Fernando Kushner used to be a publicist for luxury fashion brands such as Chanel and Bulgari. These days, he’s ditched the briefcase and you’re more likely to see him driving in his minibus around the streets of La Paz. Kushner is on a mission to feed the Bolivian city’s sizeable community of stray dogs.
“I’ve given up everything for my dogs,” Kushner told the BBC. “Romances, family, career—everything.”
The extraordinary vocational 180 didn’t happen overnight, but it was prompted by a burgeoning relationship with a stray dog, affectionately named Choco, in 2015. Kushner was leaving a yoga class when he spied the hungry dog and decided to share his sandwich with him. The dog was gentle, friendly, and grateful. Touched, Kushner returned the following day to feed him again.
Four years on, Kushner’s generous spirit has generated a project that feeds the city’s stray dogs in their hundreds.
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Bolivian Express reported that there are currently 1.9 million dogs on the streets of Bolivia. “An estimated 42 percent of which are abandoned pets,” they added. In terms of community involvement in the solution, “it’s all about education,” Kushner insisted.
Kushner drives two rounds a day in his minibus, leaving food in the same locations so that the dogs know where to go. But the project isn’t the result of a huge fundraising drive or a debilitating financial sacrifice on Kushner’s part: the food is largely donated by local restaurants who support the initiative.
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On an ordinary day, Kushner collects 15 garbage-can-sized containers. Each stray dog on the round gets approximately 1 kilogram (approx. 2 pounds) of chicken and bones per day. Kushner supplements the donations with a 250-gram (approx. 9-ounce) portion of dog biscuits per dog, the money for which does come out of his own pocket.
According to the BBC, it costs him around 9,000 Bolivianos (US$1,300) per month.
Kushner has truly found his calling. Besides his own rounds, he is a regular volunteer at a number of La Paz’s dog shelters. “I thought he’d grow bored of it all after about three months and give up,” his mother, Lolita Kushner, admitted. “But every time I see him, he seems more preoccupied about the dogs than ever.”
The dog lover currently works alone, but he hasn’t ruled out putting together a crack team of dog feeders in the future. On a personal note, he hasn’t ruled out romance, either, but “they would have to love animals,” he said.
Kushner’s charitable efforts have met with some opposition from La Paz residents. One, Raúl Alcázar, suggested that feeding the strays is only exacerbating the problem. “The dogs stay on the street this way,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be better to give the money to an orphanage or an old people’s home?”
Kushner responded that there are “hundreds of charities” looking after Bolivia’s impoverished human beings but few dedicated to its homeless animals. However, he is making progress. Kushner’s savvy marketing slogan (with a nod to his professional background) of “Adopt, don’t buy” has already persuaded a private Bolivian airline, Amaszonas, to help the cause by flying dogs between cities for adoption. And they are doing it for free.
Kushner is also trying to fundraise for a sanctuary for elderly strays. The proposed sanctuary will also house a clinic and function as an outreach sterilization center: the long-term goal is to help reduce the city’s overall stray dog problem. If there are fewer hungry mouths to feed, there is less work for everybody.
“I just do what I do transparently.”