Save Stray Dogs in Brazil: Up Close And Personal with Janice Cabral

Abuse and neglect of dogs by humans continues in many parts of the world. At the same time, we have the compassionate, the caring among us who don’t shrink from reaching out to helpless dogs in the most difficult of times and places. Of this latter kind, Dogs in Brazil is a good example-a husband-wife team of volunteers that has committed to working in Brazil, rescuing vulnerable homeless dogs from various kinds of traumas: disaster, human cruelty and abuse, and accidents etc. In the following conversation, Janice Cabral of Dogs in Brazil tells about her dog rescue work in Brazil.

Ernest: Hello Janice and thanks for responding to my interview call. Please tell our readers where and how you got the idea and inspiration to start Dogs in Brazil?

Janice: Dogs in Brazil actually started in September 2002 when we rescued our first street dog after having arrived in Brazil in November 2001. It was never really planned that we would become a shelter. We knew we were going to move from an apartment in downtown Rio to the mountainous region of Rio, some one-and-a-half hours from the city. The dog’s name was Harry and he was found bald and thin amid the rush hour traffic in Copacabana. Our compassion for the multitude of stray dogs wandering the streets of Rio led to us helping one, and then another would turn up, and then another, there was no end to the animals in critical situations. We tried to only take the worst cases because there were so many, and it was only obvious we could never help them all. In 2008, whilst Carlos was back in England, working, I decided to go public with a blog and see if we could get any help. So, Dogs in Brazil officially went out to the world. The blog got very little attention in the early days. By this time, I had between 12 and 14 dogs here. It took two years for the first donation to arrive. We just kept on because we couldn’t turn our backs on their suffering; this was the motivating factor.

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Ernest: What is the general situation of homeless or endangered dogs in Brazil?

Janice: The general situation for street dogs in Brazil is a sad and complex situation. Brazil is a harsh environment for people and for animals. There are stray dogs everywhere. The local councils sometimes clean up by collecting and killing, and many people do not assume responsibility for their pets. They think that pet ownership means leaving a dog to roam the streets all day and put some leftover food scraps out at night. Medical treatment, vaccines, and spay or neuter are definitely not part of their agenda for their pet. So many are thrown out if they get pregnant, ill, or cause some type of inconvenience. Many are born in the streets and have never had homes. The average life of a street dog is around a year. Some get lucky and live a lot longer; others die quickly. There is a lot of cruelty here with many dogs being poisoned, beaten, denied medical treatment, and intentionally run over. People put dogs in plastic bin liners and leave them tied up in the bag to be run over. I have rescued a dog thrown from the window of a moving car. She broke her pelvis and collar bone during the assault. She now has a good home. I see sick and dying dogs regularly, and in August, I see many dying of distemper every year due to lack of vaccination. My neighbour let seven die. I now vaccinate her dogs every year. These street dogs are engaged in a serious battle for survival in which there are more losers than winners. The situation is heart breaking to any one that loves dogs.

Ernest: Are there a fair number of animal or dog rescue organizations working in Brazil to save vulnerable dogs?

Janice: There are not enough rescue organizations here and most are situated in larger towns; they do not have the resources to attend rural areas with high populations of stray animals. Many city people drive their dogs to rural areas in order to surreptitiously dump them. It is illegal here to dump dogs or cats; however, the penalty is small and there is a culture of not denouncing here in case there is a price to pay. Nobody knows who the owners are and you could endanger your family and yourself by doing so. The nearest rescue organization to us is half an hour away and never do anything much to help in our area. I called them when a horse kept by a butcher for meat fell off the mountain side (he was one of three so far). He landed in the dirt road and lay there dying. After several people called, they came; but by that time, some people had moved the dying horse to the roadside and he was technically in private property. They said they could do nothing and the horse lay there dying for three days. They will not attend road accident victims or abandoned horses, which are another regular occurrence here. The do not have the resources to cover the town they are in let alone the outlying areas. Some Brazilian cities are more organized than others and more progressive than others, but Rio is sadly lacking.

Ernest: What kind of work is Dogs in Brazil currently doing for dogs?

Janice: We try to help where we see the most need. We recently rescued three puppies left on a rock in the river to drown. We were told this was a popular place to leave dogs. Many are also thrown in the river. We check out many of the dumping grounds on a regular basis. Many are dumped close to our house by the owners, who assume we can take them all in. I have even found a dog thrown into one of my kennels by a neighbour who no longer wanted him. Luckily, the inhabitant of the kennel, a little Beagle, was not aggressive. I have rescued dogs with maggot-infested wounds, beaten animals, exhausted pregnant females without a gram of spare flesh, dogs with cancer, tick disease, dysplasia, starvation, one who had her ears cut off and had maggot-infested wounds, a puppy from a bin liner with the whole family, including mom, all dead except for him, a starving lame dog of which we have three, a dog with a cerebral lesion paralyzed, a dog with neuro problems, three dogs I found in the rubbish, one dumped at my door in a box-all this has become routine here. This is not to mention the ones that died before they even got a name. During the recent floods, it was worse than normal; was far worse. The international organizations did not arrive until one month later. We saw the carnage two days after the floods and landslides. We managed to go to places by crossing broken bridges and circumnavigating by knowing the area. We were the first people to bring ration into Agua Claras and Sao Jose from outside. We are on the SOS Sao Jose website because we were the first people to donate ration there. It was heart-breaking. The smell of dead humans and animals pervaded the air. We were worried about disease, so had to use face masks like the inhabitants of these areas. We checked out Nova Friburgo, Sao Jose, Itaipava, and Teresopolis and found the most need was in Teresopolis. A group called Estimacao had set up a temporary warehouse for flood victims, and conditions and resources were in bad shape. There were still many animals trapped and alive out there. We set to work, mostly Carlos, because I had to hold down the fort here. Estimacao had only got a vet on weekends and during the weekdays, many sick and injured dogs were coming in as volunteers were doing search and rescue. I called out on our blog for help and secured a donation to pay for a vet. He started work four days a week and alleviated a lot of suffering. I went there many days and to help when possible. It was heart-breaking that many puppies died. Two in my arms took their last breath. As time went on, the dogs rescued were in terrible shape; maggots had infested their wounds; and they were starving as they waited for rescue. My husband was at the Shelter, almost daily helping to medicate, rescue, and comfort sick and dying dogs. We saw a dog whose tail dropped off, eaten away by maggots; another whose eye and half his face were eaten by maggots. A few that died the horrible death of distemper. We cleaned their kennels, fed them, injected them, and caressed them. We were featured on the kinship circle site and IDA and in a film made about the disaster.

Ernest: What was it like to witness the sufferings of the dogs in this emergency situation?

Janice: The disaster traumatized us all and we have formed a strong bond with our friend Bebete who tried to save so many. We still help this non-profit even though it’s over an hour away and a half from us and we speak frequently with Bebete. When you go through something like that, you tend to stay friends with the people who shared and understand the experience, because it’s almost incomprehensible for others to understand the psychological effect this has on a person. We will never forget this terrible disaster and the human and animal distress we saw firsthand.

Ernest: Please tell us how you helped Nicki.

Janice: We did everything we could to help and took Nicki, an elderly GSD from Teresopolis, because she was lame and old and one of the least adoptable dogs there. She is still with us and is happy. She has a terrible fear of storms, which is quite normal given the circumstances. She lost everything she knew and loved. She has learnt to love again and we have fun now. She mourned her family for a while, but she knew she had to go forward like us. When you live through that, there is only one thing to do and that is keep walking forward, try not to look back, because if you do, you will cry, which is what I am doing now as I am writing this. So enough said about the disaster.

Ernest: And what are the limitations and difficulties that hinder your efforts made to helping vulnerable dogs in Brazil?

Janice: The biggest problem here is raising funds. After the disaster, we lost our income. If anyone would like to help, visit or we have a page on Facebook called ‘Dogs in Brazil’ with a PayPal link on both. We are totally dependent right now on donations.

Ernest: Have you received a positive response and active support from people in Brazil regarding your cause?

Janice: In Brazil we have had hardly any response whatsoever from Brazilians. And that for many reasons. Firstly, I can’t set up a website in Portuguese and my husband refuses to do this until we are registered. Only a tiny minority of ordinary Brazilians speak English. Most Brazilians are very sceptical because there are so many corrupt people here. We are about to get charity status, so this may change their attitudes. My husband believes it is a waste of time without charity status, and he is probably right. It is also illegal to fundraise here as private people; so the Brazilian public really knows very little about us. As soon as we receive the charity status, we will have a website in Portuguese so they can read it. We will run fundraising events here too.

Ernest: Let me ask you about this recent story of terrible abuse of a puppy by a nurse in Brazil… the video you know that roused outrage by viewers on the Internet. Are such cases common I Brazil? And do you mean to address such issues in future when Dogs in Brazil establishes as a non-profit?

Janice: As a non-profit, we will be able to prosecute cruelty cases, although this is usually pointless. The laws here to protect animals seem largely ignored. It is actually illegal to keep a dog on a chain, yet it is commonplace to see dogs chained 24 hours a day. Dog fighting is illegal, yet it is rare to hear about prosecutions. Black dogs, cats and chicken are sacrificed for black magic rituals (called macumba), yet nobody is ever prosecuted. Prison sentences for animal abuse are rare. Even the nurse that recently beat a Yorkie puppy to death is unlikely to spend a day in jail and this was a high-profile International scandal.

Ernest: And do you think dog abuse cases get sufficient coverage in Brazilian media?

Janice: Education is badly needed to teach children to respect and have compassion for animals. I know people who privately prosecuted for cruelty and lost the cases. I would say that cruelty is common here. There seems to be little or no media coverage concerning abuse of animals, although I tend to read in English.

Ernest: For any volunteers who might like to assist Dogs in Brazil remotely, like through online work, do you have any message?

Janice: We are hoping as a non-profit to get some volunteers to help us with the day-to-day chores here. I am hoping to get a vet student to come maybe once a week to help clean ears, cut toe nails, and give therapy to dogs like Topi with neurological problems. When we have one sick dog, it reduces attention to those that are well. When Jessie was sick with a brain lesion, she required huge amounts of attention. We are also hoping to get donations of food and medications from Brazilian donors. People in other countries cannot help much with this because the strict Brazilian customs and laws do not permit medication or food products from other countries to enter. We run on a shoestring budget here because we have to. People from other countries who want to help are hampered by the huge cost of postage as well. Two ladies put together parcels for us with hairbrushes, collars, leads, and bowls all of which we need, and then they found the cost of postage was more than the value of the goods; so in the end, they just sent the money and kept the care packages. We are also hoping to find a lawyer who knows how to set up a non-profit in the USA for us free of charge. This would help because all donations coming from the USA would become tax deductible for the donors. There are several animal charities in the third world set up in this way. We would also like to make a small professional film about our work for a new web site. So that’s about it-every day, the battle goes on. We will never win the battle, but we will never give up making a difference to as many as possible.

Ernest: Janice, thank you for the helpful work you’ve started for helping dogs in Brazil, and thanks for taking the time to tell our readers about it.

To donate to Dogs in Brazil, please visit their blog