Roof Pups

Photo Credit: John Widmer,

One of our Gappers completed his Gap Year in Spring 2017. We recently caught up with him and he told us about the phenomenon known as “roof pups” in Cuba.

What did you do during your Gap Year?

I worked in two restaurants in the Fall and early Winter, to make money to help pay for my trip to Cuba, and also volunteered with an organization that prepares meals for families living with difficult illnesses. The trip to Cuba was organized by a Gap Year program.

Can you describe your trip to Cuba?

The trip had 10 students and 2 group leaders. We traversed the country from east to west over three months, visiting 10 cities including Havana, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Viñuales.

You really wanted us to know about what are called “roof pups”. Why?

Sometimes when you are in a country outside the U.S., you experience something so different, it really sticks with you. Roof pups are one of those things – we all just found them so interesting, and the reason they exist taught us a lot about Cuba and maybe what we take for granted here in the U.S.

Where did you see the roof pups?

In the eastern part of the country – Holguin, Camaguey, and some of the poorer areas. We did not see them in Havana.

When did you first come upon them? Can you describe that experience?

As our group was walking through one of the first cities we visited – I think it was Holguin but I can’t remember – we heard dogs barking that we thought were family dogs, but it turned out they were living on the roofs of houses. It was kind of strange to see them looking down from roofs. Sometimes the roofs were pretty high up there, maybe even three stories up. They would bark a lot, but we kind of got desensitized to them after the first week. It was kind of weird at first, but we then we just tuned out the barking when we heard it.

What did you learn about why the dogs were on the roof?

It turns out that roof pups are stray dogs. There is no money in Cuba for a lot of things, but in these areas they had even less money. So there were a lot of stray dogs and no animal control infrastructure. And none of these dogs are spayed or neutered. So the people living there decided to take matters into their own hands, and take dogs off the street. They basically did this so that the dogs wouldn’t breed. Having said this, there were still a lot of stray dogs around too. Some in our group would touch the strays, they would feel bad, but there wasn’t much you could do.

Anything else you want to add about roof pups or your trip?

We realized that Cubans don’t have pets the same way we do in the U.S. Some Cubans do, but most can’t really afford to feed themselves, so having a pet is really a luxury. I think the minimum wage in Cuba is something like $40 a month. The average American spends over $1,000 a year on their dog. It’s weird to think we spend more money on our dogs than the Cuban government spends on its people. We are privileged in ways we don’t understand.

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