LA PAZ – A life full of partying, travel and business success was exchanged for time tirelessly spent taking care of more than 1,000 stray dogs in La Paz, when the Bolivian Fernando “Ferchy” Kushner decided to pay back with his love for animals all that life had given him.
“I ditched the parties, the trips and making money in exchange for the licks and tail wagging, but that’s what makes me happy,” Kushner told EFE.
Buying food for the canines, distributing it in person ever day, promoting sterilizations, vaccinations and adoptions of the little dogs while giving workshops at schools and universities are now on his brimming list of activities.
A commercial engineer by profession, he worked for such luxury brands as Chanel and Bulgari, for which he developed marketing strategies and techniques for distribution, “public relations, networking, points of sale and client service,” among other responsibilities.
His work had him constantly traveling and at the same time fleeing the mostly frigid climate of La Paz, which he visited “some five or six times a year.”
Until the day came when he decided to take a break and stay awhile in the Andean city, where he could work out an idea he had been pondering for several years: setting up a foundation to care for children, old people and animals.
He attributed that to the blood of helpfulness that ran in his veins, since his grandparents Grisha and Emma Kushner imparted “many values” to the family and were always engaged in social work, above all for the blind, children and animals.
“I began with animals because the reproduce so much,” said “Ferchy” Kushner about the enormous number of stray dogs in Bolivia, a problem he said the authorities have ignored.
One of the leading figures of this story is Choco, a white and coffee-colored mongrel in the southern La Paz neighborhood of San Miguel.
Kushner found it in 2015 on a cold May night, when after leaving his yoga class he sat down on the steps of San Miguel Church and the pooch wandered up to him.
“He came to lick my hands and wag his tail. All I did was give him something to eat, and before eating, he again licked my hands in thanks. Well, from that day on it’s been four years that I’ve been feeding him and many other little stray mutts,” he said.
The story that began with Choco in San Miguel now embraces more than 1,500 strays in such La Paz districts as Llojeta, Miraflores, Cota Cota and Rio Abajo.
Before starting this venture, he decided to study and get help in order “to learn more. I’m neither an ethologist nor a veterinarian, I just hand out food,” he said.
It’s very labor intensive, because it entails going around every day gathering leftovers from cooperative restaurants and then dishing out the food to dogs in the street.
The number of helpers has diminished, and he now has four volunteers he can count on, including Jorge Amusquivar and Yamel Ramirez, who were with him during the EFE interview.
It’s a daily mission that knows no “Sundays or holidays” as days of rest. He has even spent Christmas and New Year’s with his canine pals.
“I often spend time with my family, so it’s no big deal spending holidays in the streets,” he said.
In recent weeks he started a campaign to round up doggy jackets with a view to the coming winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Up to now I’ve collected 1,000 waterproof jackets with woolen lining that say on the back “Don’t take off my jacket. I’ll be cold!”
Now he’s looking for more of the same to take to other Bolivian cities like El Alto, Oruro, Potosi and Sucre.
Another dream he’s been working on since December is building a “sanctuary” to shelter dogs, above all the old ones, and to perform sterilizations to avoid overpopulation.
Following in the footsteps of his grandparents, Kushner created the Abril and Ariel Foundation, named after his niece and nephew, with the idea that they will continue his work.
“There’s nothing nicer than doing something you like and which satisfies you, even though you don’t earn a peso,” he said, convinced that you get back what you give.
“After having more than 10 passports full of stamps from traveling so much, I think it’s time to give back, because I’ve been given so much,” Kushner said.