Finally we were to have Cynthia all to ourselves for a whole day. We all piled in a tan and red ’52 Ford for a road trip to Vinales that felt like going back in time. There were no seat belts. The seats were bouncy bench seats. The windows were roll down windows with the handles long gone. We happily yelled to each other in the wind-tunnel, thinking this was what road-trips had been like for our parents. We sang Spanish songs (she knew all the ones I knew), the driver singing enthusiastically along with us as we all laughed and fell in love with each other. We marveled at the mountains in the distance and at one point, to Bills utter delight, Cynthia fell asleep on his shoulder. He put his arm protectively and proudly around her.
When we got to Vinales we were sad to see how commercialized the town was. There were white people with backpacks everywhere. We pressed on. Our driver stopped a cowboy on the road, he had a big hat on, a handle bar mustache and half a pineapple in his big hand. He told us to keep going to the lake (he pointed with his pineapple) and that there would be a restaurant there we would love. He looked like Juan Valdez. Later, we would drive by him again and he would throw his hands up in the air asking us how it was. We hung out the windows and yelled thank yous at him as our driver sped away. He sped everywhere. I kept putting my hand on his arm to slow him down. I wanted to take it all in.
Up and down the road wound through the county-side. Everything was bright green and thriving. When we got to the lake we invited Michael, our driver to eat with us. He smiled shyly into his cap. The table was outside and the view was brilliant. A mountain in the distance stood proud behind a glistening lake. The food was delicious and the company excellent. We talked with Micheal and learned about his life through Cynthia and pictionary as we waited for our food.
As we ate we listened to the clip-clop of horses go by. We smelled the wood-smoke from the kitchen and the clean smell of manure from the horses. Young boys with light Caramel skin (lighter in the country) and light eyes, their faces flushed, raced past us in horse carts going way faster then their parents could possibly want them too, their faithful dogs barreling full tilt along behind them.
Then, a man, in a hunter green uniform, with a jaunty hat and a huge generous smile for me came by with a log sled on which he stood, pulled by two cows. I ran after him and motioned if I could jump on for a bit. He smiled and giggled and put his arm around me and was very happy to oblige.
When we were done eating I got in the driver’s seat of the car, just to see what it was like. Michael, gave me the keys and motioned with his hands. I cocked my head, he motioned towards the wheel, I squealed in delight and bounced up and down on the seat, “EVERYBODY IN! I’M DRIVING!”
The car was extremely difficult and felt much bigger with it under my control. It had utterly no brakes to speak of. I had no idea how he had been stopping us. Add that to the few beers I had had at lunch and the simple fact that I am a shit driver and he only let me drive for a couple miles. I just get so excited.
He drove us, me constantly placing my hand calmingly on his arm to slow him, to an amazing vista at the top of the mountain. We mindfully took in Cuba’s stunning country side.
On the way home Cynthia taught us dirty words and phrases and then forbade us to ever use them, but giggled delightfully before she scolded us every time we did. She came down to earth for us as, throughout that day, her face and her mannerisms became familiar and beloved. She talked about her school and her family. She said her dad had no cat and no dog(in Cuba this means lonely). She talked about her life, but most of all she talked of Cuba. She spoke eloquently about the past, the present and, optimistically, her hopes for her country. She never ceased to amaze us in her articulate, intelligent manner.
When we got back she was supposed to learn a song. She had made us come back early to accomplish this, but when we got back she did not want to leave us so she took us home with her. When we walked in her dad greeted us warmly as always, with kisses on our cheeks and tight bear hugs. He is a short, attractive man and is a very (very!) attentive father. She took us upstairs to her room, which was bigger then any room I have ever myself occupied, with a massive king sized bed in the middle. “Everyone go get in bed,” she said shooing us towards it. We ran and dove into her giant bed with her dogs, not finding this request disconcerting in the least after the day we had. We hugged her pillows and played with her dogs while her dad came in and they started setting up the projector. “I will show you my documentary.” She said decisively.
They couldn’t get the subtitles to work but she said that was ok, it was the visuals that mattered most. We were intrigued. Then Cynthia said she needed to take a shower and she left the room as the video began to play. The words “Este doncumental contiene escenas que pueden danar la sensibilidad del espectador” came across the screen. We didn’t speak well enough Spanish to read this. And so we didn’t get the warning; “this documentary contains scenes that may offend viewer’s sensibilities.”
There were some scenes of Havana, graffiti, traffic, a horse cart, a piazza. The quality was excellent, as good as any documentary I’ve seen. She had a good eye and it was very professionally done. I had assumed it was going to be a poor quality, school project type of documentary. I was immediately impressed.
Then a new shot, a red, long haired, medium sized puppy with a pointed nose happily wags his tail and licks the face of a smaller, brown and white puppy who tries to avoid the first puppy’s licks. They are adorable! I lay back further and pet Cynthia’s dog Bobbi, who is in my lap, happily. A new shot, more dogs, then more dogs, long haired ones, short haired ones, some are laying around, others are playing or itching themselves. Then come the cats, white beauties, being fed by a well-meaning tourist. Dogs, cats, dogs, and then a women is speaking. We don’t know what she’s saying. “More animals,” I say happily to Bobbi who looks at me lovingly and wags his tail. Then there were more animals, but these ones weren’t as healthy, or as pretty then the last batch. Ones face is covered in soars. A kitten is filthy and his eyes crusted shut. “Huh,” I say to Bobbi, a bad feeling coming into my belly. The lady is back talking and then some shots of dirty water coming out of dirty pipes. Then their is a dog, bigger then the others, brown, his species impossible to determine for his poor body is covered head to toe in painful mange. He looks like he has been burnt. Hell, for all I know he has been. I sit up and look at the boys, “You guys…” I say but trail off. They stare at the screen. There are a couple scenes of dirty water and garbage cans tipped over, maggots litter the garbage. Another dog, very young, also covered in mange, his skin black and bare, his ears floppy, eats the garbage. A cat tears a chicken bone out of a plastic bag. Then there are two men in a car. Cynthia is in the car with the men filming. Next, a young, skinny but healthy looking tan dog sits calmly in the grass, his companion walks nearby. One of the men from the truck lunges at the dog and grabs his leg. The dog begins to scream. The sound is up on Cynthia’s computer and it is piercing. All of us raise our hands up and cover our ears. All of us are sitting up now. Bobbi and Catamaran, Cynthia’s dads rescue dog, jump up and begin to bark and wail frantically because, as Bill would say later, “they speak that language and they know what those dogs are saying”. I close my eyes. “Oh my god”. I begin to get up off the bed, the dogs are still screaming, both on tape, and in real life. The sound is horrendous. Unbearable. But Cynthia wants me to see this. I sit back down. The man carries the dog to the truck. Next a beautiful German Shepard sits calmly in a bed of flowers, the man walks up with a pole with a noose at the end of it and with unnecessary roughness, loops it over the dogs neck and yanks him out of the flowers. The dog begins to bawl and tries to fight back. He bites at the pole and he cries. Next a yellow dog is with a young boy. They try to determine if the dog is the young boys dog or not. That dog escapes. Then another dog is being held by the leg, a gorgeous long haired, black and white Chihuahua. He screams worse then the others. Then another dog, this one we see get thrown into the chute in the back of the truck. A women yells at the man and points to the dog, clearly telling the man to release him. Next the man is swinging a dog around his body, a chocolate colored mutt, with some boxer in him. the dogs companion tries to bite the man to get him to let go of his friend. He gets kicked in the face. Into the chute the dog goes. There is so much pandemonium between the dogs screaming on the screen and Cythia’s dogs jumping on and off the bed wailing, not knowing from where the danger was coming. I couldn’t take it another second. “I’m not fucking watching this.” I said as I got off the bed, tripping over Bobbi and spilling out into the hall. I went down the stairs and sat in the chair in the living-room. Both dogs followed me but the sound was so loud upstairs that they continued to bark and howl and run around frantically. I put my hands to my ears again. I try to drown it out.
I have watched the video in full since that time, I owed Cynthia and the dogs at least that. It goes on to show the men brutally dragging the dogs into a holding cage. They cry and they fight for their lives. Then there are a couple shots of the cages. The unlucky dogs peer out at the camera. They are beautiful. Long haired happy puppies wagging their tails and barking at Cynthia as she films, sad, skinny ones who have been through too much in their little lives sit against the side staring at the floor. A long-haired black dog lays lifelessly in the corner. The owners have seventy two hours to pick up the dogs, at which point they will be exterminated in an extremely painful but cost-effective way. 2600 animals were slaughtered at Zoonosis in 2015. 127 dogs were dropped their by their owners. 58 were claimed.
There are some shots of poorly constructed cages holding adorable, tiny puppies for sale. Family’s hold out the puppies to their happy children. There are some shots of people having dogs dressed up to get money from tourists, reminiscent of New Orleans and Key West. Then there is a woman, a protector, a healer, we see her feeding and caring for dogs and cats at her home. There is talk of a protection act for animals. In the movie they talk of spaying and neutering but you can see the director of Zoonosis, who also happens to be the founder of the National Committee of Animal Welfare (talk about a conflict of interest) doesn’t care about this. At the end of the film we see dogs dead in the streets, pit bulls fighting, men standing over them shouting excitedly, and other atrocities. Cynthia has heard that Zoonosis provides the dogs they collect to the dog fighters for training. She has also heard that the meat that gets donated for the dogs gets sold to grocery stores.
As I sit in Cynthia’s house, my hands over my ears, I feel her come into the room. I look up. She is disappointed. I can see it clearly on her face. “It’s over,” she said and I follow her upstairs ashamed.
The boys looked a little shell shocked. Both were sitting up on the bed. Both dogs had followed me in and now jumped on the bed but would remain extremely jumpy the rest of the night.
We sat and she began to explain. She was working to help the animals of Cuba. She made the documentary in hopes that all of Cuba would see it. She believes it has been censored by the government. So she has decided all the world should see it. She has been invited to Paris to show her film at a film festival there but she doesn’t have the money to go.
“That must have been horrible, you watching them do this to the animals.” I said.
“What I don’t show in the video is when they bash the puppies up against the truck. When I asked why, they said it was a technique they use.” She said.
“Why don’t you show it?” I asked.
“It will be too… ambitious?” She asked.
“Ok….. I get it. I couldn’t even handle what I did see.”
“It was very hard.” She said, “I want to punch those men, but I must be nice. They think I am there to show the world they are doing this with the dogs for good reason. Like disease and population control. No one else got in there ever. Only me. Because I tell the owner that.”
“I can not imagine what that must have been like,” I said sympathetically.
“You know I tell my dad’s old girlfriend, ‘please please just buy the dogs that I video. Only those ones.’ But my dad say ‘then what? What do you do with 200 dogs?’,” she said as she looked at her hands, “they are all dead now.”
“Cynthia, I am so sorry.” A thought occurred to me, “I would never have even known you liked animals, you never stop to pet them on the street.”
“If the animals don’t like humans, they run away, they can be safe,” she replied making me feel like a tool.
We told Cynthia that we would set up an account for her where people could give to help her cause. We were sure we could get her the money she needed to at least get her video seen at the film festival so that people around the world would help fight for the animals in Cuba. The link is at the bottom. The video is linked to the page. Lets help this girl, with all her youthful exuberance do some good in the world. I would have been exhausted by the problem and given up. But not Cynthia. She will change things and we can help her do it.
This is the Go Fund Me Page where you can help Cynthia fight animal cruelty in Cuba.