Save Animals-Kinshasa, Congo: Let's Promote our Valued Dogs
Over the 6-month grant project, Save Animals in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a 4-time Africa-Based Animal Welfare Organization Grant Recipient-2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022!) held an event ("Let's Promote our Valued Dogs") and followed that up with an anti-dog fighting campaign. The aim of both of these was to promote dogs as pets, as beings with emotions and needs, deserving of respect, and not meant for fighting or eating and not solely for security. The two parts of their grant project came together producing even greater impact than expected.
In September, SA members, Jonathan Ekwa and Jay Mikanu, attended a Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock-hosted forum about rabies impact and measures to take to reduce rabies.
As part of the forum, Save Animals, along with a group of students, the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, and the Director of the Rabies Department in the Ministry, went to Litendele, an area hard hit by rabies. They held an awareness campaign about rabies and animal welfare and vaccinated 100 dogs.
SA members attended this event mainly to promote their November event. Many people showed interest in participating in the "Let's Promote our Valued Dogs" day as either a spectator or to enter their dogs in a contest.
The forum had an unexpected result, as well. Save Animals developed a good relationship with a new student community, many of whom are interested in working with SA on upcoming activities.
Organizing and promoting the event took a lot of time. They advertised the event on Premium TV Channel and on B-One FM radio. To spread the word further, Save Animals visited schools. Xstone (Save Animals Project Manager) said, "We are convinced that young people are the right target when it’s about animals and welfare awareness campaigns."
The Save Animals organizers wanted to give the dog candidates an opportunity to practice prior to the event to make sure that even if not perfectly trained, the dogs were interested in and capable of doing some of the activities-and their "handlers" were comfortable, as well. So Save Animals set up agility training areas:
The "Let's Promote our Valued Dogs" event was getting a lot of attention, and something else unexpected happened. Groups of dog fighters started putting on counter campaigns, even claiming that Save Animals was wrongfully accusing people of dog fighting (one of these groups and the ringleader are in the below pictures; we've had to hide faces to ensure no one is being accused without proof).
Finally, November 27, the day of the "Let's Promote our Valued Dogs" event arrived! It took place at terrain des Orangers in Kinshasa from 10 am to 3 pm with around 150 people and 27 candidates who had been trained to take place in two of the three contests (agility and obedience; no training was required for the "beauty" contest!)
All dogs who came to the event were subject to veterinary control to check their health status. Only dogs in good health and with vaccination records in order were given access and allowed to participate in socialization classes and contests. Thanks to Dr. Serge Loange for conducting the vet check.
All dogs and human participants were invited to take place in the 1st event of the day, the Socialization Class. The aim of this two-hour class was to learn how to socialize dogs when in the presence of new people and dogs.
SA registered everyone who attended so that they could contact them for future socialization classes. Even those without dogs were encouraged to register so they could learn more about dogs and be prepared once they do have one.
Then the competitions began with three different contests. Here's how Xstone explained the competitions:
It was not done as competition abroad, dogs weren’t challenged by breed, but we put them by weight and size. We couldn’t put them by breed as long as it was a trial edition in which most of the people didn’t really understand what it was about.
Here is how they were classified:
* Small dogs were categorized as dogs ranging from 0 kg to 12 kg,
* Medium-sized dogs from 12 kg to 20 kg
* Large dogs over 20 kg
Agility and Obedience were almost like those done in other competitions abroad.
After the event, Save Animals discussed the results and felt it was a big success and met their expectations by successfully showing that dogs have qualities that can be used for many other positive things other than fighting and guarding.
Xstone summed up some of the results:
* People present in the activity were very happy and impressed by our idea and encouraged us to continue to promote animal welfare.
* Most of the attendees registered for upcoming social classes.
* Two dog clubs’ representatives present at the event asked SA to support and accompany them on their dog event that will be held on December 17. SA accepted to support them, but we asked them to join us and clearly be against dog fighters.
The 2nd piece of SA's grant project was to investigate dog fighting operations. Save Animals targeted some well-known dog fighters whose arrests were expected to be highly visible and discourage others from dog fighting.
For this phase, starting in December, Save Animals worked with the police, jointly tracking dog fighters. Typically, the police wouldn't pay much attention to this crime, and they don't have funds to expend on it. With the grant money, SA was able to pay the fees that are required to open cases against the fighters and pay for fuel for the police cars (that's the way things work in most African countries since the police rarely have a budget for things that they need).
SA volunteers BRAVELY worked undercover and informed others in SA, who informed the police when and where dog fighting was scheduled to occur.
In one case, two SA Ambassadors (no names to protect their identities) conducted the mission on SA’s behalf and informed SA that a dog fight was planned in Lemba (in Kinshasa) on December 27 at 4 pm.
On December 27, the police arrested dog fighters just before the fight began and seized their fight arena:
SA's two ambassadors are still undercover, they're still in dog fighters’ WhatsApp groups, and will continue to help in the investigations.
In January, SA and the police jointly tracked dog fighters in Tshangu district, where dog fighting has been becoming more and more popular. This time two young dog fighters were arrested on January 15 in Quartier 3 in Tshangu. In this case, SA was helped by an ex-dog fighter.
The arrests occurred 20 minutes after the event and most of those involved had already left by the time the police officers arrived.
With the arrests that Save Animals facilitated, other dog fighters are feeling threatened with arrest, and the general public has been made aware of the illegal and cruel nature of dog fighting and dog fighters.
Just as SA's grant project was ending tragedy struck: On February 22, a pitbull who had been used for fighting killed a one-year-old child. There was a police investigation into the incident and the mayor had forbidden all contact with the bereaved family until he had the situation under control.
After that, Save Animals got the footage and pictures of what happened as proof, and they started tracking and getting some other dog fighters arrested. Another five dog fighters were arrested after the incident, but the dog's owner is still on the run.
Of course this is so sad for the family. But it has weakened the dog fighters and the tide has turned against them for the time-being. Xstone wrote to us, "we must take advantage of the situation."
But Save Animals' efforts have also been hampered. "We had planned socialization classes as the best way to sustain our momentum we gained. These activities were to be led by our various ambassadors. Unfortunately, with the baby's death, gatherings with dogs are strictly prohibited by local authorities until further notice."
Save Animal's Xstone told us, "AKI has helped us expand our animal welfare campaign even further. We arrested a total of eight dog fighters. We have registered many new people for the social class and for other events, all who are interested in animal welfare. Once we get approval from the authorities, we plan to continue with a social class at least once or twice a month led by our ambassadors in their areas. We will continue to report on and assist the police to track illegal dog fighting. All of this is making us very well known in our city."