campaign at the Finca, with a mass sterilization of all the males and the older females ....
And we suggested that this involve not only Danis, but some of the advanced vet students from the vet school (coincidentally, it turns out that Danis's daughter is a vet student!) who would then be involved in a community-wide sterilization campaign that would radiate out from Finca Vigia. Ada Rosa and Rosalba loved the idea - but it won't quite work in this way...

...the main reason being that while Finca Vigia has good conditions for operating on the dogs, they can't take on the post-surgical care of lots of dogs at once, as they simply don't have any place to put them. So we'll have to modify this part of the campaign and do one or two dogs at a time, until they're all done. Then the dogs will have to be observed for a couple of months - until their hormonol change kicks in and hopefully brings with it a change in temperament. In the meantime, we'll start the wider community sterilization campaign, using Finca Vigia as the base. Because without stabilizing the wider dog population a big through keeping their reproduction rates down, we won't be able to control the Finca Vigia dog population either, as new dogs will constantly arrive.

Once Step 1 is complete, which may take a couple of months to get all the dogs operated and then a couple of months more to do careful observation of behaviour of pack behaviour, then - assuming things are controlled and calm - we'll start the cat reintroduction program.

Lots of interesting ideas for this but first, some background: as I mentioned, though Hemingway loved his dogs and apparently had eight or nine around at all times, his heart was really with cats, having over 50 at Finca Vigia at any one time. In his house at Finca Vigia, he had one room dedicated only to cats. And with the tower out back, the bottom floor was also completed dedicated to cats. Plus, among his staff, he had one person who was full-time responsible for the care of his animals, both dogs and cats. He also had some six-toed cats, just like he did when he was in Key West. As you know, six-toed cats do not constitute a breed, but instead represent a genetic mutation. I think, although I'm not sure, that it's a recessive gene, meaning that if both parents are six-toed, all their babies will be six-toed as well.

So what we want to do is to try to get lookalikes, among the cats, for some of Hemingway's famous cats. And what the Finca is doing is to use the same names for the dogs and cats on the premises that Hemingway used for his own dogs and cats. And we're thinking of eventually doing a "Hemingway cat lookalike" contest in the community, as well as possibly including neighbouring communities, for people to put any cat up for possible Finca Vigia adoption - and if the cat looks like one of Hemingway's favourites, it'll find its new home at Finca Vigia. We might combine this with some fun outreach education programmes about Hemingway and his animals, etc. Again, everyone liked this idea very much.

On Tuesday, after P becomes p, we're going to talk a bit more about our various ideas, and then probably Terry and I will draft a formal project, in English (both of us) and Spanish (me), pass it around for collective comments and feedback and additions, and then Museo Hemingway will formally submit it to the Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Nacional (National Council of National Patrimony), under which Finca Vigia comes within the Ministry of Culture. And then it becomes an official project and, perhaps once it's a formal undertaking, with this weight we might be able to sort out the problem of food supply for the animals, with the Ministry of Culture entering into an agreement with the slaughteryards for a regular supply of viscera.

The cats will also get their own structure at Finca Vigia which might look like a miniature of the watchtower that's already there. This would give the cats a regular place for receiving food, having water, being able to climb up to higher "floors" and having a space that gives them protection from the sun, rain, etc. And visitors could go see them there as well as happily wandering around the grounds.

OK, now there's still another piece: this morning Terry and I met with the Sociedad Patrimonio, Comunidad y Medio Ambiente (SPCMA for short), which is the Heritage, Community and Environment Society that comes under the Historian's Office in Habana Vieja. It's the only NGO (non-governmental organization) in Habana Vieja. To briefly explain what SPCMA is about, it's a non-profit civil organization that includes individuals and institutions (national and international) who are interested in the preservation, rehabilitation, management, development and promotion of the historical, architectural and cultural heritage of the City of Havana, and in the community and environmental issues that affect the City.

Our main question to SPCMA was if they could be a co-sponsor of the Museo Hemingway project. In short, they said they couldn't do this, as, first, they're already up to their ears in projects, and second, San Francisco de Paula where Finca Vigia is located is outside of their territorial mandate. However, because of the importance of Finca Vigia and the project, they're prepared to do the following: if Finca Vigia itself has any problems getting the necessary customs clearance for donated materials and supplies for the project to enter Cuba, SPCMA is prepared, through their organization, to get the support from the Historian's Office for claering the entry of supplies into the country for the Finca Vigia project. This alone is a huge help to the project. And given how important Finca Vigia is as a museum, they're prepared to inform the Historian's Office about the project. And if we ourselves, through our own contacts, can't organize a propofol-experienced vet in time for Tuesday, they're prepared to help us do this through their own vet contacts in Habana Vieja. And, in the long run, we can also use their video camera to visually document the ongoing development of the project. (We can't use it next week, as the SPCMA will be using it to document their week-long programme of activities to makr World Environmental Day in Habana Vieja.)

So, this project is getting some very good collaboration...

And there's even more: I just spoke with Ada Rosa (director of Museo Hemingway) about an entirely different matter that Brian asked me to follow up on, and while talking with her, I gave her a brief rundown of our conversation this morning with the SPCMA. Ada Rosa said it's fabulous that SPCMA is prepared to help clear things into the country, as they have the links (Historian's Office) to do this, which the Finca doesn't. She also said that we should prepare to do TWO dogs on Tuesday, Pinto and Cucara, the latter being the female dog in heat who will be out of heat by then. I've just spoken with Terry (who wisely informed me of his meeting schedule today so that I'd know where to find him) to let him know.

In summary: on the Canadian end, the Spanky Project, PAWS, Hemingway on Stage and CCFA. On the Cuban end, Finca Vigia and SPCMA and who knows who else?

Sorry I've gone into such detail, but this email is part of documenting the development of the project.
Abrazotes para todos de Susana

Stayed tuned for more great news !!

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