Dog foodPublished: Jun 30, 2022 Reading time: 4 minutes
We were travelling in a minibus of a new transportation company associated with the State. Due to the close proximity of the seats I could not avoid overhearing a conversation that I still have difficulty coming to terms with today. At some point, I turned my head to see who was talking about a chilling subject that led me to think about the extreme degradation that some Cubans have resorted to in order to solve problems associated with everyday life.
When I identified who was speaking, I saw how young he was. He was perhaps, twenty-four years old, but had a high level of cultural awareness. They talked about dogs and the man explained the function of the digestive system and multiple recipes that he used to alleviate them of illness.
He said that at home he had four pure breeds and two mixed [dogs], all health and well fed thanks to his job as a pathology technician at a hospital in La Havana. The girl that was with him asked many questions because she also has dogs, and their diet and health represented a problem associated with the high costs of private veterinarians.
Then, they talked about his job at the morgue. His calling when he was a child to perform autopsies and cut cadavers led to him becoming the best student in his class. After graduating, he volunteered to work doubles. He wanted to be as close as possible to the dead bodies, open them, gut them, sew them back up, and prepare them for funerals.
He spoke about the different ways to cut them and how he added his own twist to the traditional dissection process, such as using new instruments. Due to his sped and skill level, he gained recognition [for his work] by his professor and other, older experts in his field.
Everyone was so surprised that, being so young, he had a natural talent and calling for a job very rarely sought out by people in the healthcare field. In fact, at least in Cuba, this work is usually done by older people or professionals with a history of inappropriate conduct.
“Before performing an autopsy, the pathologist must drink a ninety-proof alcoholic drink mixed with water because it is believed that only when a person is outside of their minds they are able to open and gut a corpse. After finishing the autopsy, the pathologist should pass a psychiatric consultation. In my case it is different. I do not drink, so I sell the alcohol to the local alcoholics in the neighborhood. I also do not need to pass a psychiatric test, because it is a job that I love and cannot leave.”
The girl was shocked by his explanation and asked him more questions that he answered skillfully, and even in a sweet tone, which seemed more on par for a priest rather than a morgue employee.
He gave details about bones in the human body and the best way to access internal organs. What was truly shocking, however, was when he confessed that his main objective was to access the organs, the primary food source for his seven animals that live with him at home.
“The liver and heart are incredibly nutritious and it is what they like the most, even though they will eat anything I bring them. Once they are ground or crushed, I cooked them well, always boiled with salt. I have spoiled them before, it’s true, but what should I do? They are my boys.”
In the midst of them getting off the bus, I could see him for a moment once again: wide back, muscular arms, without doubt a young worker and respected in his workplace. I thought that his behavior might be a crime… Or could it be that the organs of dead people do not mean anything?
As he helped the girl get off the bus, a harrowing thought entered my mind, which stayed with me for the rest of the journey and still makes my stomach churn: what if the pathologist also participated in the feast with his beloved dogs?