The dream of opening a shelter such as Land of the Strays has been a reality thanks to the honest work, guidance and co-direction of a great woman: Lya Battle.
Lya, daughter to a British-Canadian biologist and a Costa Rican psychologist, has always been an animal lover, and since her early years her parents have fed her soul and mind with knowledge and care. This made Lya an empathetic and brave woman.
During her childhood, toads, snakes, spiders and insects were her favorite animals because she thought they received the least attention and affection from people. When she grew up, she realized that, as well as those animals that she preferred in her childhood, there were thousands of dogs that people ignored, and she concluded that the way they lived on the street was unacceptable. Although other people could ignore this, she would not.
It was this way of thinking and her love for animals that ultimately led Lya to rescue dogs, but opening a shelter with over 1800 dogs was never in her plans.
"There's a moment when you say, well, I can't ignore all the homeless dogs I see on the street. I have to find a family for them. Injured dogs kept showing up at my door and I felt compelled to help them," says Lya.
One of the most unforgettable rescue cases of Lya and Álvaro, her spouse, was that of Oso, a large and beautiful dog, but a very stubborn and badly behaved one. Many people showed interest in adopting Oso and some even took him home, but he was always returned shortly after. This happened seven times.
"Oso's options were: to go back out on the street or go to a shelter where he would probably be euthanized. It was then that we realized that there is no place that keeps dogs indefinitely, one without an expiration date," Lya commented.
By then the couple already had more than a hundred dogs living in their house and it was then that Álvaro proposed two options: stop helping dogs out or take all of them to a big farm. Though Lya wasn't sure how it would turn out at the moment, they both took the leap of faith.
And the task has not been easy for Lya and Álvaro, but without knowing it, they started a social cause that has transcended borders. As a no-kill shelter, Territorio provides a home for hundreds of dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.
"I will never euthanize a dog unless it is suffering and there is no way to alleviate that suffering. If it is disabled, we will find a chair; if it can only move its eyes and eat, then we will feed it. If that dog is going to live the rest of his life with us, he has to enjoy it, and if he only has two weeks to live, he will have a good time too," says Lya.
However, Lya and Álvaro have not been alone in their work as rescuers and directors of one of the largest animal shelters in the world. Right beside them there are two women who stand out for their empathy but also for their tenacity as protectors of animal rights. These are Marcela and Maria Fernanda.
Marcela Castro, one of the most involved collaborators of Territorio de Zaguates, always had a special affinity for nature and animals, and has always rescued dogs from the street: "My mother took them home, and of course, she had to think about where she got the money for dog food, sterilization, etc., because her daughter had brought home a new dog."
Over time, she helped hundreds of dogs. She showed that her sensitivity, concern and desire to offer a better quality of life to homeless dogs is what defines her as a rescuer.
In the midst of her rescue efforts, she discovered Land of the Strays: "I met Lya and Álvaro about eight years ago at an adoption fair. I had rescued a dog and found her a foster home. I took her to the adoption fair to see if I could find a family for her, but no one adopted her. The girl who helped me foster this dog couldn't support her anymore, so Lya and Álvaro offered to foster her until she was adopted. As a thank you, I went to her house every two weeks to bring them a big bag of dog food," recalls Marcela.
Over time, her relationship with Lya and Álvaro became closer and she began to get more involved in the project. She has always been willing to give her best to see the dogs happy, and that is her only reward, since all the work she does, she does for free.
In Territorio she has done everything: she has bathed the dogs, picked up poop, fed them, taken them to the vet, and done every single task imaginable. In addition, there have been times when she has welcomed up to 17 dogs at a time in her home.
"I feel like an aunt for these dogs, I can't say a mother, because Lya is their mother, but for me they are like my children. I'm happy when they get adopted, it makes me sad to see them grow old and die. Territorio is a project in which I truly believe, and it is a great part of my family.
The other great 'aunt' of Territorio de Zaguates is María Fernanda.
Her first encounter with Lya and Álvaro was on a visit to the shelter with her family. From that very day, due to the love she has for animals and with the motivation of her youngest son, she did not hesitate to offer her help to the project.
During the following months, she offered her help in the adoption events and opened the doors of her house to become one of Territorio's nursery. “I started out as a volunteer, working every day and on weekends. I would go up to the shelter to help out on public excursions, and over time I got more and more involved,” Marifer said.
Marifer now works full time in Territory and does different tasks, among them: taking care of the rescued dogs, coordinating the adoptions of the shelter, creating the files and name plates of each one of the dogs, and her house is still the foster home of dozens of dogs that have been rescued in very fragile health conditions. In addition, she supervises the supply of food to the dogs.
Although it is until now that she is dedicated completely to animal rescue and welfare, María Fernanda has always helped abandoned animals, she has taken them off the streets and put them up for adoption, giving them an opportunity to find a family.
When we asked her what she thought about her workplace, she told us, "This is a beautiful project that shouldn't exist. Among all the happiness and gratitude that we see when we care for and play with dogs, this place also means abandonment, because it is the place where old and rejected dogs come to live and die. Behind the beautiful mountain runs, there is also a lot of sadness. This is why Land of the Strays holds many meanings for me, both positive and negative".
These women are responsible for keeping the most unique shelter in the world running. Without their daily commitment to fight against animal abandonment and abuse, thousands of dogs would still be living on the streets. We appreciate their work, but most of all we appreciate their love for animals.