“But when women are moved and lend help, when women, who are by nature calm and controlled, give encouragement and applause, when virtuous and knowledgeable women grace the endeavor with their sweet love, then it is invincible.” José Martí, Cuban revolutionary and poet
This brilliant quote seemed to perfectly capture the spirit and courage of Grace Waszkiewicz in her mission to help the animals of Cuba with her organization, APAC-Varadero, a registered Canadian nonprofit organization. Here’s her story about how she got involved–all because of a tiny red kitten she met while on vacation at Varadero Beach in February 2009.
One Tiny Red Kitten Changes a Life Forever
“When we arrived in Varadero, it was early in the morning and our rooms were not ready yet, so while my friend stayed with our luggage, I went to see the famous beach. On my way back I stopped at the bar by the ocean to have a beer. While enjoying my drink, I noticed several cats around, which did not surprise me (knowing the reality of life in this area of the world). One of them was just a tiny red kitten laying flat on the ground and crying softly. A few ladies from Quebec tried to feed him some fish but the animal did not even look at the food. Tiny as he was, he needed his mother and her milk. I addressed the bar staff but they told me there are too many cats to care and that this baby was probably refused by its mother.” Grace said of her fateful meeting with the tiny red kitten.
“Little did I know that my destiny was about to claim me, “ Grace recalled. “While heading towards the pool on the last of day my vacation, as I was passing a garbage area, I heard the familiar cry, and a second later I saw, yes – you guessed it – the same red kitten, only even skinnier than before. It could not lift its tiny body of the ground. This time, I did what I should have done in the first place. I wrapped the animal in my blue beach towel, and smuggled the cat into my room. Somehow, I talked a hotel employee into finding a local to help with the kitten and a veterinarian showed up later that day. At first glance, I didn’t have much faith in the vet and the other person who showed up and took the kitten but they turned out to be the most amazing group of people I had ever met, working on their own to help animals like the tiny red kitten with little or no resources and not much support. I decided that I, too, had to get involved so I became President of All Progress in Animal Care Varadero (APAC-Varadero) formally registering the organization as a Canadian charity and began helping.”
On a Mission to End Overpopulation
Grace shared that APAC-Varadero works in Cuba under an agreement with the CCVC (Scientific Council of Cuban Veterinarians), allowing them to co-operate with a group called CONBAC (National Commission of Animal Welfare); more specifically, with its chapter located in Matanzas Province. “Together, we organize spay/neuter campaigns, de-worming clinics, and educational activities for children and adults in Cuba. We also exchange professional knowledge in the field, and visit each other to participate in events relating to our work,” she said.
When asked about working in Cuba for animals, Grace said, “Changing attitudes towards homeless animals and volunteering is a big challenge. Humane control of the stray population is a concept that needs lots of convincing, patience and time. And until recently, volunteering was seen as a ridiculous idea. Why would anybody want to work for nothing? Luckily, the talented young Cubans we work with are passionate about these new ideas and their commitment proves that those new ways do work, and work well.”
APAC-Varadero works nonstop bringing new methods for humanely managing the stray populations with ongoing sterilization campaigns and trap/neuter/release programs, performing on average 600 free spay/neuter Saturday surgeries a year, and offering free consultations for nearly one thousand animals – both small animals and horses. Plus, APAC-Varadero has arranged a number of successful adoptions of homeless dogs and cats – within Cuba, to Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. (To learn about a special APAC-Varadero rescue pup named Isla, check out her story at: http://apacvaradero.blogspot.ca/2013/09/isla-story-of-love.html)
Tourists and Tourism Can Help Strays in Cuba
Though facing great challenges in finding support for APAC-Varadero’s work, Grace believes there’s a lot of hope for animals in Cuba, especially if tourists get involved. “Tourists have the biggest impact on how strays are treated or if they are helped at all. Cubans do not have free access to the hotels, but each tourist at their resort who cares about animals should approach the hotel management. They can spread the news that there is a humane way of controlling the homeless animal population and they can insist on letting our team perform sterilization of the resort animals in Varadero. Cuban authorities will listen to the resorts because the tourism industry is the most profitable part of Cuban economy (many resorts are shared properties of the Cuban government and the foreign investors – many from Spain and Germany),” she said. Recently, a prominent resort, Iberostar Taino, joined the cause by setting up a Cat Café on their property to establish an alternate habitat for stray cats and supported an APAC-Varadero spay/neuter effort, drawing an enthusiastic response from tourists who want a humane environment for strays.
“Another great way tourists could help the animals is if each individual traveling to Cuba would bring up to 5kg of much-needed veterinarian medications (allowable without any tax or a special permit) or other supplies. You can see what’s most needed on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CubanAnimals. There is an absolutely critical need for dog and cat vet meds in Cuba as there is not much attention paid to smaller, non-agricultural animals. Though all veterinary doctors in Cuba have great skills and are generally well educated, small animals veterinary medicine is only taught for a couple of semesters. And they lack the pharmaceutical goods, so stray cats and dogs generally do not receive much help at all. Getting these medications would be a dream come true for the animals. Imagine if each of the one million Canadian tourists visiting Cuba every year brought 5 kg of supplies with him/her!”
Wow! That would be a whole lot of medications for the deserving animals of Cuba! Ms. Humane Advisor agrees that your vacation really can save animals!
Thank you, Grace, for telling your story and for your dedication to the animals of Cuba. As José Martí put it so eloquently, your sweet love (for animals) makes you invincible. Ms. Humane Advisor believes that if every tourist that encountered a stray kitten or puppy while on vacation made a commitment to help in the way you have, there would be no more strays. You and the voIunteers of APAC-Varadero are truly an inspiration!
Dear Readers: You can make Grace’s dream come true. Check out the links below to learn how you can help stray animals in Cuba with APAC-Varadero and Grace Waszkiewicz.