Costa Rica: Dona Sandra, community hero for animals


By Davide Ulivieri, Cycle 4 Strays

On September 15th, 1821 Costa Rica proclaimed its independence from Spain. This is a date that Ticos (as Costa Ricans like to refer to themselves) celebrate with passion every year. September 15 is also the name of a small housing project in the south side of the capital city of San Josè. This is where Doña Sandra Rojas resides and this is her story.

Doña Sandra always had a soft spot for animals. As a child, she noticed the strays in her community, scruffy dogs huddling under an overhanging roof to stay dry during rainy season or skinny ones roaming in constant search for food. She remembers befriending many, checking on them and offering a kind word and a little comfort.

Over the years, as the problem of homeless animals in her neighborhood became more severe, Sandra started to take a more proactive approach to trying to at least manage the situation. She started a sort of homemade triage system, quickly assessing the conditions of the strays she encountered and helping first the ones who needed help the most. Soon, the neighbors noticed her efforts and started to call on her whenever a sad case needed immediate attention.

“At first I was trying to save them all, but the magnitude of the problem was such that I was exhausting what little resources I had without even putting a dent in the problem,” tells Sandra while gently petting her latest rescued best friend. “Eventually, I learned to prioritize things and started working towards addressing the long term solution of the issue. This was hard because my instinct was to run out and rescue, but I had to steel myself and will myself to plan and stay the course…” she adds with a sad smile.

Today Sandra is a recognized community leader in Barrio 15 de Setiembre, spearheading the effort to organize and promote the low-cost spay & neuter clinics that are held there on a regular basis, distributing flyers and educational material about responsible pet ownership, looking for places suitable for hosting the clinics and, generally, counseling her fellow citizens on building a community free of animal suffering.

Thanks to a small grant from the SNIP Foundation (Spay Neuter International Project) Sandra was able to snip, vaccinate and de-worm 5 recently rescued dogs who are now being put up for adoption. As soon as a few go to good homes, a few more come in from the street and are brought back to health by her loving efforts.

Together with the volunteers of ANPA (Asociación Nacional Protectora de los Animales) and the dedicated veterinarians who believe in offering low-cost community clinics, Sandra is turning the tide on animal welfare in her neck of the woods.

It is community heroes like Sandra that make the SNIP/ANPA model so successful. The recipe is simple: take a few dedicated animal lovers, add a sprinkle of committed veterinarians, mix in a municipality that understand the importance of humanely controlling pet population and very quickly you notice less strays roaming the streets and more well taken care pets being walked by their owners.

To learn more about the work of SNIP Foundation in Costa Rica and other Central American countries, click here.

Photo: Courtesy of SNIP Foundation

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