Yet, in this environment, the Ghana Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (GSPCA) sprang up as a result of the efforts of two Ghanaians, David Nyoagbe and Roland Azantilow. They had been WSPA Kindness Club leaders in school, and decided that they wanted to improve the lot of dogs throughout Ghana. After consultation with WSPA, they registered as a nongovernmental charity. Karen arrived within their first year of operation and before long became a board member and treasurer. She immediately started helping to raise the visibility of the organization by working with the vendors in the market where puppies were sold.
Puppy market vendors sell dogs like they sell shoes and bananas.
A car drives up, the passengers stay in the car, the vendors run up with a puppy in each hand (and sometimes one under the arm) and push the puppies through the open window into the client’s face. The haggling starts, and when it’s done, for about $3, the car’s occupants drive off with a malnourished puppy. GSPCA worked with the vendors to improve their care of the dogs as well as moderate their rather aggressive marketing methods. They held a course on dog care, and all graduates received a certificate. (The vendors’ marketing skills still need a little work, however.)
After more than 10 years living abroad, working as an international natural resources consultant in Uganda, Botswana, Ghana and Jamaica, Karen, her husband, and her three African dogs and two cats (one African, one Jamaican), moved back to Jemez Springs, New Mexico, in 2006. She still finds time to work with African SPCAs between her extensive business trips to Africa, eastern Europe and Latin America. Of course, as she has been for the last 30 years, she is deeply involved with local animal welfare issues in her new home; she is now president of the Jemez Valley Animal Amigos, working in the local community to improve conditions for dogs and cats, promote spay/neuter, and help find homes for stray and unwanted dogs and cats. So, what lessons did Karen bring back with her to the U.S.? Her own words say it best.
“It’s easy to misinterpret. You learn to ask questions, listen, ask more questions, listen a lot more, and ask any possible question you can come up with so you can get the whole picture.
“It’s all about the pet owners trying to figure you out, and you trying to figure them out, and along the way, you make little improvements for the animal, slowly, slowly (as we say in Uganda). After a year or two, you realize you’ve made an impact.
“Working with animals in Africa is all about working with people. It’s that way in the U.S. also, but in Africa it is even more: You become an auntie to all the families you are working with. There are expectations of you as an auntie, you get invited to weddings and funerals, you have to make a contribution to all the big family events. If a member of the family is sick, you will be asked to assist; the families expect you to come into the house, be a guest, join them for tea. When you start working with African families to help them improve the lives of their pets, you take on all the responsibilities of being one of the family.”
And what about Simba, the dog Karen took out of his crate and walked each day—the dog she used for animal education? Karen had always been bothered that Simba’s only moments of freedom and happiness were on their walks together. So, one day, very early in the morning, she lured him into her truck and drove him straight to the home of a loving family who would care for him, feed him and take him for the daily walks he loved. A couple of days later, she was on the plane leaving Uganda, moving on to the next adventure and the next country that needed an energetic “junkyard warrior.”
Karen Menczer can be contacted at email@example.com or through her foundation, animal-kind.org.