Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dispatches From Havana

Here is the first in a series of reports directly from Havana.
Susana Hurlich is Spanky Project's Coordinator of Projects.

Susana reporting from the field…

Report #1 of our mini-sterilization campaign of mini-dogs at Quinta de los Molinos

Our mini-sterilization campaign for mini (or small) dogs began at Quinta de los Molinos on Sunday, November 2nd. With the Spanky Project providing all the essential medications and disposable supplies, our wonderful collaborating veterinarian at Quinta – Dr. Leyssan Cepero Fiallo, DMV – was the operating surgeon. Leyssan is also the veterinarian for the Historian’s Office of Havana. Here he is at his microscope that we provided to Quinta last year:

He was assisted by his wife, Dr. Yanaisy (Nana) Pino Quintana, who did the anaesthetic and post-operative care. Nana, who actually specializes in birds, is the veterinarian at the nearby Asociación Ornitológica de Cuba (Cuban Ornithological Association). Below you can meet Nana holding a young bird in her care:

The third member of the team was Yoany Alfonso, a second year veterinarian student at the Veterinarian Faculty of the Universidad Agraria de la Habana. Because this campaign will be going at a slow pace – two or three animals each Sunday for the next five or six weeks – it provides an excellent opportunity for the two young vet students (the other is Ernesto, a third year student), who occasionally assist Leyssan, to have some hands-on practice. Not, however, with the surgery itself, which doesn’t begin until their fifth (last) year of studies. Here’s an image of Yoany (green shirt) and Leyssan (blue shirt) in the small Quinta lab, where the surgeries are taking place.

 However, at today’s campaign, instead of sterilizing small dogs, we sterilized two small cats! The reason is that October 27th is Día del Gato Cubano (Cuban Cat Day), and in honour of this special day, we decided to kick off our campaign sterilizing two cats!

Before I tell you about the two cats, let me tell you a little bit about Día del Gato Cubano. The celebration of this day is thanks to the Asociación Cubana de Aficionados a los Gatos (ACAG, or Cuban Cat Fanciers Association, of which I’m a member thanks to the four kitties with whom I share my life), which chose this day to pay homage to cats, as it was on October 27, 1991 that ACAG was founded. With more than twenty years of existence, this organization is dedicated, above all, to the conservation and protection of felines. Since 1992, ACAG members and Cuban cat lovers in general celebrate this day with various activities, such as children’s art programs and exhibitions dealing with the theme of cats. Cuba isn’t the only country in the world that has a special day for cats. Similar days exist in Italy (February 17), Poland (February 19), Argentina (February 20), Russia (March 1), Great Britain (August 8), the US (October 29) and Belgium (the second Sunday in May).

OK, now back to the campaign – and our two symbolic but very real cats! And here they are – in Leyssan’s arms before surgery. The yellow tabby is called Yelow (one l as two ll’s, in Spanish, is pronounced like a “ye” sound) and the black and white kitty is called Musita.

And they have an interesting story to tell. Musita and Yelow live at Conde de Villanueva, a fairly upscale hostel in Habana Vieja. Like many hotels, restaurants and museums in Habana Vieja, workers at this hotel have “adopted” abandoned dogs and cats. In the case of Conde de Villanueva, they have two cats (Yelow and Musita) and three dogs. The director and vice-director (Lili) – a married couple who love animals – have decided that the hotel can’t support any more than these five animals, and wanted the two cats sterilized. These two cats, who are now about eight months old – and hence ready to reproduce! – were taken in by Lili when they were just tiny abandoned kittens. They are fed regularly with (delicious) scraps from the kitchen. Because their primary caretakers had to work the day of the surgeries, they were brought to Quinta the evening before where Leyssan kept them in a large cage provided by the Spanky Project.

The surgeries went very well and both kitties received a tattoo in their left ear, which is the symbol used by Quinta for dogs and cats sterilized on their premises. The tattoo is SP for the Spanky Project, which was their creation and something we only learned about very recently! The kitties recovered quickly and returned to their home Sunday afternoon.

Next, two small dogs are scheduled to be sterilized, both of whom are in early stages of pregnancy. Leyssan calls the owners beforehand and has a small waiting list readily at hand…

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


  ....inquiring minds want to know.

 When the Spanky Project was born in 2003 we were aiding a small group of Cubans and a Dutch woman, that were helping animals.
On weekends they would provide free sterilizations for, on average, sixty dogs.

       These were done on kitchen tables in homes. 
 As their work wound up, for a number of reasons, the Spanky Project sought to help fill the void.
Our goal was to take the surgeries from the kitchen table back to the clinic table.

Below is a example of the "Permiso" we would be granted to enter Cuba with the supplies needed for our campañas.
Note this one dates back five years.
The Spanky Project has a solid track record of respecting and abiding by Cuban laws and regulations.

The Spanky Project would provide the Sociedad Patrimonio, Comunidad y Medio Ambiente (SPCMA), an NGO under the Oficina del Historiador, a list of our our supplies for approval and a list of our international team members for the preparation of D1 Cooperaion visas.
All this was done eight weeks prior to our scheduled arrival date.
Dr Carlos Delgado was our contact at the IMV. In short order we would have the Permiso for our veterinary supplies.

In 2012 Dr.Delgado suffered a heart attack and retired.
As his succesor took over we realized what a friend we and Cuban animals had in Dr.Delgado.
The "new-comer" pointed out that there is a list called the Registro de Medicamiento.
According to it, if a pharmaceutical is not on the list it is not approved for use Cuba.
Dr.Delgado, in essence, was giving us an exemption.
The Registro de Medicamiento, as analyzed by Spanky Project veterinarians, is a dated document and is focused on large animals.
It has ZERO "post op" pain control.
Should we want to register a pharmaceutical the cost would be 800CUC ($900 Canadian) per item to begin the process.
The request woud have to come from the pharmaceutical company itself
and approval is not a sure thing.

This process would be far too costly for our small organization.
As a point of reference if we were to seek to have registered the anitbiotoics, anaesthetics, post op pain control, etc. for our December 2013 trip. A trip that was cancelled because the IMV did not provided a Permiso the cost would be near $10,000 CAN.
 During my September trip the Spanky Project participated in a meeting held at SPCMA to prepare a final request of the IMV.
A Cuban working group was established to compare our list of required pharmaceuticals to the Registro de Medicamiento.
This group is chaired by SPCMA and participants include..
 - two pharmaceutical company representative
- Director of Clinica Laika in Habana Vieja 
-Provincial IMV Director
- Director of Quinta del Los Molinos
-Veterinarian Quinta de Los Moinos
Should there be no suitable substitutes the IMV will be asked that we be provided an exemption.
What we are asking is that we be allowed the non-commercial importation of  pharmaceuticals for use in defined campañas in defined areas.
This request will be forwarded in the name of the 
Oficina del Historiador.
Should we once again be "stonewalled" by the IMV this matter will be taken to another level.

Today in Havana is the follow up meeting. Hopefully the last one before presentation to the IMV.
Even though large scale efforts are on hold the work continues with educational programs and
targeted spay/neuters efforts with pharmaceuticals that had entered on previous Pemisos.
Also, we are gearing up our new equine program under the direction of Dr.Hester Massop.
Stay tune for more of the September trip.
Also, we will begin a new feature entitled 
"Dispatches from La Habana".
The Spanky Project's awesome Coordinator of Projects Susana Hurlich, resident in the Vedado district, will be sending reports about our work in Cuba.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Have Visa Will Travel.

This was to be a short trip. 
The goal was to attend meetings in an attempt to get our full programs back on track.
Spay and neuters have been on hold as a result of our medicines and anaesthetics not be given permission for entry.

Firstly, my thanks to Pauline and Gilbert of Redtail Vineyard.

They happily took care of Skeeter during my absence.
For a number of years they were neighbours here in Prince Edward County

After dropping Skeeter off it was a 200km drive to Toronto and my flight.
As a result of bureaucratic difficulties it has been fourteen months 
since I last touched down in Cuba
It felt so good to be over La Isla.
Arrival in Varadero was uneventful.
Without the usual 23 kilo bags of supplies Customs paid no notice.

Once in Havana I checked into the modest Hotel Caribbean.
At the front desk I was warmly greeted then .....
"Señor we have a problem."
"The elevator she is no working."
"Here I show you the rooms available."
There were rooms on the second, third, fourth and fifth floors.
I asked ...
"What room would you take"
She looked and shrugged and said 

That's my room. 
Blue building top right window.
Yes, modest but all I needed was a bed and a shower. 
The bonus was hot water in the shower.
The view from my room was lovely....
 ... and this is a prime location.
Paseo del Prado is my favourite street in the whole world.
After dropping my bag it was up the Prado to Pasteleria Francesca for a late snack.
In the morning the meetings begin.
I will be posting shortly about this trip and what the future holds for the Spanky Project

Two thumbs up.
Dr.Hester Massop has accepted our offer to join the Spanky Project team.

Hester spent the month of September in Cuba.
It did not take very long to realize she and the Spanky Project were a perfect fit.
She will head up our increased support for Cuban equines.
Keep and eye out here for Hester's recounting of her month helping Cubans help their horses.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hoofing It To Cuba!

Back in early January I received an email from Dr.Hester Massop. She is a Dutch Veterinarian presently living and working in England.

Here is an excerpt...
 “I have been on holiday in Cuba and seen with my own eyes (which I knew I would) what struggles and battles there are to be fought and that they will be hard and often leave you feeling helpless (but in need to keep going)

I am writing you to see how I can be of help in person if possible, I do have to say that my utmost passion lays with horses and I will try to get in contact with Julio of the Diana Project, as I am going to do a intensive farrier course in the USA in June and July and after that traveling around the whole of America and hopefully Cuba again. I am also trained in acupuncture for animals.

I know that money is always needed, but I would like to do more and I am hoping you could give me a heads up where I could be most helpful.

I think my plans would be to go to Cuba around Sept/ Oct time.”

With that we got to work.

Susana, Spanky Project Coordinator of Projects in Havana, contacted our collaborating partners. They were thrilled and excited with the prospect of 
having Hester work and share with them for a month. 
In short order we put together a program based in Havana with stops in 
Trinidad, Aguacate and Vinales.
Once that was established we began the visas process. 

Here as some photos of Hester perfecting her technique at the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School.
She's not a giant. It's a very small horse.

Once Hester's visas was issued it was full steam ahead.

On July 25 Hester arrived in Toronto. I drove in with my dog Skeeter to pick her up at the airport.
Once we got her checked in it was off to dinner with Dr.Michael Belovich and Dr.Michele Travers.
Both are a big part of the Spanky Project and have been to Cuba working with horses.

After leaving Hester for a couple of days in Toronto, which allowed her a trip to Niagara Falls, I was back with Skeeter to show her around the city.

Skeeter has been on the limp of late. 
Hester did a sidewalk exam of my little buddy.
It's nice to have Vets as friends. 

We toured around various neighbourhoods of Toronto.
While in Kensington Market it was time to shop for a Salsa Congress she was attending while in town.
Skeeter was much less interested in the shopping protion of our day ....
... than the ice cream part of the day.
A fun time was had by all.
 It was great to have some face to face time with Hester before her Cuban adventure.

 This is Hester first full day in Havana.

 Here is today's program.
Day One
Theoretical Workshop: Equine foot. Care of hoof and frog. Cold and hot shoeing. Equine orthopedics. Defects and correction. Food and water needs. Animal well being: harness and shaft management. Veterinary problems.
Time: 10am-2m (with a short break)
Location: Quinta de los Molinos. Calle Infanta esquina Carlos III, Centro Habana
Special Guest: Dr. Carlos Yrurzun. Full Professor at the Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria, Universidad Agraria de La Habana (UNAH), Specialist in Horse Management

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Back to School

It has been a long time since our last posted. 
The Spanky Project’s mass spay and neuter campañas are still on hold.

We continue to seek a way to get the entry approval process for our
 anaesthesia and medications back on track.
As we work our way through the system other segments of our efforts and collaborations are on going. These include education programs and collaborations.

Frequenters of the Spanky Project blog will know of our excellent relations with 
Quinta de los Molinos. 
A large botanical garden in the heart of Havana.
  It also houses native species of Cuban animals.
Dr.Leyssan, Quinta’s Veterinarian, has developed workshops and classes for children in the areas of animal welfare and the environment.
The Spanky Project aids this initiative by asking visitors to Havana to save a little room in their luggage for art supplies and writing materials.
Many have done so ... and some often.

It is back to school time and the sales are on. Time to load up and help support Dr.Leyssan’s worthwhile programs.

 Susana, the Spanky Project’s coordinator in Havana, is often asked to speak at these gatherings. 

She is asked to give a presentation on the Spanky Project’s history and the work being done for Cuban animals and their care givers.

I am told that the children find it inspirational that from out of the loving memory of a furry companion a program like the Spanky Project can be born.
I’m sure some of these children will go forward and find their own inspiration to bring 
light, love and joy to the world.
It doesn’t have to be about animals.
They all have it in them to make a difference.
If a dog, that passed away in 2003, can inspire the young of today then it is a wonderful world. 

Below is an except from and email Susana sent to a generous donor...
"I want to send you the attached image that shows a very happy Leyssan - the veterinarian at Quinta de los Molinos - receiving your wonderful donation of educational supplies for the programs they're doing with kids.
He was particularly delighted with the PlayFoam modeling "clay," saying this would be great for the kids from the special schools and kids with autism, among others. I think I had told you the story about how last year, they did their first "hands on animals" program with kids from the school for special education, and it was so successful that this year they've been asked to expand to other schools for children with different kinds of social, physical and learning problems. This year they have the following schools: five special education, two schools for kids with behaviour problems, one school for deaf and mute children, two schools for kids with autism, two schools for kids with mental retardation and two centres for children with Downs Syndrome. Amazing, eh? And Leyssan said the PlayFoam clay would be great for all of them, especially as it's reusable. And he's already thinking of having them incorporate materials from nature for the eyes, ears, tails, etc. - seeds, leaves, fronds, little stones, shells, etc. And he was delighted to see so many colouring and painting materials. He thanks you profoundly for your support and says that the next time you're in Cuba, you should plan in time to visit the Quinta."

If you would like to help the children set the stage for a happier tomorrow we would love to hear from you.

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