Every day, reports about incidents of animal abuse in Costa Rica make news headlines and fan the flames of social media discourse and indignation.
A stray dog savagely sliced by a machete, sea turtles gutted for their meat, a female sloth hit with rocks, a porcupine cut with knives, sharks being brutally killed for their fins, illegal hunters who shoot down and dismember wild felines only to graphically display their barbarity as trophies on their Facebook Timeline. This is a list that could seemingly go on ad infinitum in Costa Rica.
Clearly, there is a problem with animal abuse in Costa Rica. But what about abuse of the elderly, our golden Tico citizens, those who raised families and worked their skins off to make Costa Rica a place that younger generations can enjoy? Did they ever dream that one day they would be subject to deplorable abuse; that they would be treated like those poor animals described in the preceding paragraph?
There is a difference between elder and animal abuse in Costa Rica, and it is not one to be proud of. The difference is that more people are interested in protecting animals than in protecting our elderly population from abuse. The proof is in the numbers: 15,000 recently marched in support of proposed legislation that will impose severe criminal penalties against those who abuse animals in Costa Rica. It was a grand event in our lovable capital of San Jose. The weather was great, and many people brought their companion animals. There were cats, dogs and even snakes among the crowd. A free concert wrapped up the activities and the event made international headlines.
In 2009, about 1,000 people showed up at a rally against elder abuse in Costa Rica and guess what? Most of those who showed up for this demonstration were golden citizens -many of them were part of the 1,500 elderly victims of physical, emotional and even sexual abuse in Costa Rica that year. That march is the only one to have made news headlines in recent years, and it was actually effective in the sense that enforcement of the Integral Law for the Elderly in Costa Rica was strengthened shortly thereafter.
An editorial recently published by news daily Diario Extra remarked that:
“We should keep in mind that animal abuse goes beyond violence and physical injuries, abandonment and neglect are also part of this vicious circle.
This should make us think that we, as a society, must take up a leadership role and start with raising awareness in our homes and communities.”
Compare the excerpt above with a June press release from the National Council on the Elderly (Spanish acronym: CONAPAM), a governmental entity dedicated to the protection of those in their golden years:
“Our objective is to increase social awareness and promote conscience about the topics of violence and abuse that affect hundreds of elderly persons on a daily basis.”
In 2010, the number of cases processed under the Integral Law for the Elderly in Costa Rica was 680, in 2011 there were 939 and last year the number climbed to 1,535. These numbers reflect cases of violent abuse that are prosecuted; CONAPAM is aware that many more cases go unreported due to intimidation and embarrassment.
CONAPAM is not the only entity dedicated to the protection of the elderly in Costa Rica. There is also the Gerontological Association of Costa (AGECO in Spanish) and a few others. How many groups are dedicated to protection of companion animals and wildlife in our country? The Costa Rica Star has reported on more than a dozen.
And yet CONAPAM does its best to raise awareness about the uncomfortable problem of elder abuse in Costa Rica. Could there be more cases of animal abuse than elder abuse on a daily basis. It is very likely; after all, a million dogs roam the streets of Costa Rica (although a great number of them are not strays). The problem is that animal abuse causes indignation and prompts people to take to the streets; elder abuse, on the other hand causes shame and sadness.
It’s not that CONAPAM does not try to raise awareness. June 15th is the National Day Against the Abuse, Negligence, and Marginalization of the Elderly in Costa Rica. On that day, rallies at more than 25 communities across the country take place, but only about a hundred people attend each march.
Activism is Not Enough
There is a difference between activism and action. 15,000 people marching at a rally and enjoying a free concert afterward is activism. 50 community establishments dedicated to elderly care, retirement homes, activity centers, and a network of social workers and investigators is action. On both animal and elder abuse issues, action is what really works to ameliorate the problem.
A previous article in the Costa Rica Star about Shark Week touched on the issue of extremely lucrative activism and the profitable business of widlife conservation:
“[…] people will simply not leave sharks in Costa Rica alone. The shark cash machine has potential to generate extensive profits to diverse interests, which include nature conservationists.
Writing for The Guardian, Naomi Klein recently questioned the goals of groups such as the Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund, which manage endowments worth hundreds of millions of dollars and invest them in the stock market, often by purchasing thousands of shares of publicly traded oil companies.”
What good is it to manage hundreds of millions of dollars if no concrete action is taken? For this reason, it is important to support organizations and movements that actually do something on the issues of animal and elder abuse. Which one is more important? Look in the mirror: You are getting older as each second goes by, but the choice is still yours. Here are two things you could do to prevent the abuse of animal and the elderly in Costa Rica:
Support the McKee Project
The Costa Rica Star has previously written about this organization, which is dedicated to the prevention of animal abuse by means of improving quality of life among companion animals through viable spay and neuter techniques.
“Pet owners in Costa Rica need to exercise better control when it comes to sterilization, which is essentially a low-cost procedure that is only practiced about 28 percent of the time in our country. Enter the McKee Project, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable foundation in the United States of America, which has developed and taught versatile spay and neuter techniques to more than 650 veterinarians in many Latin American countries.”
The McKee Project estimates that a 70 percent rate of spay-and-neuter procedures in a community translates into improved quality of life for pets and their owners. Remember, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals” – Immanuel Kant.
One of the best methods to prevent elder abuse is to ensure that our golden citizens are active and that they expand their social network. To this end, AGECO has many programs across several communities in Costa Rica that feature activities for older adults, including volunteer opportunities to boost their sense of belonging. Belonging to an active group is extremely important for people in their golden years, as studies have shown that the incidence of abuse is reduced among older adults whose social circles are active and supportive.