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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Your Turn 

Today I watched John Kerry speak as the US flag was raised over our Embassy in Havana for the first time in 54 years.  Most Cubans and most Americans feel it is high time the two neighboring countries establish a normal relationship.

For years, Cubans have been told how the many problems in Cuba are the result of the US embargo of Cuba, and they are expecting their lives to get better when the embargo is lifted—something only Congress can do.   But as we wait for our torpid legislators to end the embargo, the flag raising is seen as a harbinger of better living conditions to come.  Let's hope it is that, and not a mirage that disappears if a reluctant US Congress fails to act to kill the embargo.

The word Cubans use for the embargo is "bloqueo." which really means "blockade," an act of war in typical usage.  This connotes ships and planes forcibly stopping the flow of goods to a given country.  The uses of these words are interesting in that the perpetrator of the action (the US) chooses a milder word for its action, while the target of the action chooses a word that connotes violence, blood, and aggression.

But semantics aside, there is no question the embargo has had some hand in depressing the standard of living in Cuba.  Cuba is a country where the average person struggles to live.  Yes I said "live," not "live well." Visitors can look around and see most buildings needing paint, stairways begging for handrail repairs, public busses way beyond capacity with riders who have no other means of moving around the city.  Air conditioning is limited to cooling the well to do.  Tourist stores sparkle with nice merchandise, but accept only CUCs, the Cuban convertible currency—not the old Cuban Peso workers are paid in.  And while there is a monthly ration of food, it is never enough to last al month.  To eat, supermarkets don't exist, but if you have any money, you can shop at the farmers' markets located in city neighborhoods.

Yes, life is tough for Cubans, but their hopes are high that things will get better soon, now that the big modern building on the Malecon overlooking the Florida Straits is once again a full-fledged embassy with a real ambassador in residence.  For the last 54 years, that building has been just office space for a team of Swiss diplomats paid to be looking out for American interests while the two countries spent their energies trying to find ways to irritate each other.

OK, US Senators and Representatives, now it's your turn. 

Les Inglis

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Christmas Rescue

After 35 years of marriage, we don't celebrate Christmas the way most people do.  Having most of what we want, and all of what we need, we don't give each other presents—we just plan for a quiet day together.  As vegetarians, we even skip the traditional feast, instead opting for Chinese food at the local buffet.  It's one of the only restaurants open.

But always first on my list of things to do is a walk on the road with our new Border Collie, Happy.  Happy has lost much of his wildness and has come to be pretty tame.  He still chases our cats, though, so we constantly keep an eye on him.  The morning walks are a way of burning off a little energy.

This Christmas day Happy and I had hardly stepped onto the road when we were approached by another walker.  He said he didn't have a cell phone or he would call a local seabird rescue group to help a bird he had seen on the beach in front of our house.  He called it a duck.  I told him we would call, and Happy and I went out on the beach to check out the little creature.

Sure enough, there it was at the high water line, lying on the sand.  It appeared healthy, but wasn't walking or flying.  Its head was erect, and it was looking around, apparently alert.

Happy and I left him there and went back to the house to tell Charlene, the real rescuer in our family.  We'd been through these problems before, so I got out a ladder and climbed up to get down a good sized animal carrier hanging from a hook in the garage ceiling.  Charlene got a beach towel--ideal for picking up and moving a larger bird.  We picked our way through the bushes at the edge of the beach and approached the bird.  Charlene took over and had the bird in the carrier in no time.  She tried to call the wildlife rescuers, but couldn't get past a menu of messages.  "I guess I'll take him to the emergency animal veterinarian," and soon she and the bird were in her car and going up the road.

Happy got the rest of his walk while Charlene was at the vet office.  They told her that Wildlife Rescue of Venice would pick up the bird, and in the meantime, they would stabilize and hydrate the bird.  We figured we'd call the next day to find out how the bird was doing.

Christmas afternoon found us eating at the Chinese buffet, and afterwards we arrived home.  The first order of business when we return from being away is to let the dogs out into our fenced back yard.  Peachy, our Golden Doodle has trouble with steps down into our back yard, so I took her on a leash for a walk on the road.  Peachy's infallible nose led us into my neighbor's yard to the base of a tree, where I spied a little brown squirrel, clearly alive, seemingly intact, but not moving away from us.

"Not again," I said to myself once I was sure he was alive, but I couldn't deny it, I had been presented with an injured wild animal twice in one Christmas day.  I led Peachy home and roused Charlene from whatever she was doing.

At least this time I didn't have to climb a ladder to get a carrier—we hadn't yet put it away.  So Charlene used the same towel to pick up the squirrel and transferred him to the carrier and took him to Wildlife Rescue of Venice.

We were told the wildlife rescue people picked up the bird from the emergency vet's place within an hour of when we dropped him off.  They said it wasn't a duck, it was a loon.  The following day—today as I write this—the loon was reported to be recuperating.

And so, on a Christmas day, when we didn't expect to get any presents, we got two.  Charlene often says, "Never be too busy to stop and help an animal in distress."  The way she looks at things, the opportunities to help those little guys were nature's Christmas presents to us.

Les Inglis

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Quick History of the Aniplant Project

In late 2005 I was licensed to visit Cuba for a week.  I had long been interested in seeing Cuba, an island so near and yet so far.   Americans have been separated from it by more than 50 years of estrangement caused by a rigorous embargo and mutual political enmity.  My license wasn't as a tourist—I was accompanying Christina, the Humane Society International's (HSI) Latin American Manager.  Our mission was to observe the situation of Cuba's animals.

As part of HSI, Christina already had contacts in the animal protection field for us to visit.  As it turned out, the most important contact we had was Nora Garcia, the President of Aniplant, Cuba's Association for the Protection of Animals and Plants.

Aniplant (not a part of the Cuban government) is a private member organization, now over 25 years old, which does a surprising amount of good for Cuba's animals on a scant, almost nonexistent budget.  Nora showed us vet offices, a vet hospital, a pound, zoos, and even the radio station where she gives a short talk weekly on pet care,  There was so much to see we were still seeing new organizations having to do with animals a year later when I returned to Cuba with Neil Trent, HSI's Managing Director.

During that second year we became very familiar with Aniplant's activities, and we were able to conclude that Nora (nearing 25 years as Aniplant's President) was unusually skilled in animal protection, and like many Cuban organizations, Aniplant was starved for support.  If there was a way to help her, great and good changes could result for Cuba's animals.

Aniplant was sterilizing about 600 dogs and cats a year in weekend clinics tht served different Havana neighborhoods each week.  That effort was well organized but lacked resources.  They needed injectable anesthesia meds in greater quantities if they were to expand.  Havana, with its large population, had too large a population of homeless animals on the streets.

HSI has long preached that the only effective humane way to reduce homeless animal populations is through massive sterilization campaigns applied over the long term.  I began to think we could organize a small charity to support Aniplant in Cuba, especially with anesthesia meds, Aniplant could expand their sterilization clinics to the point where the stray population is significantly reduced.  Out of these thoughts our charity, The Aniplant Project (TAP) was born in 2007. Its sole purpose was and is to help Nora with support for Aniplant, Cuba.

Today in most ways TAP is as small as it was the day it was formed.  It has no employees, or real estate or other tangible assets.  It does have some donated money dedicated to help Aniplant as the need and our ability to meet it become clear.  It does have my efforts and those of Charlene, my wife,  Charlene has worked tirelessly for years to create a website, Christmas cards, brochures, our incorporation, our 501(c)(3) designation, our registration as a Florida charity and much more.  Without her efforts, TAP would have failed.  I have traveled to Cuba 7 times and Charlene once to coordinate our efforts with the work of Aniplant.  I have scribbled blogs and newsletters (as I am doing now) to try to export an appreciation Aniplant's good work and our mission to support it.  We've had a few notable successes:

·       Sterilizations increased from 600 to over 5000 per year in a few years.

·       Aniplant was able to trade its old HQ (an 8th floor apartment in a building with no working elevator), for a one floor building on a known street in Central Havana.  Much renovation has been done, and the addition of upper floors has provided expansion.

·       A prominent British veterinarian, Dick White Referrals, has equipped a modern veterinary office and surgery located in Aniplant's HQ building.

·       Dick White Referrals has established yearly conferences in Havana for Latin American veterinarians in Havana.

·       Several years of thousands of sterilizations has cut the number of strays collected from the streets and poisoned by the government.  Currently killings in this "zoonosis" program have declined by 4000 a year from the level of ten years ago.

·       Electrocution of pound animals has ceased in Cuba.

The biggest difficulty has been Cuba and Costa Rica banning Ketamine, an injectable animal anesthetic used in Aniplant's sterilization clinics. This has required substitutions and caused shortages and now threatens the rate at which sterilization work is done.

Another problem is the US Embargo against Cuba.  This requires a license for every shipment, visit, and money transfer, even for humanitarian purposes.

For the future, we have goals to help the animals:

·       We would like to provide a small car for Nora's transportation within Havana and to nearby cities.  Used cars are very expensive and new cars are almost impossible to obtain.  Now Nora uses taxies, jitneys, public buses, and the help of friends in addition to walking.  One suitable example of an old Fiat 500 cost $6000.

·       We would like to substitute humane euthanasia meds for the strychnine used in the government's zoonosis program.  This requires negotiations with the zoonosis staff, and the managers who run the program, as well as significant costs of the needed meds.

·       A boarding kennel at the HQ could become a source of income for Aniplant.

Since TAP was established, I have written much about Cuban animals.  My blog contains about 200 chapters at  I have studiously avoided expressing political opinions as the goodwill of both the US and the Cuban governments is needed for Aniplant's success.  But, thanks to President Obama's and President Castro's 12/17/14 agreement to normalize relations between the two countries, we now see a much brighter future for the animals.  It portends a relaxation of restrictions on travel and money transfers, and, above all, an eventual lifting of the US Embargo, one of the longest lasting ill-considered restraints ever in world trade.

Now, nearly ten years to the day after my first visit to Cuba, we see opportunities well beyond what we envisioned at the beginning.  May the future be a much better one for the animals.

Les Inglis, Founder, The Aniplant Project.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Noonday Sun

A mile and a half from our home is a giant Walmart, perhaps the size of three football fields.  It is stuffed with all kinds of food and merchandise, much of it made in China.  It is so close we often run over there for any needed item.  So yesterday Charlene and I got in the car, drove the short distance, and parked in the middle of a vast parking lot, even bigger than the store itself,

Charlene no sooner had her door open when she said, "There are dogs locked in that car," meaning the small Ford van next to us.  We both became worried as it was a hot Florida summer day with few clouds to break up the direct sunlight.

It wasn't the first time we were in that situation in the same parking lot.  The two dogs were energetically barking at us as I tried all the doors on the van.  Even the windows were tightly closed.  I figured the van with the dogs had not been there very long, as they showed no signs yet of too much heat.

We bolted off to the store office, thinking we could get them to make an announcement on the public address system, but the manager told us it was store policy to tell us to call the Sheriff's police.  Charlene called while I rushed back to the van to check on the dogs.

I had a specifically designed window breaking tool that's pretty common in Florida, where many roads run alongside canals, lakes, and bays.  If a car goes in the water, electric windows don't work, and you can drown if the water is deep enough and you're in there long enough.

I'd never used the tool, and I inspected it as I got it our of our car.  It  had a     hardened tip about an inch long with a sharpened point for glass breaking.  "That ought to do the trick," I thought as I looked at my watch.  Nearly 20 minutes had gone by since we had arrived to find the trapped dogs.  I promised myself that if the police don't get here soon, I'll use the tool whether it's legal or not.

Charlene was only a few steps behind me.  She had not only called the Sheriff, but she'd called the County's Animal Services office and our vet's office who then made other calls for help.  Shortly after she got back I was relieved to see a police car with two deputies arriving.

As the police were brought up to date, I checked the dogs—they were still fairly energetic, but I didn't know how hot it was in the car.  It had to be over 100 by this time (nearly 1/2 hour after we discovered them.  The police decided to wait for the Animal Services van, which had been called and was on its way.  Fortunately the Sheriff's headquarters is less than a mile away.

I looked back at the store and saw a man come into view around the corner of the building.  He started running as fast as he could in our general direction.  On arriving in our midst, he said" I only went into the store for one thing.  It wasn't more than five minutes ago.  The dogs are OK."

"That's a lie," I said, "we got here 40 minutes ago, and they were locked in the car then."  One of the police told the man to open the car, and he unlocked and opened the driver's door.

The man had a thick neck and a crew cut, and he was short and stumpy.  On top of all that, he was ugly.  He had a loud, almost overbearing voice, and he was obviously trying to control the direction of the conversation.  He started a long string of questionable statements, trying to prove he was a responsible pet owner.  Here are two examples of the several "excuses" he made:

·       The dogs were his best friends, and he'd give his life for them.

·       He'd been in an accident in which his sister died and he was badly injured, but he nevertheless saved his sister's dogs in spite of serious injuries to his leg.  He showed us all an ugly mass of scars around his right knee.  In his mind, all of this was somehow proof of his love of dogs.

A tall, older man dressed poorly in an old tee shirt and shorts, walked up to us, and it soon became clear he was a friend of Shorty, the dog owner.  He had been with Shorty when they left the dogs locked up with no cooling.  I asked the Animal Services lady why one of them could not have stayed with the dogs in the car with the air conditioner running.  No one had a good answer for that.

One of the deputies made Shorty start the car and the air conditioner.  All three uniforms (two deputies and the Animal Services officer) took down all our names, addresses and phone numbers.  The AS officer squared off in front of Shorty, and told him she was going to ticket him twice, once for each dog.  She was very definite.  Also it was possible she could confiscate the dogs and he could recover them the next day the next day by paying a fine.

Well then Shorty shifted into high gear and protested like he'd been stabbed in the heart.  "Please, please, puh-leeze. Don't give me a ticket.  I'm a substitute teacher, and I have to work tomorrow.  Please don't do this."

We could see this could go on forever, and we still had not bought the few things we came for, so we left confident the uniforms had the matter well in hand.  20 to 25 minutes later we left the store, our shopping done.  We had moved the car away from the arrest scene, but on our way out of the lot, we once again drove near the place of all this drama.  They were all still there, over an hour after we had discovered the trapped dogs.

In a phone call to Animal Services the next day we found out the dogs had not been confiscated, but two tickets had been issued to him.  So Shorty, the loudmouth, got a little of what he begged for, but I'm sure he'll think twice about leaving the dogs in the car again.

On the other hand if he was capable of an act so stupid, it may well be that he won't learn anything.  To the two dogs, I say, "Sorry guys, we did the best we could.  Maybe you two should associate with a smarter class of owners."

Les Inglis

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Happy Graduates Kindergarten

Author's note:  We're departing from our usual Cuba themes to tell Happy's story.  This is the third posting on our ongoing effort to incorporate Happy into our family.

After Happy's first five weeks with us, Don Murray, our dog training expert, kept Happy in his home for two weeks so he could concentrate on learning certain commands.  He arrived back home a week ago, and the training of the people (Charlene and me) began.  Don demonstrated Happy's progress.  He knows sit, down, come, heel, stay, off and place. You may not recognize "off" and "place."  Off is the equivalent of "no."  It's a command to stop whatever the dog is doing.  "Place" is a command to return to his place—in Happy's case, a lightweight trampoline bed about 18 by 42 inches in size.  There, Happy is the boss of his world.  Place is a good starting point for whatever practice session we want to work on.

We knew we humans would be going to school too.  Homework is several short sessions of practice for each of us every day.  I'm pretty good at heel, place, and stay.  Charlene has mastered come, sit, and place.  Nobody said this was going to be easy—and it isn't.

Happy is a much quieter dog thanks to his two week visit with Don.  He is still chewing, but he mostly concentrates on his own toys now, not our shoes.  His love at first sight affairs with Peachy and Princess continue at full tilt and his interest in our six cats is softening to curiosity, rather than challenges.  The anxiety level in our house is moderating.

Happy expects company when he goes to the fenced back yard for a pit stop.  We're beginning to get all three dogs on the same bathroom schedule.  This is a major improvement, as house training was (and to some extent still is) a big worry in his first weeks with us.  If we can soon pronounce Happy housebroken, it will be largely thanks to the examples set by Peachy and Princess, our two older dogs, who are trained better than anyone has a right to expect.

Don's website at tells us about the advantages of his type of training.  We expect to have Happy be a contented, cooperative family member after training.  We are beginning to see now that that goal will be achieved.  I doubt he will ever like the amazing dancing Border Collies you see on talent shows, but we don't need to have that level of performance.  We're just looking for a loving happy member of our little menagerie.  He's on his way there now, and I hope he will be as happy as we are that Charlene found him for us.

Les Inglis

Sunday, June 29, 2014

                                                  Danny, Our First Border Collie

Happy Settles In

Recently I told the story of Happy's rescue from a life of homelessness in northern Florida and of his move to our house.  His first stop on that road was at our vet's office for neutering.  None of our dogs or cats has ever been in our house without being sterilized.  I first saw him as he was leaving the office after the neutering.  He was being carried out because he wouldn't walk on a leash—so great was his terror of humans.  I was just beginning to understand how much adjustment he faced and how much we faced as well.

We knew he was shy of human contact.  You couldn't pet him, and if you even made a move to touch him, he would dodge away from your hand.  I thought perhaps he had never been touched by a person.  Off the leash in the house, he found two best friends, our other dogs, Peachy and Princess.  They hit it off right away.  Our six cats were another matter, however.  Possibly Happy had never been with a cat before.  Most of our felines stood their ground, and when curious Happy approached, they advanced, hissing and growling.  Happy knew enough to avoid the batting front cat feet, and the cats never laid a glove on him.  But we worried it could happen with possible injuries.  We took to discouraging cat interactions which devolved into yelling for Happy to break off and come (not quite within arm's reach as he still didn't want our petting).

House training also presented an ongoing problem.  He would go a couple of days without an accident, and then regress.  I sensed it would be a long learning process, so we had all the rugs removed from the house and cleaned.  Now we pad around in our stocking feet on ceramic tile floors, which clean up easily.  He's not reliable yet, but we're training ourselves to get him into the dog's fenced back yard on his schedule.  Admittedly, we are wildly optimistic and hopeful we'll eventually prevail—but it won't happen tomorrow.

Border Collies are herding dogs insistent that their charges stay in a tight group, even if that means nipping at their legs to prod them.  Happy does this—not with sheep, but with the humans in the house.  His nips can hurt, and he has been known to break the skin.  We'll have to learn to calm him.

Now we are five weeks into our new association with Happy, and if the next five weeks are as tough as the last ones, we'll both need to move into an asylum.  We talked it over and decided Happy needs to have some formal training.  As much as we like dogs and as many as we've had, we've never had such a disruptive entity in our home.  We have taken in many animals over the years we've been together, and some previously had lived only in the outdoors, yet we never had so much trouble with comportment, housetraining, destruction of shoes, books, pillows etc.  We both knew we'd met our match and something needed to change.  In spite of our desperate home situation, we loved Happy as much as any of the others we've had.

Our wonderful vet, Marty Neher had the answer for us—a professional dog trainer, Don Murray, who came to our house, met Happy, and told us of his methods.  An hour and a half later we signed up for Happy's two week stay in Don's house for a course of rigorous training.  During his interview with us, Don had calmed Happy down, answered our questions, and calmed our fears.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Happy as he left for his stint living in Dan's house with their other dogs and cats.  Charlene and I were apprehensive and unhappy at being separated for such a long time.

It's amazing to me that after 5 weeks of elimination atrocities in our house, dog proofing to protect our possessions, yelling at him to leave the cats alone, having him not come when called, trying to imagine if he needs to go out in the back yard (guess wrong and you get to clean it up) that we don't hate Happy, but it's quite the opposite.  Right now, in spite of the turmoil he's caused us, we dread the 2 weeks we must be without him.  He only left yesterday, but we're already counting the days until his return.

Almost no one can define "love," but our attachment to Happy after weeks of unexpected problems and stress serves as good an operative definition as I can come up with.

Les Inglis

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Make Do Economy
55 years of life under Cuban communist rule has shown us a mixed bag or solutions to everyday problems in the island nation.  Along Central Havana's Prada Boulevard, large restored homes show us their newly restored faces, while in Old Havana many streets feature examples of Spanish colonial buildings in their final state—collapsed into a pile of rubble.
You don't find supermarkets overflowing with foods and household products.  Instead,  small farmers pack their produce into a car or truck and head to the city to sell it in neighborhood food stands,  Even if supermarkets were common, customers who could pay their prices would be rare.  The average Cuban is poor by western standards.
But while hardships abound, human creativity provides solutions to tough problems like getting to work every day in a city with an overloaded bus system.  Thanks partly to car prices pushed to exorbitant levels by fees and taxes, most Cubans don't have cars.  Often the ones that have a car have old American cars from the 1950's.  If you have a car, one way to make money is to provide a jitney service—cruising the streets in search of pedestrians who will pay a small fee if the driver is going their way.  If you see an ancient Chevy or Plymouth, you can often flag him down using hand signals that will tell where you're going.
And when that 55 Oldsmobile won't go another yard under its own power, it isn't junked, it is re-motored.  A jitney driver told me his old Buick had a Toyota truck motor, and it sounded like a Patton tank without a muffler, "Make do" is the name of the game in Cuba.
In our world of email, Internet, and digital ubiquity, it's hard to imagine most Cubans don't have an email connection, much less a connection to the Internet.  How can Nora in Havana send a small package of medicine to Gladis in Varadero?  One creative way is via the intercity bus system.  The bus drivers moonlight as a sort of UPS system in miniature.  It's pretty creative if you think about it—intercity buses serve the entire island.  The recipient needs to know the message or package is coming, and he or he can pick it up at the bus station.  Necessity is the mother of invention.
Large animals are the property of the state, and small animals (like household pets) are largely ignored by the government.  So where does one get vet meds in small doses for dogs and cats?  Again a creative solution has developed.  Medicines for large animals close to their expiration date are sold to the public.  They are ground to a powder and repackaged for dogs and cats.  Unfortunately, anesthetics and vaccines aren't available by this method, but many household pets have benefited from this "make do" solution.
Life in Cuba is a quilt of patches.  They may seem funny to us, but these homemade fixes make life more manageable for the Cubans.  They show us the creativity of the island people just as much as the works of Cuba's artists and musicians do.
Les Inglis