Interview: Animal Rescue League of Dakar

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I am not an animal lover by anyone’s definition nor stretch of imagination. I would never hurt an animal, of course, but probably the only reason I’d ever pet your cat would be to gently push it away from me. And if it’s a dog you have, I’m probably only interacting with it so that my kids don’t grow up afraid of them like I did.

So while I don’t love animals, I do absolutely love what the Animal Rescue League of Dakar (‘ARL’) is doing.

To  be honest, before this morning when I visited their stand at the Lou Bess ? Farmers Market, I thought ARL did three things: 1) guilt people into adopting street animals, 2) help rescue and rehabilitate injured animals, 3) guilt expats leaving the country who could not take their pets with them.

Boy did I have it all wrong.

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When I got to the ARL stand, my daughter zeroed in on the puppies (who were, even I’ll admit, adorable). The ARL volunteers patiently and calmly let my daughter play and cuddle and pet and hold and pat these sweet little furballs as we chatted. My daughter was in heaven, and I was learning what it is that the Animal Rescue League of Dakar actually does.

I was so impressed and moved by their initiative that I returned that afternoon and asked Vicky, the co-founder of ARL, if I could interview her for this blog and she kindly agreed…

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Let’s start at the beginning. Why was ARL started?
When I arrived in Dakar in 2012, there were no organizations working to rescue or sterilize street animals. I had been involved in animal welfare in the past in other countries, but these organizations were often well-funded by large donors and businesses and they didn’t really need me or my help. But here in Dakar, I saw a huge need. And I knew I had to help.

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What really prompted you to do something about animal welfare in Dakar?
Well, shortly after we arrived we were looking at a property in quartier Mermoz. There were three dogs tied up that they said belonged to the owner. These dogs were on very short ropes in the full sun in September with no escape from the heat, no water… and it was obvious that they were starving. I asked why they were being kept this way, but the guard couldn’t really give me an answer. I went home and tried to find welfare organization in Dakar, but found nothing – absolutely nothing.

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So what did you do?
I started asking around and I kept hearing about this woman, Fabienne, with the US Embassy. People said she helped animals and eventually I was able to connect with her. She’s an incredible woman. Our first initiative was a small stand at the 2012 Dakar Women’s Group Christmas Bazaar. Fabienne brought a kitten she had found abandoned near the Embassy and put it in a basket at our stand. It attracted people’s attention and we talked with them about the need to rescue, sterilize and vaccinate the many, many street animals in our city.

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And ARL started and grew from there?
Yes. And now in February of 2016, we have been a registered association for a year and Dr Gaby Fall, a Senegalese vet, is our president. In one more year we can apply for official NGO status. But even now, we are allowed to receive funding and carry out our projects.

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Tell me about these projects. What exactly is it that ARL does?
There are three areas we really want to focus on. First, sterilization of street animals to fight overpopulation. Second, we vaccinate against rabies – and there is a rabies problem in Senegal. Third, we want to engage local communities and encourage them to care for their animals.

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I can imagine that’s quite a challenge.
It really is. In the local culture, animals are not valued. There’s a lack of empathy towards animals, and sometimes even cruelty in its place. On multiple occasions we’ve found tiny kittens with their eyes poked out by children. We’ve found dogs with their backs broken by teenagers with bricks. If you let kids do this, what kind of adults will you have in the next generation?

No matter what your religious beliefs are, every animal is God’s creature. And it doesn’t matter who your God is, if it’s Allah or Jesus or Buddha, we as humans have been put in charge, so to speak, to care for them. Not everyone loves animals, but cruelty must be stopped.

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So how does ARL care for animals in these rescue situations?
We find the animals, feed them and sterilize them when possible. But we make a point to take the time to educate as we go. As soon I stop the car to check on an animal, people gather wanting to help. Sure, sometimes they are after money because they think we’ll pay them to help, but in any case we take the opportunity to engage those around us and show them practical ways they can help by giving water to street animals or instead of putting leftover ceeb (rice) in a bag in the garbage, they can put it out where animals can find it more easily and not have to hunt for it, nor ingest the plastic. We see that a lot too, street dogs who have eaten plastic bags as they hunt for food in the city.

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When someone near the animal isn’t able to take responsibility for them, what do you do?
Well we do try first, as you said, to find someone locally who can care for the animal. In some cases, ARL can help supply a responsible person with food for the animal. Or if it’s a baby animal that needs needs milk, we can help with that too and teach them how to do the feeding. But our real mission is to address animals on the street, overpopulation, rabies and education.

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Tell me about your sterilization campaigns.
We partners with local veterinarians to trap, neuter, release (called ‘TNR’) and vaccinate as many animals as they can. Every so often, as we can, we sponsor a mass sterilization and rabies vaccination campaign across the city, which costs upwards of 2,000,000 CFA ($3,500 USD). We work with some excellent vets here in Dakar to do this and we rely on fundraising events, like this bake sale, or donations.

We also work in the outlying suburbs like Malika and Dalifort and go as far as Thies and Saly to assist people and bring animals to Dakar for treatment, vaccinations and sterilizations.

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I really thought that the main thing ARL did was find homes for animals, but it seems like that’s not the case.
Yes, we are much more than a pet adoption agency. It’s a side effect of what we do, but not the primary focus. In fact we encourage people not to pick up animals and bring them to ARL but care for the animals themselves. We want the animals to stay where they are, but be cared for well by their owners or the community.

But when we come across animaIs that have been abandoned, injured or where the mother no longer feeds her young for some reason, we rescue and foster these animals and try to find them good homes. All rescued animals are vaccinated and sterilized as soon as possibIe and before adopted out.

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So what is your advice to an expat in Dakar who is considering adopting a pet from ARL?
If you can’t take it with you when you leave Senegal, don’t take it in the first place. Many of the dogs and cats living on the street were abandoned or ‘left with a friend’.

But if you are wanting to adopt, please do contact us. Our adoption fee is 40,000 CFA and it covers full vaccination for the first year and also sterilization. Actually the cost of those is often over 40,000 CFA so we are not even recovering our costs, but we want to make adopting a pet as do-able as possible.

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And if someone already has a pet?
Please, please be sure to have it sterilized and vaccinated – at least against rabies. It may seem like a big expense, but when you consider how quickly we spend 50,000 CFA on other things without blinking, and not just the shoppers at this farmers’ market but the Senegalese too… It’s an investment that is worth the cost.

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What does ARL need at this point to be able to carry out its mission?
We need cooperation from authorities, particularly the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health, to stop the poisoning of dogs on streets. When the population of street dogs gets too large in a neighborhood, people complain to the chef de quartier who can send a request to have the animals poisoned. But this is not a solution! The poisoned food is left out in the streets where pets can eat it, as well as animals we at ARL have already sterilized and vaccinated that we are tracking and caring for. This is just money down the drain for nothing.

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And I would think there are other risks as well when dealing with poisoning on this scale.
The environmental impact of these poisoning campaigns are unknown but definitely exist. For starters, there is no working incinerator in Senegal. Nobody has been able to tell us what happens to the poisoned carcasses. And are they even all found and removed?  The streets are full of mentally ill people, homeless people and small children. Do they come into contact with the poisoned meat left on  the street? Wild animals, birds in particular, may feed off a dead carcass and be poisoned as well.

Killing the animals won’t end rabies problem, but vaccinating both parents gives puppies antibodies.

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What about from individuals, like me? What can we do to help ARL?
Food donations are definitely needed Maybe when you do your monthly shopping, just add a box of dog food or croquettes then drop them off at one of our donation sites around town. If even ten people a month did this, that would be huge for us.

We can always use old towels, old sheets, animal carriers…

And we also need foster families for rescued animals. There are some great Senegalese young men who really have a heart to help the animals of Dakar that we are helping to be foster parents, but we need more people like this to help us.

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And I’m sure financial donations are needed and welcome too.
Yes, we have a bank account and and also a crowdfunding site that works quite well for donations.

 

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Vicky, and for clarifying what it is ARL does and does not do. You guys are taking on a tremendous challenge and we appreciate what you are doing for the animals of Dakar, and for the next generation. 
Thank you. It feels good to know that the community is taking animal welfare seriously.

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One final question, are there vets you’d like to recommend?
There are many good vets in Dakar. We, of course, do not know all of them, but here are the names of the vets that we have working relationships with and without whom ARL would not be able to do the work we do:

Dr Gabi Fall – Plateau – 33 821 9497
Dr Anna Diop – hann Mariste – 33 832 5671
Dr Annabella Ndiaye – Sacre Coeur 3 – 77 630 6349
Dr Abdoulaye Cisse – Mamelles – 77 6452889

For more information:
ARL on Facebook
ARL website with current pets available for adoption
Make a donation to ARL.

Joy comes in the morning

I am not a morning person by any stretch. Just ask my husband. Or my son. (“Mama, what wrong with your face? You need coffee?”)

But there is something incredible about 5:30am in Senegal.

Three o’clock in the morning is a dark hour, physically and spiritually. Having had two babies here in Senegal, I’ve spent my share (and maybe yours too) of time awake and pacing at 3am, looking over the neighborhood from our balcony. There’s a heaviness I can feel in my soul and I can taste the darkness. It suffocates me. It’s an hour that lasts so long with its inescapable evil hanging in the air.

But then 5:30am comes. Before the first rays of sun change the city’s physical appearance, the creepy stillness changes to a calm one. A brief moment when everything seems at peace, jamm rekk. One by one, the mosques wake up and call gently for people to pray – and I do. The sweet, gentle smell of bread baking in the boulangeries floats in. A solitary rooster crows in the distance. The soft sounds of someone sweeping their courtyard (yes, before the sun is even up) lull me into thinking I want to go back to sleep.

But I fight it so that I can savor this perfect moment that comes every morning in Senegal. Jamm rekk. Peace only.

Psalm 30:50 …weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

5 ways I will fight terrorism 

1. I will not be ruled by fear, but will be vigilant. We will continue to go out for romantic dinners and fun family outings and boring grocery store runs… We will live our lives, paying close attention to updates and alerts issued by credible sources (ahem, not Seneweb) and using the common sense that God gave us.

2. I will cooperative, patient and appreciative when security procedures and searches slow me down. 

3. I will provide an education for girls in Senegal in every way that I can. This article by Nicholas Kristoff was the catalyst for us to pay school fees for girls at risk or in vulnerable situations.

4. I will not spread misinformation. When I hear or read something – particularly if it makes me fearful – I will first confirm the source as credible and then verify that they actually issued the information before passing it on. (For example, all security updates from the French Embassy in Dakar are available on their website.)

5. I will remember the One who made me, who knows me and will never leave me. And I will love and serve Him freely in this country that is our adopted home, where all faiths are allowed to be lived out.

Observations from a Senegalese wedding

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Basse & Khaiba in the wedding tent

1. There is no such thing as being overdressed or overly made up – for the women at least. Got sparkles and jewels and spike heels and a massive head wrap? Wear ’em. And walk slowly enough that everyone can appreciate your ensemble.

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With Khaiba before the ceremony

2. When the guy with the camcorder and bright spotlight comes by, you are not to look into the camera or smile. Just stare straight ahead. Maybe check your phone or fix your earring.

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The bridal party

3. It will start several hours later than announced. And last much longer than you think. Come ready to sit, come ready to party!

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The guys just chatting away

4. There will be music and it will be loud. I SAID IT WOULD BE LOUD!

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Here she comes! They met in the middle of the aisle with a KISS! I was shocked. But was later told this is young folks in Dakar in 2016 and I should have expected it. :)

5. Don’t give the bride and groom glasses or plates as a wedding gift. Everyone gives glasses or plates. Other good ideas include kitchenware (sturdy knives, grill utensils, kebab skewers, grater…) and bed or bath linens in rich colors.

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Our wedding wear, which turned out to be on the very understated side.

Bonus observation: the most romantic (sounding) song in Wolof is Biriham’s Kima Doon Seet remix. And it’s 89 cents on Amazon. You’re welcome.

Basse & Khaiba, we wish you all the best and many wonderful years together!

5 things I learned in the Bradt Guide to Senegal

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One would think that after living here for a cumulative seven years, we’d have a pretty good idea of what’s fun to do in Senegal and how to go about doing it. Yes. One would. But they might be just the teensiest bit mistaken. The more we learn and experience, the more we realize there’s a a lot more to learn and experience!

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Flipping through the newly published Bradt Travel Guide for Senegal, we both came to the same conclusion: we gotta do more of this stuff. And armed with this comprehensive and handy little guide, we just might.

5 things I learned, thanks to this guidebook:

  • how to cross the borders into our five neighboring countries and what to expect at each one
  • things to be aware of when traveling during Ramadan (brilliant topic!)
  • the scoop on the most popular dailies and weeklies in Senegal, as well as glossy fashion mags to look for. #gazelleskirt
  • how to travel in a way that stimulates and develops local economy and also a great list of charities open to short-term international volunteers

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Hopefully those who pick up a copy of this guidebook will find the information as helpful as we are. In particular I hope the ‘Dakar: Where To Eat and Drink’ section starting on page 101 will be useful since that’s my turf and I love helping people experience the amazing food scene Dakar offers. Bon voyage et bon app’!

Imagine this. 

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I got really excited when I saw the electrical outlets in the walls had been covered up. I mean really excited. That meant that was really, truly a place designed for kids to be kids – something that had been very lacking in Dakar to date.

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Last week I took my two kiddos to Kër ImagiNation, the new play and discovery center in Yoff that is the work of ImagiNation Afrika. The entire villa and its yard have been converted to house the beginnings of a children’s museum. (In Dakar. I know. I’m still in shock.)

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We paid our 2000cfa per person entry fee (rates will change soon, but still very reasonable and soooo worth it) and got a quick tour of the place before the kids were let loose to explore and play with whatever caught their attention. Construction boxes, a pretend supermarket, weight and measuring stations, shape art, sandboxes, water tables, hopscotch, a play kitchen area with dishes and soapy water and an entire room filled with craft supplies and materials to upcycle into your art creation.

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Kid heaven. Parent who cried when we visited a kids’ museum in the US and I knew we had nothing like it in Dakar heaven.

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The bilingual staff had obviously been trained to work with children and their development, not just keeping them alive and also not doing everything for them. The grounds and villa were clean, and kept clean. (Along with the covered outlets, I was also overjoyed to find toilet paper and soap in the restroom. It’s the little things that are big things.)

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Kër ImagiNation had its soft launch in December, but now has fully opened to the public with regular hours and workshops each week and a café on site and membership options will soon be available. 

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Their Facebook page has all the info you need and I give it a big two thumbs up and thank you to those who have worked so hard to make this dream a reality for children in Dakar.

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You are the ground beneath my feet. 

Today we went to the world’s only (are you impressed yet?) ropes course in Baobab trees! It was so fun to do something all together that the whole family enjoyed. The ‘termite course’ for the littlest, the kids’ course for her brother and a mid-air death trap route (my interpretation) for my husband and my dad. 

Personally, I enjoyed keeping both feet on the ground and watching everyone having so much fun and swinging from above. Plus it gave me time to compose this…

Baobab trees.
Ziplines.
Wobbly planks.
I 💕the ground.
Can’t even watch.

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