By Jack Williams
This incredible animal sanctuary, known as the “Land of Strays,” lets no dog go without care, allowing more than 1,000 pooches to enjoy their time in puppy paradise.
At Territorio de Zaguates, in Costa Rica, once-stray dogs now roam the beautiful sun kissed fields and woodlands, while the shelter’s owners and support staff care for their every need.
The name of the sanctuary translates to “Land of the mutts and strays”, and the location is overseen by Lya Battle and her husband, Alvaro Saumet.
What has now become a sprawling playground for dogs started as just a small goodwill gesture: In 2006, Lya and Alvaro adopted a small number of stray dogs out of the goodness of their hearts.
Soon, though, the couple began to notice the issues Costa Rica has with strays, and so, seeing the lack of care available to hungry and injured dogs, they started to adopt more.
Lya said: “I realized that no matter how healthy and sweet some dogs were, they simply had a hard time appealing to people.
“I also realized that those dogs would normally have two options: Find a home, or end up back on the streets or in a shelter where they would most probably be put down or spend the rest of their days confined to a kennel.
“I decided I had to do better for them and began taking them to a farm I had inherited from my grandfather.”
On the 375-acre farm, Lya found a foundation that allowed her to increase the number of dogs she was overseeing from tens to hundreds.
Lya brought in a “family” to look after the dogs, allowing the strays to spend their days with caretakers before being brought back to a barn that had been remodeled in order to house them.
By seeing the lengths that staff at the sanctuary go to, Lya said, it is hoped that the public will become more educated about the importance of spaying and neutering.
Territorio de Zaguates tries to act as a last chance for extreme cases; the intention is for dogs to be adopted before being brought to the sanctuary.
If a dog is really ill and unappealing to potential adopters, though, the sanctuary will still take them, allowing the dog to live out its days in happiness.
Lya said: “Working with these animals reminds us on a daily basis that the only moment that counts is the present – that forgiving and letting go is the first step on the way to happiness.
“I see broken souls walk in through our gates on a daily basis, and all it takes to see them mend is a soft touch and a kind word. No humans are capable of such loyalty and such nobleness.
“To gain their love and trust is an honor I get to enjoy day by day.
“To be surrounded by their love for life and their happiness constantly restores my own soul, which, on a daily basis, gets broken by humanity’s cruelty.
“Animals – especially dogs – are amazing healers and masters of forgiveness.
“Being accepted by them is a true gift that not everyone gets a chance to aspire to.”
In order to run the sanctuary, there are a number of difficulties Lya and her team face – especially when it comes to financial support.
Territorio de Zaguates is currently reliant on funds from the dayjobs of it workers and donations.
Lya added: “Running a place like ours is not easy, but if we can do it without the help of the government and with what funds we get from donations and our own jobs, imagine how easy it would be if governments tried to do the same.
“No cages, no expiration dates. Just enough room and buddies to heal from humanity’s neglect and feel at home.
“That’s the least these wingless angels deserve.”