Costa Rica has long been hailed as a tropical playground; a cruise ship destination, a haven where travelers can enjoy a sprawling beach, a place where you can enjoy a banana leaf-wrapped rice and bean tamale.
But Costa Rica is also Dog Heaven.
Actually, the sprawling sanctuary’s official name is Territorio de Zaguates, meaning, “the Land of Stray Dogs.”
— Shake a Paw Greeting (@ShakeAPawGreet) April 5, 2016
The nonprofit shelter is home to about 800 stray dogs that are rescued from the streets and nurtured until they are adopted into permanent homes. According to Care2, Territorio de Zaguates was founded eight years ago by the husband-and-wife team of Alvaro Saumet and Lya Battle.
Their goal is to promote animal welfare and respect.
The no-kill sanctuary is funded by donations and run by volunteers.
The dogs are allowed to roam freely on the property each day, with the theory that it is better for their health than living in a kennel. The dogs do have an indoor sanctuary, with beds and bathing facilities.
As Daily Mail explains, being “Dog Heaven,” there are also many water stations available around the site, to keep the roaming and playing animals hydrated and happy.
Care2 describes one of the groundbreaking ideas that has helped the adoption statistics.
“Years before an Arizona shelter started dropping breed labels to make dogs more adoptable, Territorio found another solution. It came up with a unique breed name for every mixed-breed dog as unique as the dog itself: Alaskan Collie Fluffyterrier and Fire-tailed Border Cocker, for example. In 2013, these names helped boost adoption rates a whopping 1,400 percent.”
Visitors are invited to take a hike with the dogs, and hopefully they will find a perfect match. There is, however, no pressure to adopt, so regular visitors come and help to keep the dogs socialized.
— Pup Aid 2016 (@pupaid) April 6, 2016
After she and Saumet married, Battle said she started taking in homeless strays and having them spayed and neutered, and finding homes for them.
“It was not a very common practice at the time. I decided there had to be a place other than the street for those wonderful dogs that for some reason no one wanted.”
One dog who came along, whom she named Oso, changed everything.
“Alvaro and I decided to stop trying to find him a home and just keep him. And that is when I realized that Oso had been lucky. He was a lovely dog but had no market value. Did this mean that he or any of the ‘unpopular’ dogs deserve to be out on the street? Or even euthanized only because society could not see their redeeming qualities?”
At that point, the couple founded Territorio de Zaguates, “Dog Heaven.”
“Many dogs have left their paw prints in our hearts. Old ones who made recoveries and hung around long after everyone had lost hope. Vicious ones that became teddy bears. Or dogs with social needs who proved undefeatable.”
They added that running the shelter is a lot of work, and has its share of issues.
“We have struggled daily against naysayers, haters, near-sighted government officials and ministries, terrible shortages and daily challenges of our own.”
Battle added that there could be more done to help stray dogs on an international level, if other countries were to follow this model.
“But shelters are not the solution — they are the reflection of our crumbling society. If we want to solve the problem, we have to stop buying from backyard breeders and demand our governments assign a portion of taxes to spaying and neutering all dogs and cats.”
Their dog heaven is changing Costa Rica, but it even may help change the world.
“In Territorio, every dog has a name, a second chance and everything we can manage to provide for them. The only thing we refuse to give them is an expiration date.”
For more information about how you can help, visit the Territorio de Zaguates website
[Image via Richard Chaff/Shutterstock]