Venezue­lan pets share own­ers’ eco­nomic woes


It is in­creas­ingly hard to find their food on the nearly bare su­per­mar­ket shelves. They lack ba­sic medicine. Some have even been kid­napped.

Venezue­lan pets, like their own­ers, are suf­fer­ing from the eco­nomic malaise, chronic short­ages and vi­o­lent crime grip­ping the coun­try.

Roselin Gon­za­lez has four dogs: Catira, Pelusa, Bianca and Berpi.

Catira and Pelusa, both 15 years old, have to take Euthy­rox and Enalapril for thy­roid and heart con­di­tions.

But like many hu­man pa­tients, they don’t al­ways get their pills.

“I spend days go­ing around to dif­fer­ent phar­ma­cies, and some­times I can’t find the right medicine for my dogs. I can’t imag­ine how a pa­tient would feel if faced with the prospect of dy­ing be­cause of a lack of medicine,” Gon­za­lez told AFP.

Do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mals

all over the coun­try are in sim­i­lar straits. Many lack food as well as medicine.

Ger­man Cam­pos di­rects the An­i­mal Health In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, a group of 70 com­pa­nies that im­port an­i­mal food and medicine.

The in­ven­tory of prod­ucts for pets, birds, pigs, cows and horses is at “alarm­ing lev­els,” he told AFP: 66 per­cent of the prod­ucts in the sec­tor are out of stock.

“Vet­eri­nar­i­ans are lim­it­ing the prod­ucts they pre­scribe, or turn­ing to prod­ucts in­tended for hu­man use that pets can also take,” said Cam­pos.

Vac­cines, Surg­eries on Hold

It turns out this is a two-way street. Many hu­man pa­tients have mean­while turned to vet­eri­nary sup­ply stores to buy medicines they can­not find in phar­ma­cies, said the pres­i­dent of the Venezue­lan Med­i­cal Fed­er­a­tion, Dou­glas Leon Nat­era.

“Peo­ple are find­ing an­tibi­otics, steroids, and top­i­cal med­i­ca­tion for their skin dis­eases in pet stores,” he said.

Venezuela’s cen­tral bank has not re­leased fig­ures on short­ages since March 2014. Then, they stood at 29.4 per­cent — mean­ing nearly one in three prod­ucts the av­er­age house­hold needed was out of stock.

Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s gov­ern­ment blames the prob­lem on an “eco­nomic war” be­ing waged by the pri­vate sec­tor.

But busi­ness own­ers say the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to sup­ply enough dol­lars on the tightly con­trolled for­eign ex­change mar­ket is pre­vent­ing them from im­port­ing goods.

Venezuela de­pends on oil sales for 96 per­cent of its for­eign cur­rency. But slid­ing crude prices have left the im­port-de­pen­dent coun­try des­per­ately short of cash.

Manuel Caraballo, a vet­eri­nar­ian with 36 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, said the triple fe­line vac­cine for cats has been un­avail­able in the coun­try for more than a year.

“Many clin­ics have not been per­form­ing surg­eries be­cause they don’t have anes­thet­ics or su­ture ma­te­ri­als,” he said.

Se­cu­rity Fears

The eco­nomic cri­sis has also fu­eled a sharp rise in vi­o­lent crime, in­clud­ing kid­nap­pings for ran­som — even of pets.

That’s what hap­pened in the case of Balu, a 14-year-old poo­dle that be­longed to Ana Elisa Oso­rio, a for­mer min­is­ter in the gov­ern­ment of late So­cial­ist leader Hugo Chavez.

The dog was sit­ting in­side a car when it was taken in March.

“They de­manded one mil­lion bo­li­vars to re­turn Balu,” Oso­rio told AFP — about US$1,500 on Venezuela’s black- mar­ket cur­rency ex­change at the time, but more than US$158,000 un­der the of­fi­cial rate.

“I of­fered them 200,000 bo­li­vars and the kid­nap­per mocked me and asked me if I thought he was poor.” She never saw Balu again. Those who can travel be­yond Venezuela buy food for their pets in the out­side world.

Busi­ness­man Frank De Prada, for ex­am­ple, makes space in his bags each time he leaves the coun­try to bring back food for his dogs and par­rots.

“They get sick if they don’t eat good-qual­ity food,” he told AFP.

Roger Pacheco, an ac­tivist for an­i­mal rights group An­i­maNat­u­ralis, ex­plained that pet own­ers are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to home­o­pathic reme­dies to deal with the lack of con­ven­tional medicine.

Although it has not stopped pet own­ers from com­plain­ing about these hard­ships, Venezuela’s gov­ern­ment does run a pro­gram sup­port­ing do­mes­ti­cated and street an­i­mals.

It is called Ne­vado’s Mis­sion, af­ter the dog of Venezue­lan in­de­pen­dence hero Si­mon Bo­li­var, the icon of Chavez and Maduro’s po­lit­i­cal move­ment.

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