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“In Venezuela, I think that there is a lack of conscience towards animal care,” Dubbini observes. “I have been working full-time on this issue since 2002, providing food and refuge for the animals that I pick up on the streets, and I have experienced the good and bad of this society. Stray dogs are last on the list because there are so many other problems in the national system.”

This Italian angel for lost animals recalls that when she was in Milan, there were at least five women who did what she currently does in Los Teques, and later, when she lived in New York and worked in a restaurant, she would take her dog with her and nobody minded.

“You do not see this type of behavior in Venezuela,” she says.“Of course, there are people here who love dogs and cats, but when it comes to taking care of stray animals, most of them just shrug their shoulders and do nothing.”

Since 2002, Dubbini has used her savings to support both herself and Fundación Mil Patita. The shelter’s financial needs—feeding and caring for hundreds of animals and paying the salaries of her small staff—rapidly consumed Vallejo’s generous gift. However difficult it might seem, though, Dubbini continues to look after the shelter’s animals as well as any others she encounters.

Part of the Solution
Sol Martinez, leader of Red de Apoyo Canino (Canine Support Network), which coordinates animal adoptions and raises the visibility of active humane organizations and shelters, is another uncommon individual, as are Oswaldo Rojas and Maria Arteaga, founders of the Foundation of Friends for the Protection of Animals (FAMPROA), an animal charity working in Caracas and Los Teques.

According to Martinez, the demands that most of these animal activists face on a daily basis are formidable.“It is tough, because they do not receive government aid and because many Venezuelans are not aware of how they can help,” she explains. “Maria can get a call any day of the week to go to a municipality in Caracas and pick up five abandoned puppies, but she rarely gets calls to pick up two bags of dog food or a small financial donation.”

Rojas and Arteaga, who were among the candidates for Vallejo’s prize money, were happy for Dubbini when it was announced that her shelter would receive the grant.

“She truly is an amazing and admirable woman,” says Arteaga.“Some people might view her as bossy because she is so serious about what she does. But the truth is that you have to value Fiorella, because she really has put herself in such a demanding position.”

Each day, Dubbini, Rojas,Arteaga and others work to make a difference in the lives of Venezuela’s abandoned animals. The memory of Vallejo’s gesture motivates them to continue despite the unwillingness of the local government to support them and the indifference of the majority of Venezuelans to their efforts.

“We continue to try to sensitize Venezuelans,” says Rojas. “Through the media,we have begun offering information on the latest dogs we have picked up and we have also begun to organize public forums to discuss this issue.Abandoned- animal adoption is a multifaceted problem, because most people want animals of rare breeds, and they do not grasp that these lost animals have the same characteristics and, sometimes, are even more loving. Still, our love for these animals motivates us to continue our efforts to educate Venezuelans.” A sentiment that Fernando Vallejo would no doubt endorse.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 48: May/Jun 2008
Diego Zerpa Chang earned a degree from Philadelphia's Temple University and has been traveling around Europe, the United States and his native Venezuela ever since.

Image of Fernando Vallejo and Kim: © Pablo Ortiz Monasterio
Image of FAMPROA shelter © FAMPROA, Los Teques, Venezuela

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