One man’s mission to bring service dogs to Cuba

LatinaLista — Though emotions still run high as to whether or not Americans should visit Cuba, the fact is Cuba is open for business — to educators and researchers.

Also, it seems to dogs.

A recent canine tourist named Booster is making headlines both on the island and in the states. Booster, a 100-pound Labrador retriever, isn’t any ordinary dog. He’s a service dog and part of grad student Davis Hawn’s master’s program in Canine Life Sciences.

210booster_fidelity.jpgHawn’s thesis is titled “Project Fidelity.” The focus is to introduce Cubans to something they’re not familiar with — relying on dogs for assistance or therapy.

Author Davis Hawn holds Cuban adoptee Fidelity who will immigrate to America in summer 2011. Booster at right likes his new brother.

Hawn and Booster traveled the island as part of the Cuba Education Tours initiative. Hawn met with various organizations who know their clients would greatly benefit from services that dogs like Booster can provide.

“In Havana, we met with the President of the Cuban Association for the Blind (ANCI) to discuss my project,” Hawn said. “Seeing eye dogs don’t really exist in Cuba and are a new concept. I also met with the President of the Asociación Cubana de Limitados Físicos y Motores – ACLIFIM (Cuban Association of the Physically Disabled), as well as the President of the Cuban Animal and Plant Welfare Association (ANIPLANT). We all hit it off and made plans for future projects together.”

Hawn and Booster were treated like celebrities by a media who was enthralled about the concept of service dogs. And Hawn was so touched by his visit to Cuba that he found a homeless dog, named it Fidelity, and is bringing it back to the states to train it as a service dog.

Hawn also set up a scholarship fund for a Cuban citizen to come to the U.S. to learn to train dogs in assistance and therapy skills.

Hawn wrote a blog post about his time in Cuba (it’s published on the Cuba Education Tours site), and it’s obvious the experience changed him.

 

Dogs in all nations live in the here and now and don’t dwell much on the past nor plot for tomorrow. I went to Cuba to witness the enchanted island through the lens of a dog. I went to Cuba with eyes wide open, and to the chagrin of many, a mouth to match. I asked frank questions and received only candid responses.

I don’t want to get political (nor does Booster). Yet I must say upon reflection, the U.S. embargo against Cuba really hurts the people, especially the youth. That’s the bottom line. I ponder the irony that perhaps we’ve hurt ourselves more than we’ve harmed Cubans by being disconnected from this most loving people and their vibrant society and culture.

Davis and Booster meet with the president of ACLIFIM (Cuban Association of the Physically Disabled) at left. They discussed the role of service dogs helping the uniquely-abled.I can attest to a truth discovered: Cubans who’ve suffered horribly from my government’s harsh embargo, continue to love and admire us, think of us as their northern cousins, and hope one day we connect as a community in unity and friendship.

Remarkable — Davis Hawn

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