Natalia Montero and Arca Luminosa
Natalia Montero is a model at the Society Management in New York, and is a huge supporter and advocate for the stray dogs in her home country of Colombia. She sat down with us to answer some questions about her work with the dogs, the organization Arca Luminosa, and to let people know how they can help.
Can you tell us about Arca Luminosa? How did it start and what services do they provide for dogs?
Arca Luminosa Foundation, is located in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, which is overrun with hundreds of thousands of stray dogs and cats who live throughout the city. The organization was created in 2017 after the founder Malala, witnessed many stray dogs run over by cars on a highway near Bogota. She realized that many of the accidents happen at night because the stray dogs were not visible. She came up with the idea of making a reflective collar or “life collar” to make dogs visible at night and help avoid accidents. The foundation was created here with 100 collars, four volunteers and the desire to make life safer for dogs in the streets. Now, five years later, the organization provides four key actions for animals in Colombia:
- The placement of reflective collars on stray dogs to avoid accidents and promote adoption
- Rescue and rehabilitation of animals in extremely vulnerable situations in a network of foster homes
- A free Spay and neuter program for dogs in overcrowded areas, including post surgery follow up
- Education for both children and adults to love and respect animals, and to teach them how to be a responsible owner, and rescue dogs themselves
What made you get involved? Have you always been an animal lover?
I grew up with animals. My whole family are animal lovers and they taught me how to take care of them, and respect and love them all. As I grew older, I began to notice the overpopulation of dogs and the mistreatment they received. At this point I promised myself that when I had the means to help I would do so. I also began to read about shelters that helped animals and I offered myself as a volunteer.
You mentioned that the dogs stay at volunteers homes, approximately how many volunteers help out this organization?
Yes! The foundation does not have a physical shelter, so they created a network of foster homes with the team of volunteers, who receive the rescued dogs or cats in their homes. Arca Luminosa covers all the expenses. These foster homes are key to the emotional recovery of these animals. More than 50 families participate in the foster home program with Arca Luminosa, which has made possible the rescue of over 300 dogs and cats. I am a part of this network, but I keep adopting the dogs I foster!
In what ways do you help support this organization?
I started helping this foundation in 2020, when I fostered Honey, a dog that had been extremely abused. I also donate food and medicine for the rest of the rescued animals. Furthermore I attend the spay and neuter events organized by the foundation, and share content of interest from the foundation.
You currently have four rescues at your home and three others with your mom. Tell us a little bit about them and their stories?
I have three females who share a common history: they have all have been exploited for the sale of their puppies. Honey, a bull terrier, was the first stray dog that came to my life. She was found her in a precarious place, tied to a brick in the rain. She was missing half of her fur, and had a serious infection in her eyes and uterus. She was rescued by the foundation, and when she was in better condition she was ready to find a home. Before my boyfriend and I decided to adopt her, she had been living in temporary homes for two years because no one was interested in adopting her because of her past. Honey passed away surrounded by love in July 2021. She became my amulet to fight for abused animals.
Agatha is another bull terrier, approximately 9 years old. She was also abused and exploited to give birth to puppies. She was taken from a homeless man who made her walk day and night without rest. She was another complicated adoption case. Because of her past, people were not interested in adopting her, so I did.
Tomasa in an american bully, who is 15 years old, and spent her whole life giving birth. She was found in a park completely malnourished, missing almost all of her teeth, and with a serious paw injury from walking. She was taken in by the foundation who stabilized her, and tried to find her a home. I offered to give her a temporary home, but fell in love. She now enjoys the retirement of her dreams next to her other three siblings.
Pharaoh was also found in very poor condition in the same place where Honey was found. He is a german shepherd, but with very short legs. We think he was abandoned for being “defective”. He is now my caretaker and my favorite of the pack.
Papo is the most recent addition to the pack. He has been with us for a little less than three months. He was found in terrible condition, and is missing almost 90% of his fur. He was abused by the people who lived around him. He ate chickens and as a result received all kinds of abuse from people. He was saved by the foundation, and is now undergoing treatment for his hormonal disease (Cushing’s syndrome). We still do not know what breed he is.
Three dogs and a cat currently live with my Mom. Lucas is 12 years old, and was adopted by my family and is spoiled. Kira was rescued from a farm by my sister, as she suffered abuse. Athena is a bull terrier was in the wrong hands and was a breeding machine, used to sell puppies, and Teo is my cat who I rescued 13 years ago.
Are stray dogs a big issue in Colombia, how are they treated in general?
It’s a very big issue. There are more than 1 million stray dogs on the streets of Colombia. There is very little regulation for pet shops, lots of people abandoning pets, lack of empathy and little awareness on how to be a responsible owner. On top of that of course is the exponential reproduction of street animals. The overcrowded zones often are also very poor areas, where people do not have resources to help the animals. There are many cases of abuse, illness, and puppies being born in total neglect. In general the street animals are treated like they are a problem, in some zones there is even widespread poisoning. It is heartbreaking. Nevertheless there is also a big community of animal rescuers in these zones, who work with the little they have to rescue as many animals as they can. Some of them utilize social media to get help and seek out adopters.
Is it common practice to spay & neuter dogs in Colombia?
It is a growing practice among pet owners, but when it come to strays it’s very difficult because you have to catch them first, and give them post surgery care. The government does not give this issue much attention. Only some districts offer free or low cost spaying. There are critical zones like Guajira that do not have veterinary clinics or services at all, with many animals living in critical condition. Last year Arca Luminosa carried out the biggest spay/neuter campaign in Guajira with 600 free surgeries in critical areas. This has prevented approximately 70,000 births in two years!
You mentioned that the organization began by putting fluorescent collars on stray dogs? Can you tell us a little bit about this program?
Reflective collars are part of the core mission of Arca Luminosa! Each collar is marked with the phrase “I’m not lost, I’m looking for a home, ADOPT ME” promoting adoption, while making dogs visible at night to prevent accidents. More than 3.800 stray dogs have received the “life collar” thanks to the effort of over 200 volunteers that have participated in the campaigns to feed and place reflective collars in overcrowded areas. In addition, people from other cities or countries have joined as ambassadors, placing the collars in other towns and cities! This simple yet effective collar only costs $1.50 to produce, and has the power to change the life of each dog by making their lives safer and increasing their chances of being adopted.
How can people help support you and this organization on your mission?
There are many ways to support! If you are in Colombia or come to visit Colombia, you can volunteer placing collars, helping the sterilization campaigns, or fostering a dog. If you are not in Colombia you can support by donating to any specific Arca mission you prefer: for example you can donate $1.50 to sponsor a life collar for a street dog, or you can donate $15 to sponsor a spay and life collar for a stray dog. It is a small investment that will change a life forever. You can also get more involved, by becoming a rescue supporter and sponsoring your own dog or cat. You can then meet them by video call, and follow up on their progress until they are adopted. It is even possible to adopt abroad if you like too. Sharing on social media is also super important. Please follow @arcaluminosa and @arcaluminosauk and join the community, and be a part of the change for thousands is animals in need in Colombia.
Visit the website Arca Luminosa