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“I crossed the river Madre de Dios on a barge loaded with motorbikes and people carting enormous bundles of produce on their backs.
Text Box: When Cristina Corales visited Puerto Maldonado in May 2010 to see what the Peruvian part of Amazonia looked like she had no idea just how her life would change!  Here in her own words Cristina tells her story [as published in Release magazine, January 2011]  On the other side of the river, lying in rubbish and dust was the thinnest dog I’ve ever seen.  She was so thin I wondered how she could still be alive.  She barely had the strength to raise her head to eat the sandwich I bought her.  But she did, a tiny piece at a time while looking me straight in the eye.  Big brown eyes full of suffering, strange key-hole shapes cut out of both ears, just a strip of fur running down her back, sores on her legs, mange everywhere.  As she looked into my eyes and I photographed her I made her a promise that I’d come back and take care of her.

I returned to Australia, sold/gave away almost all my possessions and booked a flight back to Peru.  And so in July I returned, very nervous that Key Hole (as I had named her in my mind) would perhaps have died.  I just couldn’t imagine a dog so starved could still be alive.  But there she was, thinner if possible, sicker than before, fur the same colour as the dust in which she lay.  Again I fed her, then as she ate I noticed other dogs standing around watching. 

The next day I came back, this time with plates and a bag of dog food and that’s how I met Sweetie, Puppy Face, Mama Jaw, Baby Baby, Scarecrow and some others who didn’t get named straight off.  Every day I crossed the river to feed the homeless and hungry dogs.  The local people at first laughed at me and even asked what poison I was feeding them, but after a few days they began to help by pointing out where all the various dogs were lying.

  • Sweetie had not a hair on his body, and his skin was sunburnt, flaking off along his back, and he had mange and sores.  He scratched non-stop.  He was starving.
  • Mama Jaw, dear old lady, had no lower jaw and very few teeth.  She also had mange and was starving.
  • Baby Baby, another old lady, tiny little thing with mange, very thin and had just had puppies, all of whom died because she had no milk for them.
  • Puppy Face, starving, a sweet puppy expression on his sore-covered face and bleeding ears.  Blood was caked on his shoulders – vampire bats attack the dogs at night, eating their ears and leaving them bleeding for hours.

 


Keyhole Before

Keyhole After

 

I needed to get these dogs to a safe place out of the truck parking area where they were living.  I smuggled one dog into my hostel room for 5 days while she recovered from surgery – quite a difficult 5 days as street dogs aren’t house-trained: they go where and whenever they want to.  Then the break-through came when a man I met in the market liked what I was trying to do and offered me a shed on a piece of land out of the city.  Wow!  It even has electricity and water!

And so in mid-October we moved into our new home – one dog at a time on a motorbike, then carried in my arms from the road along a track through the jungle.  My dogs won’t walk on leads, they are afraid of any ropes/chains/leads so carrying them was the only option.  It took all day and nearly killed my back.  As well, it was a very hot day and the dogs were stressed out.  Last to be carried in was Angelita, my baby who I had found in the plaza at the end of September.  She hid her head in my arm as was her habit when she couldn’t cope with what was happening to her.

Since that wonderful day when we could all live together in a safe place away from traffic and trucks and vampire bats we have had our ups and downs.  Puppy Face has had to have five treatments on his mange-covered face.  Key Hole, the reason I came back to Puerto Maldonado, has a canine venereal tumour and has had chemo**. Angelita I lost to distemper due to poor vet care.  She is buried near our back door and I put a fresh hibiscus flower on her grave every day.  And we have been joined by Frida (named in honour of Frida Kahlo, my favourite artist) who had been living with a road construction gang but her mange made it Text Box:  impossible for her to continue living in the street and sleeping under a front-end-loader.  Mama Jaw, who I’ve renamed Lady GaGa due to her senility, moved in yesterday.  She’s still quite bewildered by her change in circumstances.**

Then we had two rescues on one day, a day of torrential rain and tropical storms.  Robbie who I found while visiting a friend in hospital.  This poor puppy was living in the hospital grounds, too young to fend for himself; he was starving and had no hair on his lower body. And our miracle boy Milagro [pictured above] who a friend picked up from a median strip in pouring rain.  Milagro has a broken jaw, is almost completely blind, was covered in mange, and we picked over 200 ticks off his poor little body.  He is such a cuddly darling now that he has recovered his health.
 

Now the rainy season is here and my job has changed from bringing more dogs to the house.  I’m concentrating on tracking down the owners of sick street dogs and offering them free vet care and neutering.  
 


 

Milagro After
Meanwhile my dogs and I live a basic but safe life; they know they are loved and they get 2 meals a day and all the hugs they need as well as on-going vet care. They are happy, so I am happy too. I'm hoping that one day they'll learn not to eat my sandals, and to pee outside!"

[** Since the above article was published, Key Hole and Mama Jaw have sadly passed away]

Today Cristina continues to run a feeding program; as well as ensuring street dogs get the veterinary treatment they need, promoting and facilitating neutering, and educating dog owners regarding the proper care of their pets. 
 

Balboa had an owner who wasn’t feeding him enough –
just look at the difference in these pictures, taken just 17 days apart.



FOLLOW THIS LINK TO VIEW CRISTINA'S PHOTO ALBUM:
DOGS OF PERU

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