After a 20-minute drive along a stretch of land on the Estrada Real, which passes through Camargos in the district of Mariana (MG), the gate of the Asa Branca Farm already indicates where the small animals – rescued after the Fundao dam collapse – are kept and taken care of by the Renova Foundation until they are adopted or, in case they already have owners, until they can return to their families.
As soon as the truck approaches, you can hear all sorts of barks. Jose Estevao Martins, also known as Mr. Zeze, says that the animals always get like that, barking with joy, because they know that the approaching car is a sign of arriving visitors.
Mr. Zeze, who is from Pedras in the district of Paracatu (MG), was there to visit Susane, Miguel, Bob and Valente, his dogs rescued shortly after the collapse. He had three others, but they did not survive the tragedy.
At this time, in his current house, Mr. Zeze cannot keep the four dogs because of a “lack of space”, he says. But he is happy to visit them once a week on Tuesday morning. The Animal Support team of the Renova Foundation organizes visits to keep the bond between the pets and their owners intact until they can live together again.
“The great challenge of Renova is to maintain this bond with the owners who used to live so close to their animals and today live further apart. If they lose this bond it might be difficult to reunite them again later. For this reason, the visits take place weekly. They are also important for people to see how the animals are evolving,” says Rafael Matos, coordinator of the Animal Assistance actions.
To encourage and announce the visits, the Animal Assistance team received support from the Social Dialogue and Resettlement teams. Rafael explains that the small animals received few visits. The three teams then planned a strategy to change this scenario. When making the visits, the Dialogue and Resettlement teams gave out a type of postcard with a mosaic of photos of the animals so that the owners could search for their respective pets. The postcard had a little message on it saying that the animal was missing them. It was a good approach and it worked well,” he says.
Visits to small animals take place every Tuesday. A van leaves Mariana (MG) around 9.30 am and goes to the Asa Branca Farm. The duration is agreed between the owners. But those who cannot make it on that date and time can request Renova to schedule alternative days. In addition, those who wish to spend a few days with the animals can also make the request by calling 0800 031 2303.
Petting Susane, Mr. Zeze says that it’s extremely important for him to always visit. He feels that the dogs are happy to see him, and he is also pleased to be able to check up on the way they are being cared for. Even when the animals were kept in another place he always visited. “This here is what I call a real friend,” he says.
As we talked, a white dog named Tequilla leaped towards us. Everyone knows she is a climber because she can make it up any height and can escape over the fence. For this reason, the Foundation team is adjusting the kennel in which she is kept restricting her walks to the scheduled recreation hours. Luisa Orsini, veterinarian at the Asa Branca Farm, explains that all animals are divided into groups according to their characteristics. “For example, several tests are done to see if animals get along and can be put together. The less sociable pets are kept in separate kennels,” she explains. Size and temperament are also always taken into account.
Work routine of small animals
There is a daily routine on the farm to keep the animals healthy and well looked after. Luisa says that there are four animal caretakers working daily at the place, taking turns so that the animals are always with someone. As soon as they get in, they have a talk about the farm routine, then the caretakers feed the pets, change their water and, at the end of the morning, wash the dogs and see if any animal needs a further check-up. The afternoon is for attendance.
There is a clinic on the farm and also a quarantine area for animals that are suspected of having a contagious disease and are kept until they improve. Also quarantined are all the animals that returned for some reason, such as adoptions that did not work out or those who spent time with their owners. “They are kept in quarantine to check if they are free of any disease that can contaminate the others,” explains Luisa.
Pets for adoption
Besides the animals that already have an owner, there are those who have been rescued and await adoption. In total, there are 25 dogs and 4 cats available. To help finding a new home for these pets, the Renova Foundation periodically holds adoption events in different districts and municipalities in the Mariana region (MG). So far, about 10 events have been organized and 126 animals have been adopted.
Rafael Matos explains that after adoption the animals need some time to adapt. “The person who adopts has to be patient because the animal is used to the routine on the farm and living together with other dogs. It’s a sudden change in routine. Many were born here and have become attached. The only people they know are the caretakers and veterinarians,” he tells.
That’s what happened with Milton Tirubio Gomes, he almost gave up on the adoption, but in the end Fia the dog won him over. When they met it seemed like destiny. He was walking down the streets of Mariana when he saw a crowd, there because of one of the adoption events of the Renova Foundation. He was curious and approached and, coincidentally, he was looking for a German shepherd. “When I went to see the pets, Fia got up right away and I liked her, so I decided to adopt her. She was almost a year old,” he says proudly.
At home, things were not easy. Fia had constant diarrhea. Milton even contacted the Foundation to return her. But the day that Fia was supposed to leave, he was in for a surprise. “Shortly before the staff arrived to pick her up I was resting and suddenly I felt a lick in my ear. It was Fia, and then I gave up on the idea of returning her,” Milton explains.
Today, the relationship between the dog and Milton’s family could not be better. She has a large yard to play in and is looked after by the owner. “I take care of her, I clean hear, give her food, train her. Today she follows me to the gate, takes my key and obeys my instructions,” he says.
Leninha Coelho used to live in Bento Rodrigues (MG) and began working as an animal caretaker. She became so attached to the animals that she took in Luana, a dog she watched being born. “I always liked dogs, but after I started working I got even more attached. Today, I rather work with dogs than in retail, which was what I did before,” she says.
Each adopted animal is checked upon for six months. Veterinarians visit once a month to find out how the animals are doing with their new family. “We go to the owner’s house and talk about the animal’s interaction with the family members. We verify if the pet is well adapted to the place, how its health and well-being are,” explains Carla Porto, veterinarian responsible for monitoring the post-adoption process.
Just like the small animals, the large ones are also kept on a farm, called Bom Retiro, and in the pasture of the Praia do Felicio Farm, taken care of by the Renova Foundation. There are 212 animals, including cattle, pigs and equines. They all have owners, who visit them weekly, every Wednesday morning.
At the Bom Retiro Farm there are five pastures. But when it is a visiting day, they are gathered in stalls to await their owners. Manoel Marcos Muniz, Mr. Marquinhos, always goes there to check how his animals are and those of his brother, who, because of a problem in the knee, for now, cannot visit them so often.
He has 26 cattle and his brother 18, as well as 2 mules (donkeys) and 11 pigs. Mr. Marquinhos sees them one by one. “I mark their presence of each one of them,” he says, explaining the reason for the paper and pen in hand. He also always exchanges information with the veterinarians, seeking the best treatment for the animals. “I once told them that we were missing mineral salt for the cattle. We are free to give suggestions, make things better together.” He explains that mineral salt is a dietary supplement and contributes to the development of cattle and hair improvement.
Brenno Trota, veterinarian responsible for large animals, right away confirms this exchange of knowledge between owners and veterinarians. At that moment, he tells Marquinhos: “I learn from you and tell you what I learned in college.” The two explain that, at this time, together they are trying to solve the situation of a cow of Marquinhos’ brother. The calf does not suckle its mother any more, but it has started suckling itself. They are discussing whether to place a muzzle until the cow is dry, because if it continues this way it will further stimulate milk production.
For Marquinhos, who used to live in Bento Rodrigues (MG), the visit is also important to remember the old routine of the community. “When I come in, I watch how the veterinarians are working, and it’s very important for me to fill my time, too. It is helpful, this is our life. It brings us together. We know other people that were affected and talk with each other,” he says.
Mr. Zeze was there, too. Besides the dogs, he has a cow, a calf and a donkey. Proudly, he introduces Estrela, a cow that grew up with him and that to this day recognizes him. “I always used to go for a walk with my animals in Pedras. They are used to me, Estrela lets me stroke her. Impossible to say she is not mine,” showing how Estrela lets him caress her while the other cows flee when he comes close.
Teimoso (Stubborn) is another pride of Mr. Zeze. He is a young bull, an adolescent. “He lost his mother when he was young, only two months old, and then he started suckling on all the other cows, so I called him Teimoso. He would listen to his name, when I told him to kneel, he would kneel and would only get up when I told him to. He would go to the door of the house, following us like a dog, “says Zeze.
“I miss my cattle. When I come here I feel happier because seeing them was part of my daily routine. It would be nice if they could be with me, but they are well cared for,” says Zeze, stroking Estrela.
He came with his uncle, Wilson dos Santos, or Mr. Nono, who also came to visit his animals. “I always come here, we look at the cows and see how they are doing. The people are taking good care of them, they look beautiful. I used to make cheese with the milk of my cows, they are all tame,” he says.
Large animals are monitored daily by veterinarians and caretakers. “The caretakers provide food and also watch the animals. Any abnormality, we evaluate and define the appropriate treatment,” explains veterinarian Brenno Trota. The main precautions are weight control and possible wounds that can lead to bots, an infection caused by the larva of fly.
He also talks about how important it is that there is constant contact with the owners to simulate the routine of the animals as much as possible to what it was before the dam collapse. Therefore, we always do our best to meet any request as long as it does not harm the animals. What kind of mane trimming for example. “There are those who prefer the mane of their horse to be long, to hang over one side, so we do it that way, according to what the owners ask for,” says Breno.
There are owners, like Marquinhos, who requested disbudding, which is the burning out of the horn buds of young calves. This prevents them from getting hurt in a possible fight with other animals, besides facilitating their handling.
Another thing they thought of together was the handling of the calves. “We’ve adopted an extensive system, with the calf at the feet of the cow. In the morning, the calves suckle and in the afternoon, they go to the pasture. They adapted very well. This way, we have bigger and healthier animals,” explains Breno.