Walking the streets of old Havana is an exhilarating and stressful experience. The colorful city is full of 1950’s Buicks with drivers who abide by no speed limits and consider traffic lines to be loose guidelines. Use the crosswalk and slap a red label on your forehead that says tourist or hop through two way traffic to gain respect.
Not super keen on playing frogger, Becky and I always waited patiently for red lights and illuminated crosswalk men before venturing to the other side. Standing on busy street corners shouldn’t cause too much anxiety, but for two animal lovers, watching cats walk the curbs like tightropes, and dogs weave in and out of traffic, standing and observing can be the most taxing part of the day.
Of course, becky and I knew this going into the trip-- we have both traveled Latin American countries before and knew what to expect when it comes to street animals. Which is why we made sure to find a shelter to volunteer at. In Cuba, shelters are scarce but we managed to find one in Cotorro, a small town about 30 minutes outside of the city. We were picked up by a young man named Ivan who escorted us to his mother’s home which she has turned into a sanctuary for the for the helpless animals of Havana. May-Ling has become known around cotorro and other parts of Havana as the person to contact if you come across an abused, injured or sick animal.
Cuba does not have many resources for animals; veterinarians are few and far between and pet stores are non-existent. May-ling is one of the only resources you’ll find for an injured animal around the city. Both her and her husband are trained veterinarians and provide the best care possible with their very limited resources. They cook large pots of beans and rice for the animals because pet food is not made in Cuba and is not an imported good. If an animal needs a surgical procedure, May-ling and her husband will perform it in their home. Medicine is difficult to come by, what can be found in the city is very expensive, leaving them to mostly rely on visitors and volunteers to bring food, toys and medications for the animals.
The work that May-ling and her family are doing is intense and selfless. The animals rely on her for survival and she relies on outside help to keep the shelter operating.
If you are traveling to Havana, definitely visit her— she will make you fuerte Cuban coffee and maybe even let you bathe some pups! Consider bringing pet food, medicine or toys for the animals, a quick $20 trip to PetsMart before you pack your bags would be a tremendous help!
If you’re not planning on visiting cuba, I hope you will consider making a donation to May-Ling so she can keep growing her shelter and saving the cats, dogs, pigs and goats of Havana.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring.