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The Dog Whisperers of Cotacachi, Ecuador

By David T. Hall

Summary: Lee and Peggy Carper are on a mission to spay and neuter the stray dogs of Cotacachi, Ecuador -- as well as to nurse and feed the ones who showed malnutrition or disease.

Live in Ecuador  - The Dog Whisperers of Cotacachi

I had some time on my hands as I walked alone on a back street of Cotacachi, Ecuador on a cloudy warm afternoon in February. I was intent on finding a bank to get some dinero before my impromptu dinner engagement later on this evening.

A small emaciated dog was eyeing me as I briskly walked along the cobbled street. I stopped and he stopped, too, but only to mimic my action, I thought. Starting up again, he did, too. Finally, our routine was interrupted by a noisy motorbike that creased our cadence and my pedestrian friend scrambled for safety and was gone. I looked for my small friend but he had vanished into the darkness of a nearby alley off to find a new source of comfort and food. My distraction gone, I felt I had to get back to my task of finding a bank and so I continued on.

Earlier that day, I had met Lee and Peggy Carper from Canton, North Carolina at breakfast. They have been living here for the last three years caring for stray and abandoned dogs that populate the High Sierras of the Andes. They told me of their mission to spay and neuter the strays as well as to nurse and feed the ones who showed malnutrition or disease. From what I've seen, the streets were filled with malnourished and possibly diseased dogs. As is typical of the Ecuadorean culture, dogs are treated as free and independent companions to their human partners and not want of any special attention lest they be regarded as special and out of character for their station in life. I asked them how they supported their cause and Lee shrugged and said, "We go through three kilos of dog meal each day as well as ask around to various restaurants and cafes for scraps of food that they would ordinarily throw out. It's a struggle."

"But what about monetary offerings?" I asked.

Peggy chimed in, "We write to friends Stateside as well as spread the word to those expats who live in the area for anything that they can provide. Many of the locals know what we do and provide us with essential assistance, which is great. A local vet helps in the spaying and neutering, too, sometimes at little or no cost."

I thought of Lee and Peggy as I crossed a street where a woman was sitting on a planter in front of a small mercado (market). She looked up at me and waved for my attention. I turned and she asked, "Do you speak English?"

I turned and called back, "How could you tell?" She laughed and as I approached her said that I looked like an American (was it the jeans and ballcap I was wearing that gave me away?) and she needed to talk to someone in her native tongue. I stopped and sat down beside her and listened to her story.

She was a nurse who had just arrived from an 8-month stint nursing the disabled and homeless in Haiti. She was in Cotacachi for a few days to care for the indigent poor who needed some medical attention until a doctor could be found to replace the one that had recently died. How she found out about this matter I didn't ask but she seemed quite attuned to such things. Meanwhile, her mission was diverted to caring for the scrawny four-legged inhabitants of the village that were seen everywhere. She asked me if I knew a dog whisperer named Peggy that she had heard of in her travels here in the High Sierras. What a coincidence, I thought. I told her of a brief encounter I had this very morning with a local American couple, one whose name was Peggy, who had been living here for the last three years who cared for the strays that wandered the streets and alleyways of Cotacachi. She seemed very excited that I knew of this person and asked if I could be assistance to her in tracking them down. I was impressed with her missionary zeal so much that I was willing to collaborate and participate in it as well. I said, "Sure, I'll take you to her."

She got up and gave the last of her bag of dog food to her two scrawny friends that lay at her feet. Their teeth were ground down to stubs from digging for scraps and throwaways that littered the ancient stone back streets of town. Many were malnourished because so much damage was done to their teeth and digestive system by their nocturnal forages for decayed and spoiled food.

We were on our way down Calle Sucre to the direction of the church in the center of this small village where I stayed and knew that Peggy and her husband Lee lived nearby in a small apartment with a sprawling courtyard where they cared for their homeless, canine friends.

We came to the street where Peggy and Lee lived and went to their door. I pushed a button on the wall next to the door and looked up to an open window that apparently was the apartment of the dog whisperer known as Peggy. I tried again but Peggy didn't respond or perhaps she was out amongst her four-legged clientele in search of providing assistance. Just then, I turned and saw that Lee was approaching us from up the street.

I waved and he recognized me and did the same and came to us at the door. I introduced him to Deborah who had accompanied me here and Deborah began to tell her story to Lee who showed great interest in her mission.

After a few minutes he reached for his cell phone and called up to Peggy who was actually at home. She met us at the door a few minutes later and Deborah told them of her current mission and her willingness to find them funding for their efforts. Lee showed genuine astonishment as he gleefully listened further to what she wanted to do to help them with caring for the stray dogs of Cotacachi. Having completed my task I bade them all a farewell and turned to return to my original objective to find a bank.

As I walked down the street I noticed a few scrawny strays were making their way directly to Lee and Peg without showing the least bit of curiosity to me and what I could afford them. I wasn't a dog whisperer, I discovered, so I gave them wide berth for them to make their way to those who are. I turned to see that Lee knew his compatriots and greeted them like old friends who he missed seeing lately. As I continued on my way, I found myself wondering how many of these strays would live or die or have the fortunate experience of being discovered by the dog whisperers of Cotacachi.

Lee and Peggy Carper in Cotacachi, Ecuador have done so much to care for those four-legged creatures. In spite of the dogs' tortuous hardships trying to survive, they are still able to give us unconditional love. I am grateful to the virtue in mankind to recognize that we are all creatures adrift in this life's journey, whether human or canine. I recall the choice quotation of Joyce Carol Oates who wrote, "It's where we go and what we do when we get there, that tells us who we are." I am fortunate to have found two caring souls who have shown me who they are and what is truly important for them when they arrived.

Lee and Peggy would appreciate any and all assistance in their mission to care for the diseased and malnourished dogs of the High Sierras in Cotacachi, Ecuador. If you wish to help the Dog Whisperers of Cotacachi please mail your contributions to Lee & Peggy Carper, P.O. Box 10-02-33, Otavalo, Imbabura, Ecuador or email your intentions or questions to either pegz555@gmail.com or leez556@gmail.com where they will provide you with further information on how to assist them in their mission on behalf of their four-legged friends in Cotacachi.

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About the Author

Former owner of an energy marketing firm in the Midwest, retiring early 12 years ago due to an illness. I enjoy writing and traveling.

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Comments about this Article

HomesForDogs
Apr 15, 2011 15:06

David, Thanks so much for this article. Ironically, I was also trying to find the Carpers. In fact I just posted on the Ecuador Welcome Forum about my intentions to do animal rescue work in Ecuador. An even better surprise re:your article was finding that you write well and aren't selling anything! No offense intended towards those who market their Ecuadorean wares (if I hadn't read Gary Scott's blog, I wouldn't have known about the Carpers at all), but it's a pleasure to read a good writer with a flair for details. Thanks, ketzel.levine@gmail.com

Summersmist
Apr 18, 2011 17:36

This article brought tears to my eyes. I currently live in Texas but plan to move to Cuenca. I have been involved in animal rescue and adoptions for 15 years with a local Humane Society. Regardless of the fact that 100s of dogs have passed through my home and care it just doesn't seem to make a dent in the numbers. I have seen some ugly stuff that people do to the animals and it really makes me angry. I am caring for one dog now that, at 3 months of age, had chemical burns all over his back and legs. He was in severe pain.....but now, months later he has recovered with minimal scars. Tell me about the Catacachi Whisperer. Do you find homes for the dogs after they get healthy. How far are you from Cuenca? And how is life in Catacachi? I look forward to hearing from you. Keep up the good work and God Bless. Sharon

guest
Apr 18, 2011 17:58

Bless you.

wandap
Apr 18, 2011 21:12

I am very interested in obtaining Lee and Peggy Carper's contact information. I will be moving to Cotacachi in September of this year and want very much to get involved in working with the street dogs. Any information you can provide will be a greatly appreciated.

Harrydog
Apr 24, 2011 12:06

What a sad but uplifting story – well done Lee and Peggy. Your story touched me as I have just arrived in West Africa and like many African countries the stray dog population is dreadful. The country is poor and the people have little money or food and certainly don’t spend it on the dogs. We have one practicing vet in town who is doing so much for one man and a small team. They move around to the outer villages and spay and neuter as many dogs as they can for free. Also Rabbis is rampant there so they vaccinate too. I am volunteering with the vet and his team to help raise funds and awareness of the problem. There is said to be over 200,000 stray dogs on the streets. I am brought to tears regularly seeing dogs, puppies with three barely working legs, covered in Mange, bloodied ears, emancipated and such sad eyes. They are just left to die in streets, suffer in silence. We are working hard to fundraise from the other expats in the area and any other dog lovers. The local people are scared of the dogs as most of them carry disease. The dogs are often attacked with stones and sticks and very often hit by cars and bikes as they scower the streets for food. The animals are truly the forgotten ones in war and poverty. There are simply hundreds of groups from the UK, Europe, Australia, America, all helping the people and country and it’s wonderful but the forgotten ones, as insignificant as they may be in the big scheme of things, still suffer terribly. Thank you Lee and Peggy for what you are doing and I wish you well with your plight. Signed a fellow animal lover

bigbirdu2
May 5, 2011 11:10

Hello, Great article on the street dogs. I hope to help with the work Peggy and Lee are doing once we get to Ecuador. I have worked with the "Spay Station" and "Fix For Life" and "Snip N Tip" here in TN. It amazed me that so many farmer here still thought it would not be right to take their male dogs "huevos" away! I really like Expat Exchange and glad to join in. Kris

dameion53victor
Aug 6, 2011 02:08

Bless you for your work to help our 4 leged friends. I know from working some with a friend here in Texas with the dogs we have here in Denton, Texas. I am very interested in information of any sort about living in Cotacachi. Especially when i read of stories like this one, and read about the friendly nature of the people. God bless, and good luck with your quest.

lynnae
Aug 29, 2011 18:16

We also have a great love of dogs and their hunger. We are moving to Cotacachi this year, and I hope we will be able to help. We are bring 4 sm. dogs of our own, we just can't leave them behind. Tim and Lynnae

guest
Oct 2, 2011 17:33

I loved this article. I almost felt I was there with the stay animals. Im retired now and have developed this overwhelming love of all animals.I have Milo and Roby, my two dogs and 8 cats. They are my family Im looking into moving to Ecuador and liked the sound of Cotacachi. The couple you wrote about show that their are still people who are good and who act on that. Ill be sending a little bit to them and if I ever get rich, which is doubtful, Id send them a boatloaf full of money. Thank you Ruth McGill 2646 Keene Troy Versailles, ky. 40383

guest
Apr 11, 2012 11:48

My name is Linda Murdock and I live in San Carlos, Panama. I belong to a group entitled, Panama Animal League (PAL). PAL takes abandoned and street dogs to be neutered, administers vaccines and socializes them before finding them their forever homes. To date, PAL has rescued approximately 100 dogs. I will be in Ecuador during the month of May and would love to meet you.

First Published: Apr 12, 2011

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