Nicaragua: La Fabrica saves Granada's
The bar restaurant La Fabrica, located in the colonial town of Granada in Nicaragua, doesn't only have usual costumers coming to chill out and listen to music. Most of Granada's street dogs also come regularly to the bar to be fed and receive herbal medication as well as attention from the European owners Heidi Voergaard Poulsen and Didier Albert Marchal.
Heidi Voergaard Poulsen, with one of her street dogs in front of the bar La Fabrica
Didier and Heidi, respectively from Belgium and Denmark, used to own the famous bar La Fabrica and the back packer place La Sala in Antigua, Guatemala, and also the Eclipse in San Pedro de Atitlan. They moved down to Nicaragua three years ago to open a new bar "La Fabrica", which became one of the most popular bars in Granada.
The couple agrees that taking care of the street dogs in this city is something that "just happened". "Having hungry dogs sitting outside your front door, you start giving one of them food and before you know it you have 30 of them. It is hard to say no," explains Heidi. "We can't just sit down and watch pain when we feel we can do something about it." A few hungry dogs first came and were given the leftovers from the restaurant. As more were coming, Heidi gave them some of her own dog food, but at the end of the day, there was not enough for the five dogs the couple has adopted. Today, the cook of the restaurant makes three huge pots of food for the street dogs. Every evening of the week, you can see a procession of all kinds of dogs, coming for their meal served half a block from the entrance of La Fabrica. The dogs also come for the attention the couple and their staff members give them. Some of the dogs even let Heidi brush them. "The dogs somehow feel that next to the bar, it is a safe place for them" explains the Danish girl. "Here they sometimes let complete strangers touch them, but if you meet the same dog next to the park, he won't let anyone near him. They feel safer here, and more confidant."
In Nicaragua, lots of locals have dogs as pets. However, due to the poverty in the country, most of them sometimes cannot feed their dogs. There is also a circle of violence against animals due to poverty, with people "feeling lost and having lost their self esteem" explains Heidi. "A dog is an easy target, it can't complain and go to the authority." Heidi once had to pull out a fish hook stuck on the side of one of her street dogs. It is one of the only times she has been bitten, since the poor dog was in tremendous pain when she pulled it out. Apart from this incident, she seams to have a very strong connection with the dogs who obviously trust her.
La Fabrica prepares meals for the dogs which include ground beef, rice, noodles, garlic, capsules of vitamin E and sometimes, when there are enough funds, carrots, quite expensive in the country. "The garlic helps with the tics and flies, as well as stomach parasites," explains Didier. They also learnt that tobacco helps clear out their intestine. On the wounds, they put lemon juice and salt water to disinfect. They have opted for natural herbal medication since they are aware that the dogs could get even worse with chemical medication while the animals are not under their supervision.
Petey was one of the first dogs to come to the bar La Fabrica. He quickly adopted Heidi and decided that he wanted to live in her house. When the owners would close the doors and he would have to leave by the end of the evening, he would stay outside barking all night. This got to a point where he became so defensive about the building that when they would be open, he was standing on the front steps and defending the building against the clients. The couple couldn't take another dog at that time, especially one which was so demanding, and also because he was so jealous of the other dogs. One of the staff members working in the kitchen, Lucia, decided to take him home for the night so that the couple could get some sleep. Her daughters fell in love with the dog and decided to keep him. "This nightmare dog turned into this wonder dog!" says Heidi. Petey now does all kinds of tricks. "Lucia's house is really small, and she now has three dogs she adopted from the street. They have a really small area where they can go to the bathroom. During the rainy season, the house can get dirty and they have a two year old kid on the floor. When Petey comes back inside, the twin daughters have prepared for him a bowl of water where he dips his front legs and then waits until they dry out. The two 7 year old girls where just right for him. Dogs like him need the right person to take care of them."
It is very common that very smart dogs need more attention than usual dogs. The famous Lassie was one of those really impossible dogs. The first lassie had gone to a few homes where the owners couldn't handle her. Finally, she ended up with a trainer, and the dog turned into this movie star we all know, who could do everything. Only the smartest and strongest street dogs survive. The females usually don't make it due to their weak condition after they get pregnant. Only a 10th of the street dogs are females. "I try to be hard when my street dogs get sick" expresses Heidi, " I try to think that we are all going to die eventually and that I can't save them all. But I can do a little bit for them while they are alive."
Didier and Heidi have a few projects in mind. First of all, they are planning on opening a clinic for the street dogs, with the help of an American retired vet. La Fabrica is doing it's best to raise funds for the clinic, mostly during concerts in La Fabrica, in order to pay a rent for a new place, to buy antibiotics and surgery equipment to perform neutering and spaying. The couple also has the project to help the horses in Granada, which are "treated like machines and sometimes die on the street" as Didier mentions it. They would like to pass a town by-law similar to the one in Antigua where horses have to be shoed and see a vet every three months.
As Heidi will start a project helping the street kids of Granada, Didier also started another project linked to his other bar, located in San Marcos Carazo, about 40 minutes away from Granada. There they will do concerts and festivals to help senior citizen with chronic illnesses. According to Didier, the Nicaragua government simply doesn't have the resources to help elder people and a lot of them are being abandoned. "Those are the people who have been here all their life, they deserve better respect" affirms Didier. "Our aim is to get them comfortable, working with other organizations. We want to make sure they have basic food, furniture, electric power, pain killers, and that they have some dignity towards the end of their life."
The young couple surely decided to contribute to the Nicaraguan society: dogs, horses, children and elders. Didier concludes by modestly saying: "We are not saints, we also live on the bar to make money, we just try to do what we can."
To help build up the dog's clinic in Granada, Antigua, e-mail Heidi and Didier at firstname.lastname@example.org
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