Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to help - or ask for help - after a life-changing event.

Swedish Medical Center, based not in Sweden, as you might have thought, but in Seattle, WA, USA, does a lot of cochlear implants. They have turned up on my radar as a great resource. In this blog post, they explain how to help or ask for help after any life-changing event. (As going deaf certainly is.) It's worth a read and covers a lot of situations where you, or a friend or family member of yours, is going through a life-changing event, from the happy arrival of a new baby or the crushing news of a terminal diagnosis. It's good advice.


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Strays and sanctions

Apologies for not having posted in nearly a month. Summer is a busy time for us, not a slow time. We take our vacation in the winter, and when not working we try to take advantage of every hour of the lovely summer weather. Weekends are non-stop.

But I am taking to the keyboard today to tell you about a project that is very, very dear to my heart: The Spanky Project. The website is a bit bare-bones, but the blog is where the real action takes place.

The Spanky Project, named in memory of a dear four-footed friend, does incredible work in Cuba spaying and neutering cats and dogs, and providing other veterinary care for them. They also train Cuban veterinary staff and volunteers.

Strays (and pets) are ubiquitous in Cuba. The "resort cats" are legendary. These animals' lives are brutish and short in keeping with the extreme lack of resources to help them.  The Spanky Project steps in to do the especially important work of spaying and neutering the animal population, preventing thousands more kittens and puppies without homes to go to from being born. These people are heros.

Tourists often post on travel forums, begging for information on how to bring a particular favourite back to Canada, Australia or the UK. It has been known to happen; your chances of making it happen are infinitesimal. A better option (as these posters are told) is to donate to The Spanky Project, where your donation will help several animals have a better quality of life and will continue to reduce the feral animal population.

The Spanky Project (which is Canadian in origin) is pretty annoyed at PayPal right now; PayPal has taken away Spanky's capacity to accept donations through the service. This came as no surprise to me. On our second-last trip to Cuba, Husband was in the resort internet center checking his eBay account (he's a pretty avid eBayer) and discovered he had won an auction. Without thinking, he automatically chose to check out with PayPal. Not only could he not access his PayPal account, in very short order he had an email from PayPal informing him his account had been suspended for violating US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations. OFAC is the office responsible for enforcing the embargo on doing business with Cuba. And Husband had just tried to do a transaction with PayPal from a computer with a Cuban IP address.

There was nothing to be done for it until we got back to Canada; when we did a lengthy email exchange occurred between Husband and PayPal, during which they explained in far more detail their obligations as a financial institution under OFAC regulations and during which Husband explained that he does not have business dealings in Cuba, and that he was attempting to access his account to finalize a transaction between himself and an American. He explained that he had been on vacation in Cuba and no PayPal transactions were made to any Cuban entity, including the resort where we were staying. He had to send a number of documents to them, including his work ID, to establish that he lived in Canada, had a job and was not in business in Cuba.

The Spanky Project's website says "We are a Canadian NGO and do not believe we are subject to US Law". The problem is, PayPal is an American banking institution and is very much subject to US law. Its capacity to function and do business is inextricably intertwined with its adherence to US law. I'm sorry for the Spanky Project that they are inconvenienced, but I understand and respect PayPal's position.

In Husband's case, his PayPal account was reactivated after he successfully convinced them of his status, his intentions, and his complete non-use of PayPal to pay for goods and services within Cuba. This suggests something rather rare these days - flexibility and common sense based on circumstance. They did their due diligence, he made his case, and they came to the right conclusion.

Anyway, there are other ways to donate to The Spanky Project, and I invite you to think about it. The work they do to alleviate suffering for the most helpless in Cuba is heroic and inspiring.