High in the mountains of Costa Rica, there is a shelter and sanctuary for over 900 previously stray dogs, known as Territorio de Zaguates. Lya Battle is the founder of this “Dogtopia,” where the endless drool of delight is matched only by Lya’s heart-warming energy.
Territorio de Zaguates is a 10-acre plot of land for the dogs to live “cage-free and open range.” This nonprofit animal rescue and shelter was founded over 10 years ago by the husband-and-wife team of Alvaro Saumet and Lya Battle to promote spaying and neutering, animal welfare, and respect. It is 100% funded by donations and run by volunteers.
Lya has been featured on Business Insider and National Geographic, and she opens up the animal rescue property on weekends for the public to visit. In private, she is engaged in an uphill battle against the local community and other regulatory entities.
The lead up to this episode was about as good of a day as we could've asked for (video here). The first episode of our Save the Deena Tour – we rode 45 minutes from Heredia through the mountains to see the pups. Lya released them all at one time and they ran down a valley into a ravine towards us, before running up through the mountainside. The volunteers and workers that take care of the animals showed us the value of love that’s possible. Lya gave us a few interviews while playing with the pups before we sat down for the show.
In this episode we focus on animal rescue organizations and animal consciousness, and we learn how Lya’s background led to her love of helping dogs (especially the ugly ones!) Lya walks us through the need for education and how to go about it, what it takes to create cultural shifts, and why some groups don’t approve of what she’s doing. What does she think of PETA and the Yulin Dog Festival? How does she pay for food and care? All that and more in this episode.
The stray animal shelter operates on donations and gifts of all types, you can donate to Lya here and just $36 can pay for an entire dog to be taken care of.
Brandon: Lya Battle, welcome on the bus. I know it's not your first time on a bus but this is your first podcast?
Lya Battle: It is. Absolutely the first time I've ever been in something like this.
Brandon: Oh, we're honored to be your first podcast.
Lya Battle: Thank you!
Brandon: We just got through with walking on your dog farm. And before we go any further, a little background on who you are. You are on this huge dog farm in Costa Rica and it's a huge shelter for stray dogs in the country.
Lya Battle: Exactly, exactly. We do it free range than on cages and they can live there for the rest of their life if they need to. We're no longer getting rid of them or lowering the number.
Brandon: What is the number right now? How many dogs do you have there on site?
Lya Battle: It changes daily but it's over 900. And I think I heard Alvaro saying 940 something last week when we were on the walk. I don’t keep track. I try not to keep track, but it's around 900.
Brandon: And we only got to see at least maybe 150. A hundred about came on the walk with us.
Lya Battle: Probably, yeah 150.
Brandon: Are they all housed in that location where we were right there?
Lya Battle: Yeah, but you see most of them are sort of hanging out around the house or they're separate because there have some kind of treatment. But most of the ones -- generally speaking, when you go on a walk when there are lots of people, generally the ones that hang around are sort of more attracted towards the big crowds. So we get bigger crowds of dogs following us and walking with us with these bigger crowds of people. But today, we must have had 150 something around like -- generally, the 900 don’t come on to walk. But on a normal walk it will be 300 dogs.
Brandon: Yeah, it wasn't even like a difficulty getting them all together, getting them to kind of stampede us at the beginning of the walk. And I know this is a big popular thing. I've seen this featured on National Geographic, Travel Insider, on Facebook. And how long has these walks been going on? How long have you been doing this?
Lya Battle: Oh, for long time. I mean, we moved the dogs up to the farm about 10 years ago. Yeah, probably 10 years ago. And let's say with the first two years, we were kind of sort of quiet about it. And then it was actually the suggestion of a man I really admire, he's from Argentina; his name is Sergio Moragues. He helps run a shelter in Argentina called "El Campito Refugio" and they have a huge population of special needs dogs. So they have on there, sort of walks but they don't do them as often, but they open their doors to whomever wants to come see them and so they bond with the dogs. And they have $150 on wheelchairs. And I've always love that kind of sort of mentally. You stick with the animal no matter what because it's not his fault.
And he was the one who wrote in -- and he said "Why don’t you open the farm to walks?" And I said, "Are you kidding me?" "No." "I mean, the neighbors, the people, they don’t understand." He said, "Listen, let them in. People who go all the way up there to walk with the dog are not the kind of people who are going to just tie up the dog at the gate. They're there because they like dogs, and they may need to sort of open their mind towards what a dog is. I mean, it's not just a pretty poodle. Dogs have all kinds of behaviors and they should be exposed as many as they can." I thought, "Maybe he's right. Maybe we can start a change with that."
And that's when we started opening -- well, we do it every three months more or less one and we're petrified. But it was small groups. And then I don’t know how it became viral. I guess people started posting videos. I don’t know how it happened. And then all of a sudden we had huge crowds, and we didn't know which one we're more petrified. But that's how we got to where we're now, coincidence basically.
Brandon: Now, before the whole entire hosting this, the dog walks, I know you said you inherited this land through a grandfather of yours. And before that, what was your past with working with animals or rescuing animals?
Lya Battle: I've always loved animals. My dad is a biologist. Actually, the grandfather whose property we were at is my mom's father. He loved animals. My grandmother wasn't the sweetest person and she didn’t like animals. So he never got to have dogs. I remember mom telling me that every time grandfather came in with a dog, two days later the dog will mysteriously disappear. It's probably my grandmother getting rid of it.
Brandon: Did you ever figure out how she got rid of it? Sorry, it wasn't like a --
Lya Battle: No. My mom kind of hinted…
Brandon: She took it out back and shot it or she just like let it loose?
Lya Battle: We don’t know. Probably, let him loose. And mom said -- I don’t know. I remember mom hinting to the fact that she could have poisoned it. But mom didn’t see it. It's just mom sort of came to the realization that it's very weird. But I really loved animals. And then, so I came from that part. I think I take -- get at my grandfather. And then my dad, as a biologist, he thought us early on about the value of life in any life form. And he'd stopped and he shows us a little ant and we’d walk the little ant back to the ant hill.
And he'd shows us how somewhere doing one kind of work and another one doing other kinds of work and how they all work to help each other. And I remember just doing that, just understanding that made me sort of value that life. To the point, I was a weird kid in kindergarten getting into all these fights because her friends used to knock over or kick in ant hills and I get really upset.
So I think that helped. And that and the fact that we always had big backyards at home, and I can walk in with whatever animal I found from the street and he was welcome. We never had dog. We had two dogs. I don’t know why. The rest I had orphan deers. And this is in the middle of San Jose in San Pedro, Barrio Escalante, that area.
Brandon: That's exactly where we're staying, right?
Lya Battle: You're staying on it, right. That’s my home.
Brandon: How developed was it back then?
Lya Battle: Oh, pretty developed.
Brandon: As is as now?
Lya Battle: Oh yeah, it was an old neighborhood. Have you been to Barrio Escalante?
Lya Battle: Okay. Did you go to a place called the "Beer Factory"?
Daniel: I saw it.
Lya Battle: That's my house. That's where I grew up.
Brandon: No way, I think we passed that last night.
Lya Battle: Yeah.
Lya Battle: So I had old houses with lots of property or lots of space, lots of backyard. And it was already a very old neighborhood so there weren't a lot of young kids to play with. We have to go all over the place to find our friends, but it was very developed. Still my grandfather had farms and my father had a farm way out there in almost in the border of Nicaragua. So he'd find orphan deers and he'd bring home, and my grandfather would find that [unclear 0:08:17] which I don’t know how to explain what it is, but he'd bring it.
And every animal at home, I had snakes, I had toads. I generally went for the less appreciated animals. For some reason I always thought other animals -- rabbits, everybody liked rabbits but nobody like toads, so I bring back toads from [unclear 0:08:41]. Big toads from [unclear 0:08:40].
But so, the animals have always been my life. And when I left my parents home, I lived in apartments that was sort of not something you could do easily. But the moment I had is sort of a mini backyard, I thought, "Let me get a dog." So I went and we adopted, Alvaro and I, adopted a dog and the rest is history.
Brandon: Yeah, 900 more now. Probably more, that's just 900 you have.
Lya Battle: Oh, that's 900 now. I can't even count how many been there in 10, 12 years.
Daniel: So what's the first step to finding the strays that you work with?
Lya Battle: The first step sort of just finding -- feeling sorry for deciding I probably could do something for it and taking home, getting them checked because I was also getting checked by a vet, get spay neutered, pretty ready. And the half of the people says, "Hey --" Actually, Marcella but we didn't meet. She was a big part of this because it was a very slow process for me. I didn't even have Facebook. This was 12, 13 years ago. I didn’t want it. I thought I didn't need computers either.
Brandon: I don’t think anybody has.
Lya Battle: It was like, it's a fad, it's going to pass. But she did. Marcella is much younger and she did. And she come home when she takes these beautiful pictures of the dogs I had and she put them on her Facebook. And she comes and used to say, "I think I have a good family for such and such a dog and I think I have -- and that's how we started sort of, I actually then got a Facebook page. And with her help, we started facing more and more dogs. So it was a lot of it through Marcella who sort of streamlined this to easier access.
But yeah, I mean some dogs never found home, some dogs are not what people we're looking for. And when you live a dog at home you know how special they are and you feel terrible that they're outside might be with people are rejecting and they're not giving them chance to -- so we need to discover what a wonderful animal, a special animal -- but anyways, I guess it's something we can't do much about.
Brandon: Especially, it was interesting to see where dogs came from. They evolved from wolves. And for the, not just for companionship of human beings but to -- okay it was a trade-off. In other terms for protection, the dog protect the human. We're going to give them food or scraps and over time, over tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of years, that connection has been made.
And so, to see now as we move either more to these -- what you want to call the industrializing these cities even more and more and more and there's less space for the animals not just to roam or getting to more efficient and compact lifestyle so their apartments or compact their homes, there's less place for these animals. And you can see that even in Costa Rica, you have population about five million but you have a million dog population and not everybody here is going to own a dog when you take in families.
But it's not only the problem here. It's a problem all around the world. And you even can see like in Tel Aviv, and I know this has been a practice for few hundreds of years or thousands of years, there's a rat problem, okay let's throw a bunch cats. And now, it's going to take out the rat problem and now there's a cat problem. It really seems like it's going towards being spayed and neutered and we talked about this along the walk today. And I know a lot of people are trying to get toward that, that trend of being natural. Is there any conflict of people trying to say like we shouldn't be doing that, or spaying and neutering going to help save these animals more to place for them?
Lya Battle: Surprisingly enough, we have all these very natural and very sort of boho shaped mentalities. But spaying and neutering is an adopting, is sort of the new generation and they accept it and they realize and they actually are all for it. The other day I was listening to a kid, he was about 20 something I think, and he was talking with a lady who came to the vet with her beautiful Golden Retriever. And they were talking and I was waiting for my turn and they were talking and she was saying -- he was saying that he had one as well and that he could recognize that she had was a female because it's totally different to the males. And I was just sort of listening in on what they were talking about. And first thing she asked was, "Oh, have you gotten crea from it? Have you reproduced it?”
And that immediately sort of made my hair stand on end, but I realized it's what a lot of people still think. And the kid with a guy said, "No, no, no, I had it neutered when it was six months old." And that's different. That’s somebody who's growing up with a little bit of education just enough to know that whether it's a fussy dog or a stray, there's enough out there that are never going to find homes. What the hell are you doing bringing more? Whether they're pretty or they're strays or they're fancy or not, we don’t need any more dogs.
And I only see that mentality in younger generations. It's very hard for people my -- I'm weird for my age. I'm 50. People my age or older still thinks, "A pet, I love my little dog, I want babies." And she doesn't need babies. But the newer generations, they're all for adopting. You see them walking down the street with this ugly little mutt -- and they're proud. And the ugly little mutt has a beautiful handkerchief or a beautiful leash and he goes, "That's the way to do it."
Daniel: Yeah, it seems like it comes down to education.
Lya Battle: It is.
Daniel: And I think that sort of the younger generations, they might connect with social media or some of these other elements where, I know for us we're talking about Facebook earlier that your Insider video came up on people's feeds. And just the simple things like that can help show people the potential for change if they can do something like spay or neuter their pet.
Lya Battle: Exactly.
Brandon: Oh, what's fascinating was when we just mentioning the adoption or going after picking a stray dog, whether it's in the younger generation because it seems like a dog is easier throw away. A dog is easier to say, "Okay, well, I don’t like this anymore." Whether you get a brand new puppy from the dog store or pet store, it's easier to throw away. It's easier just to get rid of. If I don’t like it, drop it off at a shelter now and even in your place like this. But you can even see that with humans now. Few human beings still do that with babies, we could just give it up for adoption or I can't take care of it and we literally have that many kids who are orphans --
Daniel: So how do we make it harder?
Brandon: How do we make it harder? Well, it goes back to her question like, "Do we need anymore?"
Lya Battle: But it's education. You have to educate people as to little things that are maybe you’re not aware of. I don’t think a lot of the neglect or the suffering that the dogs have had to sort of live with is all a product of evil. A lot is just ignorance. A lot it's just the -- really they don’t mean but they're animals. They don’t like being outside. And you'd be surprised what people don’t know.
And I go back to an example. When I was first learning to drive, I mean, I’ve had to remember the sound of the engine and when to put the clutch in and when to shift the gear, but no one ever told me avoiding potholes was important. Why? I mean, it's a car, it's made of metal, it's got big rubber tires, who cares if you have to avoid a pothole? And it was a friend who actually -- we had hit, I don’t know how many potholes and he goes, "Hey, you forgot one back there." And I didn’t understand why he was making fun of me and he goes, "Your car is going to fall apart." Really? After that, I said, okay, so I'm aware of that, I try to avoid it.
But if no one tells you that, for example, a dog needs to get vaccinated or a dog a needs to get dewormed from time to time, that it's not normal that a dog just starts getting sad and then withers away until it dies and nobody tried to get a doctor to see him, that's not normal. But you have to tell that to people. You have to open their eyes. And whether it's dogs or it's people, you see it a lot in older people, they get dropped off at a home or at a hospital and they never come back for them.
Daniel: What's the best way to go about that to educating people better?
Lya Battle: I think you have to actually show. What people don’t want to see is the suffering behind that. People know it, but they don't want to see it. Face them with it. Face them with it. Make them part of that problem and then make them decide, "Do you still want to do that to somebody else?" I mean, instead of putting all these money into selling beers or cigarettes, why not, and it's going to be hard, but why not show what a person, what an 80-year-old person who's already always taking care of their family must feel when they're sitting there alone, looking out on a weekend hoping that somebody comes to visit them.
And it doesn’t happen. And it's very common. Same thing happens to dogs who trusted the families who adopted them, who opened up. I mean, dogs are automatic givers and they forgive and forgive. Do you think an animal with that kind of capacity for love just doesn’t notice if he'd been abandoned by the people he trusted? You don’t think they actually sit there and wait for the person to come back.
And I know there have been few sort of eye-opening videos of this sort because I've seen it. I've seen it done. They did it. The one I saw, it was a little girl and a little girl was dropped off in a forest. They tossed a toy and she ran out of the car to grab the toy and then the car just left her there. And you're shocked, you're absolutely shocked and then you realized, because they turn it, and you realized, all the time it was a dog.
And you, for once in your lifetime, you imagine for a lot of people that might be the first time that they actually realize, "Oh God, it must be hard for them, too. This is a horrible thing. If I ever thought of doing it, I can't. If that's my solution, I better not have a pet." And that's totally respectable. But until you make a person see what he does want to see or what he's trying to avoid, you're not going to get changed.
Brandon: But the thing is it's easy to avoid. The only way we get to see it like in America is if you get to watch that commercial with the Sarah McLachlan music or she's in there, too and you're in the Eyes of the Angel. But all you have to do if you're really uncomfortable is click the button, fast forward, jump ahead, jump to a new channel and you're already stimulated by something else.
Lya Battle: Absolutely, when it's a choice. But when you're a kid and you're sitting in a room, in a classroom and you're forced to sit there and your first escape is going to be recess, why don’t we introduce a little bit of that in that class.
Daniel: We had another guest on our show who was saying the same thing about introducing gardening into education as kids, right, Michael Hinden?
Daniel: And just being able to teach that at a young age when their prefrontal cortex is still being worked on for them to understand to treat things respectively and to have the visual access to what they're going through.
Lya Battle: Exactly.
Brandon: It's -- lost that one right there. When -- no, still lost it.
Daniel: Well, I think that one of the things you're just talking about with the connection between us and the animal is, there's a hormone that we're talking about earlier, so oxytocin, and when you --
Brandon: That's what I was going to say.
Daniel: So you get that when you connect with monogamous bonding. So like if you see your husband or he sees his girlfriend and they look into each other's eyes, they release oxytocin, it helps with the bonding. They discovered that between dogs and humans, they release oxytocin when they look in our eyes, when they see their owner's eyes. And we do the same when we see theirs. So, there is this beyond physical bonding with each other that it's love in some other sense that it's indescribable. So it's almost like how do we introduce that to people and let them know that this something you're physical experience. It isn't just an animal that you can see in the street. This is something that loves the same way a human does. Like literally the same.
Brandon: It's the same experience on both ends.
Lya Battle: But you have to tell them, because there still lots of people out there who go, "No, I mean, no, they're animals, they don’t have the same intelligence." Intelligence doesn’t always have much to do with feelings. But you have to teach it, you have to teach it. You have to demythify this sort of there is a connection. There is an emotional bond between animals. It's not imaginary. It's not that he loves you because you feed him. You saw the guys up at the farm they all get fed the same time by the same guys. It's not like some guys feed certain dogs. No.
Brandon: Those guys love those dogs.
Lya Battle: Those guys love those dogs and those dogs love those guys, but not all dogs follow all of the guys. So there is a connection. There is a connection that dog decides who he wants to bond with. You start with the guys with the dogs that followed you, there's something there. It's not just they follow you because you feed them. That's the old kind of mentality. That's the old kind of mentality that allowed for people to, I don’t know, to neglect the dog with no remorse or to find hunting, pleasure hunting, acceptable. We have to learn, we have to evolve.
Daniel: Why do you think pain and suffering are such good motivators though for people? Like it is the video that you were talking about that the Sarah McLachlan does, that's what motivates people.
Brandon: Eyes of an Angel, I saw it.
Daniel: Yeah, I hear it in my mind. I'm literally saddened at this exact moment, but why is that such a good motivator?
Lya Battle: It's a motivator I think because precisely we hide our feelings all the time. We're taught to do it and it happens naturally in some cases, and when it doesn’t we're taught to do it. And that's not natural. That's not normal. That's not right. So, sometimes there's a scene, a song that goes to do that sort of area you've plastered over and you've covered and it's suffocating and it opens it.
And even if it's pain, it produces a gush of feeling that needs to come out and needs to be there. Even if you try and hide them in a day or so, it has to be there. Nothing held back is natural. Nothing that you try and think your way out of is natural. And the simple fact that there's something that triggers it is I think liberating for your soul and makes you grow. Pain makes you grow.
Brandon: Or just being uncomfortable and we found ways to completely make ourselves comfortable all the time every second of the day no matter what, so we avoid uncomfortable. We didn't want to talk to each other just because it might upset me. Even you see it on politics in United States, you just don’t want to hear a conflicting idea or opinion. And this is something even just talking about the care of another being on the planet who we actually can see their studies like actually cares and have the same feeling as we do. Yet we can look at it and easily shove it out the door. It's crazy.
Lya Battle: But if you do that and you get comfortable doing that, you're going to do the same for your fellow humans. So, by letting us sort of comfortably get rid of our two feelings or hide them because we know they're wrong in the case of animals, you're just becoming smaller and smaller and smaller person and you’re going to be just as small to the next person that's near you. I mean, you can't be cruel to an animal and not be cruel to human being at some point in your life.
Daniel: I mean, this might be a source probably, you know the Yulin Dog Festival where they --
Lya Battle: Yes.
Daniel: Yeah, what's your take on that?
Lya Battle: I try and see it -- I mean, cultures are so different. We have to respect a lot of -- I mean, I know it doesn’t come out of evil. It's not like it's an evil culture. I choose to think that and I know it's true. It's a shock for me to think, "Oh, dogs being murdered." But then again, we do the same with cows and pigs. The thing is most of humanities are sort okay with that.
But what if all of a sudden we had a certain place in the world that wasn't? We'd be exactly in same position they are with their -- it hurts and it's something I'd love to stop but I can't judge the people who do it. I feel terrible that there's a need in humanity whether it's that festival or bullfighting or dog fighting or just dog breeding just to fatten your wallet and keep the dogs in bird cages because it's cheaper that way just pumping out puppies. That's horrible.
Brandon: It's a pretty level response for someone who is into animal rights and protecting animals, shielding animals.
Daniel: Impressed and shocked at the same time.
Brandon: You look at, I mean, a company like PETA that they're going to go chase people down, buckets of blood or red paint and just throw it on people who are wearing fur or who are doing anything over the top that could be harming an animal. Even someone or some people like vegans just anybody, "No, you're wrong. I don’t see how anybody could do this. There's no other way but my way."
Lya Battle: And that's wrong.
Brandon: Yeah. Again, respecting or trying to put yourself into that person's shoes of that culture or understanding who they are, where they come from, and why they do it. The next thing I was going to ask you was, you see the Mesoamerican or indigenous population having the background with dogs, dogs being in this area for tens of thousands of years and then not just breeding and eating dogs for the longest time.
we're using them for hunting. And then you see in colonialism, especially the Spanish population in Central America come in. Is there any difference in the feeling towards -- I mean because much more people would be, saying if they're Spanish colonized?
Lya Battle: I don’t think there's much of a difference.
Brandon: In the treatment?
Lya Battle: In the treatment I think it's because it's basically at the same scale. For the longest time the animals were kept, maybe they were fancier animals, but they were kept for production, consumption, I wouldn't even say companionship.
Daniel: The Indians used to have buffalo, right? They would herd them, you kill what you need to eat. You wear a fur when you need to wear it. You also have them herd. I guess that we do the same with sheep?
Lya Battle: Yeah, but there's a certain level of respect. If this is going to be your food, you don’t mistreat it. The dogs, I think the dogs and you see a lot of -- why is it harder for me to find families like the ones I want? What I want, I want families who love their dog, who love their dog they're adopting from me like a family member. That no matter what happens, he's part of their family or she's part of the family.
And it's very rare. It's very rare. It's not so rare in North America, in Canada, in cultures that have been still I have walked on farms much, much, much earlier than we have. If you look back to Costa Rican sort of ancestry, most people have at least a grandfather who either grew up or spent most of his life in a farm. So animals, there was this primitive perception that animals are here on this Earth for us, for our use.
Brandon: There's a religious take to that, too.
Lya Battle: Yes, absolutely. It's given, God gave him to us for what? So, I think the shorter laps of time that people have been in that kind of metallic like Costa Rica, for example, animals are still kind of backyard companions. And if he dies, he dies, we get another one. Or if it gets sick, I'm not going to invest all that money in fixing his leg and just shoot him. I mean, it's still common because we're still too close to that agrarian community. But go to the States and see people who have jewelry for their dogs. Maybe it's an extreme. Maybe it's not the --
Brandon: Raincoats, shoes.
Lya Battle: Yeah. Well, and I don’t know. I'm not the kind of person -- I don’t agree with that, don’t humanize your dog. I've seen dogs being treated like humans and they enjoy it. And if you give me a choice between the dog that's ignored and relegated to the backyard and eating scraps or the dog that has his own bowl and change of outfit every day, I think I'd rather see that second one.
Daniel: What's the background check that you do on the people that are potentially adopting, if any?
Lya Battle: Basically, first thing we do is, "Okay, where do you live?" Because I'm flat out maybe --
Daniel: What are the red flags?
Lya Battle: Certain areas, certain difficult areas, we often take dogs from sort of low income housing areas just because there are other problems, other social issues there. And if they can't handle being a human species community and can --
Daniel: That's universal, yeah.
Lya Battle: It's hard to think that they're going to be more decent with an animal. So, I know there are exceptions and I've had lovely people from backgrounds like that that I've had to sort of swallow my words. But most of the time, I'm not and I'll tell the person, "I'm sorry, but I pick up on an average 10 dogs from your area. I don’t want to put one of mine back in your area. And you’re maybe the best person in the world, but your house is not infallible and he could get out. And I know that if does get out, maybe your neighbor is one of these lousy people who have their pit-bulls or Staffordshire just to fight and that they take any animal they find on the street for practice. And it happens all the time here and I don’t want one of my babies to do that --"
Brandon: Yeah, I think you said like as many dogs as you adopt, you see half as many come right back to you, especially a puppy. And I know you try not to have or housed that many puppies just because there's already so many strays that you have in your possession.
Lya Battle: Puppies are very easy to fall in love with, but if you're not the right kind of person, you fall out of love just as easily. So, background checks, well, we sit with the person, we talk to the person, I'm interested to see if they own their own home. If they do, it's much, much easier for me. If they don’t, I can't sort of just say no because most people rent. But I do make it very clear that should their landlord have a change of heart, please bring him back.
Don’t even ask, bring him back. I don’t ask you, you just have to show up and say -- even if you can't bring him back, I'll go pick him up. But don’t give him to anybody else. And we take down their information. We do background checks the first months when it's the most sensitive and they really not still madly in love with the dog and they might want to bring him back and say, "Hey, how are you doing?" That's the most we can do.
We've had pretty good experiences. But even doing all of that, we've had our bad surprises. So without a law that punishes somebody for that sort of maybe insignificant to other people but it's very significant to us and for that sort of mistake of neglecting the dog.
Brandon: Yeah, I still can't help but compare it to something like a human adoption, where the human being can at least or say, "Listen, they're beating me, they're hitting me. I'm not eating." This dog can't communicate back with you, you let it go and sometimes you don’t even get it back, someone just lets it out, lets it go or even just take grandmother possibly poisoning it.
Lya Battle: Yeah.
Brandon: And I know you mentioned before like you're kind of an oddity, a rarity in Costa Rica, who else is doing what you're doing? Is there anybody else doing what you're doing? Are there some people that don’t approve what you're doing?
Lya Battle: Oh, there are lots of people who don’t approve what I'm doing, but there are lots of people trying to do something for animals. I mean, I think the fact that we have a government that just turns its back on the animals, makes other people go, "Who's going to do something for this dog?" They actually have the feeling, they just don’t know how.
So sometimes they call me and they go, "Listen, there's a dog in my neighborhood and he needs help." And they go, "Can you help him? Can you take him to a doctor?" No, because it's very expensive. "Can you feed him at least? Can you leave food out for him?" If I tell you where there's a free spaying and neutering clinic, can you take him because I can't do everything. And we, the few people who are doing it, although these independent people all over the place are trying to do things, just a few people.
So you have to teach society that, if you really feel that there's an animal that needs your help, your help has to be more than just calling somebody and say, "Hey, can you pick him up?" Because there's not -- I mean, a lot of these times you're going to pick him up and euthanize them, so might as well have left him on the street.
Brandon: And is that the government ran organizations or --?
Lya Battle: No, it's the privately owned. There's nothing really ran by the government here.
Brandon: Just sponsor probably.
Lya Battle: No, not even sponsor. The government doesn’t have its own shelters here. It doesn’t even help people who do have the shelters because they don’t, there's not. There isn’t the money apparently for that. So, if you have privately owned shelters, you have to accept that it might involve euthanizing animals because they don’t have enough space.
Where are they going to put all the animals and people just bring to their -- if you don’t educate the culture first, you can't really just open the doors and say, "Hey, get rid of the animal here because everybody will." You've got to create that. And I think kids, these younger generations are growing up differently and they wouldn't abandon their animals.
Brandon: Or you just don’t see -- I know you've mentioned this before, but there's no other place that has these many dogs or is holding these many dogs.
Lya Battle: None.
Brandon: None. So I mean, if you're obviously experiencing, like you have to turn some away because there's this constant influx of them coming in or people returning the ones that trying to readopt, and when these dogs go to these other facilities, what's the report after that? Do they go anywhere? Are people adopting from these places?
Lya Battle: Some people adopt from these places. And I try to think, if I only get about three of five adoptions a week, with dogs that are socialized and they run up to you and they're happy to see you, how many can these places that have their dogs caged in and how many dogs yapping, stressed out dogs do you think can actually sort of get adopted? I don’t know maybe pity, maybe if they feel sorry for the dog and they end up adopting it, but I don’t think it's sort of most conducive way to get adoptions and they can't hold them forever, so they'll be euthanized.
Brandon: I know we talked about ratio, is it one million dogs to five million people or vice versa, but where's the problem there? Where's the problem in having these many dogs? Is it going to spread disease? What is it that spaying and neutering, where it's going to be maybe a call into the government or call into more people to want to call to action to take care of this, whether it's adopting these animals, spaying and neutering, making facilities where we can house these animals? What is it going to take for this to happen? Is there anything that having too many dogs can lead to?
Lya Battle: Well, I guess you could say disease although I think dogs die of that disease before they actually transmit it to humans. At least in countries like this, like Costa Rica, I don’t know. But to me, the biggest problem of having so many dogs is that you become numb to the suffering of these animals, they become part of the background, they become something you can just look through.
Daniel: Everyone else is doing it, right?
Lya Battle: Exactly! And if you can do that with a dog, you'll do that with a homeless person. You'll do that with an older individual. You'll do that with maybe a child with special needs. You teach your body and you teach your soul not to see that there's suffering, there are creatures around you that are suffering. So I think that's the worst thing. The biggest problem of having all these animals on the streets is people just become immune to their suffering and they become uncomfortable.
Daniel: So what you're saying is a cultural shift is needed more than something tangible, more than a governmental shift, more than sort of redirection from a space wall regulation. I mean, it's very difficult to create a cultural shift, right? I mean, you can look at racism in America which is a huge topic right now and it's pervasive on social media. But there is a cultural shift going on in America. It's being used through social media, right? It's definitely --
Brandon: Well yeah, because it's like what I just asked you now, is there something that we could may call to action? Listen, if you give me these many stray dogs, we're all going to get a certain disease and it's going to negatively infect us, but we're talking about on a cultural level just in the way you treat and connect with another species on the planet like over time going to have negative connection with your own species. So again, it's a whole cultural thing which is so much harder to impact the population.
Daniel: It's kind of media attention, but any media attention I think is the best way of potentially infiltrating it, right? I actually, saw North Korea, there's this supposed thing going on right now for North Koreans, is there infiltrating South Korean pop culture into North Korea to help them become aware.
Brandon: Where they take out balloons. They put DVDs attached to balloons to go over, when the wind is blowing to the north, they drop in DVDs or CDs.
Daniel: So, bombing them isn't going to work there, they're all brainwashed, but if you create a cultural shift from the bottom up, then they --
Lya Battle: Make them want to be different.
Daniel: Exactly. So there's something out there, there's something potential, something going viral using --. I think I read that you were given kibbles n’ bits through Facebook likes.
Lya Battle: Yeah. That's how it started. Now, they just kept donating. So Pepero, it's a local company, pretty big, when we started -- it was called out Unique Breeds Campaign and we were trying to have Costa Ricans realized that a stray or mutt actually has lots of breeds. It's not that it doesn’t have a breed; it has more breeds than your pure breed animal has. And try to educate them towards the real value of having a dog that isn't purified by inbreeding.
And through that campaign they started with the kibble help, but when the campaign was over, they said, "No, we're going to keep helping you." These people give us 60% of what the animals eat. The animals eat over $600 a day and they cover 60% of that. And for that, I'm forever grateful. I mean, yeah, being out there and the media can only help I think to an extent can only help --
Daniel: There's another element you're talking about, is like getting corporations, getting big companies to take action and be involved, holding corporations socially responsible for, not even holding responsible, just they gain tons of value in creating social sustainability through -- it creates company culture, company cultures is extremely valuable like Toms Shoes or other types of -- and that creates awareness for not just you wanting to buy their product but for what's behind the product, the creation behind the product, the dogs that are eating the food that take care of you every day and guard your houses especially. If you're Costa Rican, it doesn’t matter for us, dogs don’t normally guard their houses in America.
Lya Battle: No.
Daniel: No, but here, they're barking and creating noise and protecting people. So, I mean it's really incredible. It'd be more credible for other companies would get a hold to something like that I think.
Brandon: Especially, when so many corporations have sway over what happened and what goes o. In politics anywhere in the world, I mean, they sponsor and make sure bills and laws are written the certain way, giving politicians certain amount of money. So I mean, I tell people you really can't vote with your dollar anymore. People think, "Well, I'm not just going to go buy this." But I mean, how much are you going to sway that company into doing unless that company is actually backing what it is you're doing? So it's literally going the other direction.
Lya Battle: I mean all of this and all this change that we're talking about right now, yeah it's hard to get a bunch of people, bunch of big companies to realize that. But I think we have to sort of positive reinforcement. Teach children to have different idols, to look up to different figures. Look at things or value things because they do good not because they're cool. For example, Toms Shoes, I don’t know, it's helping kids. A lot of people might just wear them because they’re trendy. But there's something that gets ingrained in your mind about the fact that I want to be somebody who does good for other people.
I write application essays for children, for guys, for kids. And in 20 years that I've been doing this, you hear their goals change and there are lots of people who wanted to change the world. It's not just be the best lawyer, find a cure to cancer which is new topic, but they want to change the world. They don’t want to become great themselves. They want their greatness to create greatness. But you have to teach that. Cultural shifts can happen through school. We always try to guard children from ugly. "He didn't die, he's asleep." No.
Daniel: Trophy syndrome.
Lya Battle: Show them that there's pain out there. I remember my kids when I was teaching preschool, I decided I was going to talk about the ozone layer and explain what was happening with the ozone layer. These were prep kids. And I remember one of the kids after we explained he sort of raised his hand, he goes, "If we can't close the hole, then what's going to happen to us?" And I go, "We're all going to die." And they were shocked and they were sort of, "When?" And I go, "I don’t know. Eventually, you might survive it but maybe your grandchildren might not. And maybe you'll survive it but the conditions in this world it could be horrible."
Brandon: Well, that part right there where you said, maybe the next generation is going to experience that, and it also plays in to people wanting change. We all want change. We want it to happen now. We don’t realize that just because it doesn’t happen in our generation, our timeline, when we're alive, the impact it has. And it's hard for us to think outside of us not thinking that, me as individual thing I'm the most important thing in the universe. We all have that because that's whether you call it ego or yourself and that's what's there. So how do I want to you continue, because like you said, whatever the impact you want to make, it changes over time. "Yeah, I want to do this at point, I want to do that."
But it wants to go towards a greater good but it's hard-looking past when you're alive or to that next generation where it's like, "Okay, it's not working right now, but no I'm going to keep going at it because I know this is going to lead toward something special and something more important, and it plays into what you just said with not shadowing kids away from things. And the big things I just -- anthropomorphication. Did I say it right?
Brandon: Anthropomorphizing. And it's when you try and put like a human aspect towards certain animals. And there are certain of that, like looking at a bear, or I think it's with cats, too. Like people, with vegans not wanting to feed cats --
Daniel: Technically, anthropomorphizing is for things that are inanimate but let's just go on with it.
Brandon: What do you mean, like teddy bears?
Daniel: Yeah, like teddy bears or like this desk. I could be wrong here but --
Brandon: Like a teddy bear, "Oh, look, a bear is like a Winnie the Pooh and it's just nice," but no it's this ravenous, just carnivorous species on our planet that is looking to constantly want to kill. Why?
Daniel: I just thought it was funny that I stuffed for that.
Brandon: Oh, the same thing with cats, they need to get some vegan cats and not trying to feed cats meat, they'll die because --
Lya Battle: They die, they die.
Brandon: But again, wanting to deny the fact that this is what happens, which you need to be species on our planet.
Lya Battle: As long as we still think that we are number one and that I'm the most important and that my truth is the only truth, we'll never going to change. That's what I think opening your heart to an animal sort of breaks down a bit of that. Because when you can love something that you consider is beneath you, and when you can suffer and really care for that, it makes you realize that maybe you're not number one. And it's what you said, I mean, this society is creating all sorts of ways to make us feel less uncomfortable.
So if I don’t want to talk to the person on the flight, I'll just put my earphones on and I don’t have to. And if I don’t want to talk to the person on the phone, I'll just send him a little message on the phone. Why? I know I understand because I don’t necessarily like people very much, but we learned from each other from the interaction that goes on. We can't close ourselves to what we think will be uncomfortable because we learn from it and we go from it. So is pain, we have to go through pain because we grow.
But I think the biggest problem with this sort of where we're going now is we are becoming sort of this, let's say, self-sufficient. Each person is his own world. Some people don’t even have a job with other people, they work from their house. And if we just let that be our comfort, we're going to be a hard species to survive and we're going to be very -- if we've already harmed most of the species on this planet, wait until we don't care about each other, wait until we've lost that connection, which is going to do away with anything that breathes here and that's going to be the end of all of us.
Brandon: What could you give then to people? Because it seems like it's not just, okay what are three ways to take care of animals better. But like what are three ways or just one that you could think of to get people to be a little more uncomfortable? What would you start with? Anybody. Like you said, it starts even with being nicer to each other.
Lya Battle: One thing, respect that the person next to you may not have the same priorities you have, may not -- take away moral from your life. What's moral to me may be immoral to somebody else. What's okay for certain societies may be terribly wrong for mine. But that doesn’t make them less worthy of life than me. If I don’t like the fact that for a certain society marrying nine-year-old girls to forty-five-year-old men, if I don’t like that, I'll try and stay away from that, that's it.
But look beyond your set of beliefs and try and open yourself to what's out there. Try and open yourself to other ideas, to other feelings and to other lives that are around you, other lives that are not human, lives that may need your help or you might need theirs but you have to be humble enough to know that you are not the center of the universe.
Brandon: How is the health of the dog farm? How is it going? Is it going to keep going?
Lya Battle: I hope so. I hope so. I hope we can get it working to a point where it works on its own whereas anybody can take over and just keep doing what we're doing. I hope to see more people try and replicate this, not necessarily here, maybe at a smaller level. But have people understand that there is an option. If you can fund shelters with millions and millions of dollars and these shelters just hold dogs for certain days and then euthanized them, use less. Buy a little piece of property, get a family living there and give them 25 dogs. It will be cheaper and you'll be making a difference in those lives. Do it in a little scale but start trying to do it differently and you might end up like we do right now thinking back at times where something is normal and now it's unacceptable. We have to get to that point.
It's not so long ago, you can even drink from the same fountain that colored people could. I remember my mom left Costa Rica and she went to New York and she didn't care. I mean Costa Rica wasn't in all of this sort of racial thing or at least she didn't grow up thinking that way so she didn't care and she was almost arrested once because she was drinking from the colored fountain, she didn't care. But it was okay, it was normal to see that. Now, we are disgusted by that sort of behavior. So, let's try changing to the point where we look at the way things were done before and we're disgusted by it.
Brandon: I think that's perfectly said actually. You don’t usually see the transitions when they happen. You do when you look back in an extended time period and notice it. But the thing you really don’t see is it working from the ground level, which is what you're doing, which is exactly what you're doing. And you have to infiltrate into other people. It starts with one, Martin Luther King, it starts with that one person of a few people who are working on it, who spread an idea and a concept and it takes a while to infiltrate and take over. And then when you look back, and you realize what incredible change it's created. You can see all of it as a whole. Which is why as you build the organization up as -- I don’t know if you know Eddie from Black Jaguar or White Tiger?
Lya Battle: Yeah, it sounds so familiar, wait.
Brandon: So he has --
Daniel: To Mexico City, right?
Lya Battle: Oh yeah, of course.
Brandon: Yeah. I mean, I was following him on Instagram like four years ago when he started out super small and only had this jaguar, and now it's become huge and it's all out saving very similar to what you're doing but for cats. So as [unclear 0:58:15] grows, it inspires people, like I'm so inspired from looking at this Instagram constantly. Now, my whole brain is always thinking about how I can protect animals in this way or shape or form. And so, it's very similar to what you're doing. It's just take some time to actually happen in an act and the more you tell it to people, the more you share it, the more that people realize what's good, the more they get educated.
Lya Battle: And it's not going to be easy. If it was easy, it would have already happen. But you have to do it. And as I said, in the ground level, all you see are the problems and the grievance and everything. You've got to keep going past that if you want change to happen, because you always go through in a very uncomfortable stage before change actually happens. So it's just about believing in your ideals and sticking to them.
Brandon: We're coming up to about an hour right now, how are you [unclear 0:59:07]. Just at two o'clock.
Lya Battle: 2:30 is my first student.
Brandon: How much time do you need in between ending the show or not --
Lya Battle: No. Whenever you want. I mean, when I see them coming, I'll be like, "Hey!"
Daniel: Do you have any final really good questions?
Brandon: No, we're just going to preclude into her, letting people know or they can help or they can find, telling them how we're going to make it a crypto thing so people can send her cryptocurrency.
Daniel: Beautiful. I have one final question. It's just --
Brandon: I'll be the first one to donate.
Daniel: Would you sometimes do a random -- quick second, two words, what do want to be remembered for?
Lya Battle: Love, dogs or animals love, that's the only thing.
Brandon: And will there always be a Lya Battle at Territorio de Zaguates?
Lya Battle: Oh yeah, whether people like it or not, there's always going to be -- when I'm not there physically anymore, they can sure be as all I'll be there always.
Daniel: I know our listeners, I hope they get to see, everyone, I hope you get to see the videos that we have from the dog part, the running. You could just see how special, how magical this place really is. It was mind-blowing the experience of running with the dog and just seeing how happy they really were. Like we were talking about it before, but to actually see it, it's there. They seemed like 100 times more happier than they could have than we had thought that they have been.
Brandon: Or just seeing that many dogs cooperate, especially when you say stray dogs. People see them maybe a little more aggressive.
Lya Battle: Primitive.
Brandon: Yeah, and it's amazing.
Daniel: Now, I think about, okay, so you know you had the holding area where it was the new dogs and you said they were a little angrier and unhappier. Now, in my brain, now that I look back in the experience, I'm like, "Oh, those dogs, they haven't made it to the cool part yet and they're waiting. They're the dogs that are waiting to break it down and go have fun with all the other dogs.
Lya Battle: Exactly.
Brandon: So, how can people find you? How can someone whether they're on vacation on Costa Rica, they're visiting or living here, can they come out and say, "Hey, get on the phone and just say, 'Lya, I want to come to experience. I want to walk with dogs.'" Or, how can someone connect with you who maybe has no idea about this, no idea about Costa Rica and this is something maybe they're coming to visit Costa Rica for now.
Lya Battle: We have sort of certain weekends where we have the walks and that's the easiest way sort of to look in our Facebook page or to our webpage and it's easiest for us to accommodate. Because you have to remember it's a farm after all. I mean we have to look after the dogs and treat the dogs and medicate the dogs. So far, we haven't found a way to keep open all the time. So there are certain dates that we'd love people to come and visit. You can log on to our Facebook page which is Territorio de Zaguates. We just made it sort of international. So I think if you're in the states you get only English and not cases like so and so new dog is lost and [unclear 1:02:42] and not much you can do in Florida. And we have a webpage and you can stay connected to us. Let us know you're there, let us know we're not crazy. You approve. I mean a lot of people don’t understand this but it's important to know we're not alone and that people agree with what we're doing and people will support what we're doing. If you want to donate, it's really welcome. I mean, we do miracles with what we get and that all goes straight to the dogs, straight to the dogs. And I think you saw what's around there for humans. I mean, there's nothing there for humans. Anything that comes in is for the dogs.
Brandon: I mean, you even have a staff and a team there now.
Lya Battle: That's it. The staff gets the salary, we don’t get salaries. I have to work here and I work for them, for them to have what they need.
Brandon: And one of those places people can message you to volunteer as well?
Lya Battle: Yes, on the webpage they can do that. Facebook is easier for me but I know that certain publications just get lost under the other ones. And so the webpages, easier that way so you can keep informed.
Brandon: I know now you're going to check your Facebook Messenger because this connection wouldn't happen today if you did not check it. We almost missed each other.
Lya Battle: Yeah. We almost missed each other. Yeah, I'm going to be a little bit better.
Brandon: And I'm going to help you set up a whole cryptocurrency donation thing, be the first person that donates to it. So, we're going to make sure we had those addresses for you guys to send your crypto and donate some crypto. It's recurring. The values only --
Daniel: Listen, you got light coin lying around, Bitcoin, or you're not using anymore ripple, donate it.
Brandon: Donate it. I think that's it. Lya, thank you so much.
Lya Battle: Thank you.
Daniel: Thank you, Lya.
Brandon: And not just for coming on the bus, opening up the dog farm today, taking us on tour day. I mean, we literally got to walk a day in your shoes.
Lya Battle: Yeah, you did.
Brandon: By six a.m. we were up, met you at the grocery store, gotten in the car with you, drove all around, lunch, change, and now we're at the tutoring.
Lya Battle: Tutoring space, yeah right. So thank you, thank you for caring. Thank you for finding us interesting.
Daniel: What a day? Thank you!
Brandon: No problem. Cheers everybody!
Lya Battle: Cheers