Every day, shortly before sunrise, Fernando Kushner walks the streets of La Paz with his van. He does this to feed the street dogs of the Bolivian capital.
Four years ago, at the same time of the day, as a marketing executive in the fashion world, Ferchy, as his friends called him, could be coming home from a party night.
“I gave up everything for my dogs: novels, family, career.” He says, reflecting the passion of a true convert.
The change of his destiny came walking in the gutter and his name is Choco, a street dog.
One day, as he was leaving his yoga class, Kushner saw the animal and gave him a piece of his sandwich. The dog then rubbed his muzzle at the executive and licked his hands. An act of gratitude that was enough to persuade the man to feed him the next day.
Before he knew it, Kushner was feeding five dogs, then ten and twenty. Today, the number is in the hundreds.
Morning and afternoon rounds
Every day, he visits the same seven or eight districts of La Paz and leaves portions of food at the same points. Each dog receives 1 kg of chicken and bones per day. Plus a 250g serving of dog biscuits.
Ferchy makes two rounds every day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In the interval between these shifts, he spends three or four hours driving through La Paz seeking food from various donors.
The most generous donations come from two local chicken fast food chains.
On average, he collects 15 containers, each with a capacity of approximately 50 liters.
Every month, he spends about 50 bags of 22 kg of dog biscuits. At a total cost of 9 thousand Bolivian pesos (about R $ 4.9 thousand), which he pays out of his own pocket.
In addition to feeding “his dogs,” he also volunteers at different charities and animal shelters in La Paz.
María Angulo Sandoval, who works in a shelter in the neighboring municipality of El Alto, says that Ferchy works where city officials failed.
“The city authorities are responsible for public health and safety, which includes keeping the population of dogs under control, but they are absent,” he says.
Christmas with the street with dogs (and furious relatives at home)
Ferchy says leaving his job to go to the dogs was easy and that the decision happened “from one day to the next.”
It has been more difficult in the case of family commitments. The first time he missed his family’s Christmas party, he was feeding the dogs. And his family were furious.
Today his relatives are a little more understanding.
“I thought he would be bored with all this after about three months, and that he would leave [the animal welfare activity],” says his mother, Lolita Kushner. “But every time I see him, he seems more worried than ever about dogs and more committed to his mission.”
Ferchy hopes to hire some helpers soon. But for now, he is an “army of one man”.
He doesn’t even have time to date, he says. This doesn’t stop him from contemplating a future novel, but the person “would have to love animals, otherwise, it would be impossible.”
The point is that not everyone is as passionate about dogs as Ferchy.
Raúl Alcázar, a resident of La Paz, thinks that by feeding street dogs, Ferchy may be aggravating the problem: “The dogs are in the street, scavenging the trash and generally creating problems.”
Alcázar also wonders if the dogs are the ones that need the most help: “What he does is good, but would not it be better to give the money to an orphanage or to an old man?”
Ferchy does not deny that Bolivia, where one in three people is poor and one in six is considered extremely poor, has acute social needs. But he argues that there are “hundreds of charities” that care for the poor in Bolivia. And that only a few take care of the animals.
Branding and airline bridges
Even so, Kushner acknowledges that his efforts are but a drop in the ocean. According to their own calculations, about 250,000 street dogs live in the streets of La Paz.
In his opinion, the only long-term solution to the problem of street dogs in La Paz is education and public awareness.
This is where his marketing experience comes in. After spending more than 15 years conducting campaigns for luxury brands, he has no difficulty in harnessing his social and professional contacts for his mission.
He managed to persuade large companies in Bolivia to publish his slogan “Adopt, do not buy”. His biggest success to date has been to ensure that the private airline Bolivia Amazonas has agreed to cover the full cost of sending dogs from one city to another for adoption.
He is currently trying to raise money to build a dog shelter, which will also be a sterilization center.
He has already convinced Incerpaz, one of Bolivia’s largest brick manufacturers, to sell the material at cost.
Ferchy’s tenacity in the defense of street dogs in La Paz seems to have no limits. In the name of the case, he even sought contact with Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of US President Donald Trump, through diplomatic channels.
“Although we have the same surname, we are not related, but what is there to lose?” He asks. “If he wanted to, he could pay to sterilize all the dogs in Bolivia.”