World

In violent Rio slums even animals get caught in the crossfire, shelters concerned

A dog that was shot five times during a firefight in a Rio slum is recovering from surgery and will soon be put up for adoption, an animal shelter says.

Violence is on the increase in the city's shantytowns and animals, like people, sometimes get caught in the crossfire.

The dog is nicknamed Netinho Coragem, or "little brave one" in Portuguese. He was hit during a gunbattle between rival gangs in northern Rio on July 11.

The shelter group, known as SUIPA by its Portuguese acronym, said it rescued the black-coated mutt after getting a call from residents.

"It's a miracle he is alive," said Joao Wassita, the group's head veterinarian, said Tuesday. "Most dogs die on the spot before we are able to get there."

Netinho, who will be offered for adoption after recovering, was the second dog in less than a month to survive Rio's daily and increasing shootouts ahead of the Aug. 5-21 Olympic Games.

Wassita said the dog suffered extensive damage to his femur, which required surgery and the placing of screws in its bones.

The city does not keep data for animal deaths or injuries related to shootings. But veterinarians at the shelter say they have seen a sharp increase in recent months, especially in slums where pets and strays roam freely.

According to a crowd-sourcing app recently launched by Amnesty International, in the week that Netinho was shot there were 265 shootouts reported, with at least 24 people killed.

Sheik, a copper-colored mutt bandaged up in a crate next to Netinho, was also a victim of violence.

The dog was shot in the Jacarezinho slum June 14 and brought into the shelter in a wheelbarrow. The bullet wound in Sheik's front leg was so severe that veterinarians might still have to amputate the limb. Sheik will be returned to his owner upon recovery.

The shelter has much experience treating animals with bullet wounds.

"As I'm giving you this interview, we can very likely be getting a call asking us to rescue another animal hit by a bullet," Wassita said as he stroked the brown mane of a 12-year-old horse named Empezao that survived a rifle shot in 2014.

SUIPA even treated a tortoise once. It had a bullet lodged in its hind legs and required an adapted wheelchair to walk.

The 73-year-old animal shelter, which currently cares for more than 4,500 dogs, 600 cats, dozens of horses and other animals, is facing financial difficulties and risks closing. It has over $4 million debt and says donations have plummeted amid Brazil's worst recession since the 1930s.

"SUIPA really is a portrait of the financial state of Brazil," said Izabel Nascimento, the group's president.

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