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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.