Saturday, March 19, 2011

Musician Starts Canadian Chapter Devoted To Rehoming Cuban Animals

EDMONTON — Searchers are combing the streets of Varadero, Cuba, hoping to find the dog that stole the heart of an Edmonton country music artist. Somewhere in that sentence is the inspiration for a country music song, one Craig Moritz would gladly pen once he has all the lyrics for his happy ending. “I kind of fell in love with that dog,” says Moritz, who was selected for the prestigious new artist showcase by the Canadian Country Music Association in 2004. He is about to release his third album.

In January, he and his girlfriend travelled to Cuba to escape the frigid winter weather. Three days before they were to return home, Moritz spotted a dog stumbling around their resort. Hungry, seemingly homeless and blind in one eye, the mutt still recognized an animal lover when he saw one and quickly attached himself to Moritz. It wasn’t long before Moritz — who has two dogs, a Shepherd-cross and a Yorkie, at home — was smitten. “He was so sweet. It felt like I had known that dog forever.” The couple started spending more time with the dog and less time hanging out by the pool. They even tried to sneak him up to their room, a move that was intercepted by resort security guards. Even so, the germ of an idea began to form in Moritz’s head, about bringing the pooch back to Edmonton. But he didn’t know how, or if it was even possible. It turned out to be a moot point — the dog disappeared and didn’t return before they left.

It wasn’t long after he returned to Edmonton that Moritz learned about some non-profit organizations that save the lives of stray cats and dogs in the Caribbean and Mexico through spay, neuter, adoption and educational programs. They are supported and funded by the tourism industry, travellers and pet lovers. “It wasn’t just the little dog on our resort that weighed heavily on my mind when we got back,” says Moritz. “It was all the dogs we noticed that first day, when we took a bus trip into town. There were dogs everywhere, running through the streets of Varadero. Once you experience something like that first-hand, it’s hard not to become involved.”

Eventually, Moritz got in touch with Grace Waszkiewicz, an Edmonton woman who had her own life-changing encounter with a lovable Cuban stray two years earlier. Tiger was an orange tabby, who led her to find out about “the amazing people” who volunteer for the Association for the Protection of Animals Cuba (APAC). They came to her hotel the night before she returned to Edmonton, after Waszkiewicz practically begged the front desk clerk to put her in touch with someone who would be willing to take care of the kitten. “In spite of their constant struggle with a very difficult life, they help homeless animals in Cuba,” says Waszkiewicz. “Because of them, little Tiger is now safe and loved, and the money I gave them was used for feeding a group of homeless dogs.”

Waszkiewicz decided to establish a Canadian chapter of APAC-Varadero, and in the past year has co-ordinated the placement of 10 homeless cats and dogs in cities across Canada. The most recent, Nina, arrived in Edmonton in December on a free flight, compliments of Air Transat. The dog, who is blind, now lives in Toronto. In Nina’s case, says Waszkiewicz, the true heroes were a group of resort security guards, who made sure she was safe and fed, and helped arrange her transportation to the airport. Waszkiewicz also relies on assistance from colleagues, family and friends, many of whom deliver medical supplies whenever they travel to Cuba for holidays. She also formed alliances with other like-minded organizations, such as Dogs and Cats International (CANDi), a Kelowna-based group.

For further information about APAC-Varadero go to, or phone 780-461-8355; for information about CANDi go to
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