Get Leashed gets personal with the Winemaker and animal lover
By Si Si Penaloza
From the moment I met Alejandra De Miguel, I knew she was trouble. This hypnotically feral, beautiful creature burst onto the Toronto social scene nearly a decade ago and kicked the town’s mojo up a notch. She is such a natural beauty, and so perfectly flawless, it was almost hard to be near her. At first, the predictable and vain side of me was conscious of being photographed next to her; I was afraid we would look like two different species. Nothing was further from the truth; she made me feel beautiful and adored every time I saw her. Then I got to really know her, which led to an all out girl crush. She is so inclusive and never makes anyone feel like they are not enough, or that they are an outsider.
A few weeks ago Alejandra reached out to me on a new project she is launching. Turns out she has been working with street animals for a couple of years, and is now on a mission to build an animal shelter in San Antonio de Areco, Argentina. We curled up with a steaming cup of white tea to chat on her plans to create a transitory home for animals with the end goal of helping them move towards adoption. The shelter will provide medical attention and low-cost spaying to target the primary root cause of street dogs and unwanted animals.
Where do you reckon your love and interest in animals evolves from?
As a kid I wanted to be a vet, so I think there was an innate love and attraction for animals from a very young age. Although I chose a different career path, that love has remained a constant and an ever-growing one. I connect with them and see them as equals; therefore I have a great sensitivity to the inequality they are faced with and the cruelty they suffer in this modern world.
Tell us about your first canine love:
I was about four years old. Her name was Nata and she was a Great Dane that had been in the family for years. This is back in Argentina… I remember just being mesmerized by her… she was so gentle and always present. Looking back, I think as a four year old I was also amazed at her size!
You are very in touch with your inner emotions and have explored yoga all over the globe. Did discovering yoga put you in touch with your inner “animal”?
100%. The ever-growing love and connection to animals has been greatly influenced by my inner path of self-discovery. Personally, yoga helps me connect with my true essence, stripped of any labels, expectations, ideas, titles etc. That true essence inside of me, inside of all of us, is our inner “animal”. The way we arrive on this earth and the way we part. There is nothing wrong with everything else we dress it up with (material things, jobs, clothes, money cars, status) but I believe it is imperative that we remind ourselves on a daily basis that those things are not who we are.
Men who abuse, ignore or neglect their pets are the biggest turn off; have you ever had this be a dealbreaker with a potential dating prospect?
I have to to say I’ve been lucky to not have come across any of those guys in my dating life. It would have definitely been a deal breaker had it happened. Not abusing or neglecting isn’t even enough, for me, there has to be an honest sense of respect for animals in a partner.
Tell us more about the shelter you are planning:
Over the years, San Antonio de Areco has become my part-time home and a very special place. When I first arrived, the amount of street dogs was alarming, but more alarming was the state they were in and the palpable dismissive attitude many had towards them. “Where’s the animal shelter?” was my next question and “why aren’t these dogs there with proper care and a chance for adoption?” Well, when I arrived at the existing shelter I quickly realized why the street dogs were better off where they were. The shelter where street dogs are currently housed gets flooded from the rain, is extremely hot due to little coverage from the sun except for tin roofs which heat up, and has no protection from the cold in winter months. The dogs can crawl underneath the fences and roam the waste field where they come in contact with rats and contamination of all sorts. Clearly, there is no chance for adoption for these animals.
What are the most dire risks facing street dogs in Argentina?
Street dogs die here on a daily basis. This is a fact. Disease, malnourishment, broken bones, and infections of all sorts are all leaving these dogs at risk. In addition, the lack of conscience for neutering continues to leave an overpopulation of helpless puppies on the street which die at a very young age.
What challenges have you come up against in mounting this new shelter project?
So many. But the biggest one has definitely been the bureaucracy in government, which is why I decided to launch this campaign and raise the money on my own. It would be great to be able to count on government for land, financial support, simple legal rights — but street dogs are clearly at the bottom of the priority list. For three years, I tried to work with the municipality only to hear excuse after excuse, until I decided the only way to do this is for me as an individual and responsible citizen to take the matter into my own hands.
How can our readers and other international dog lovers help?
Come visit and share our fundraising page.
After a few years of volunteering my time to help out in different ways at the shelter and with street animals, I found a group of like-minded individuals who want change. We believe these animals, and all animals deserve a chance – a chance at adoption and a better life. But this can’t happen without us doing our part, which starts with adequate infrastructure in order to provide good health and proper medical care for these animals. For this, we need your help.
Horses are noble creatures in Argentinian culture – polo, ranching, show jumping; what place do you see dogs having in everyday Mendoza lifestyle?
There are many people here who have dogs as pets and care for them and love them just like any dog owner anywhere else in the world. They are loyal companions of many families here. However, when it comes to street dogs who don’t belong to anyone, the attitude is just that – they don’t belong to me so it’s not my problem. Turn the other way and let someone else take care of it. This attitude is at the root of many social issues in Argentina – so our challenge is much greater. People have to to start seeing adoption of street dogs as the first option when wanting a pet, but before that can happen we need to do the work so that these animals are healthy and in a condition to be given a second chance in a loving home.
Do you think the rise of social media has made for a more compassionate world when it comes to animal rights?
Yes, 100%. While I have my opinions about the social media activist who simply presses “like” and does nothing more, I also see the immense opportunity we have to reach so many people around the globe. Not only to raise money, but to inform and educate others about the problems in our immediate community. It is also a great resource for learning how other people made a difference and made a change, not to mention the power that social media has to put pressure on governments when demanding changes in legislation.
What animal rights activists do you most enjoy following on Instagram?
In terms of other projects on the horizon, what should we be looking out for?
For the upcoming 2016 Toronto summer season I am working on an Argentine dining series, which will take place in different locations in Prince Edward County, Niagara and a private residence in the city of Toronto. The idea is to offer an authentic way to experience Argentina while merging it with our Canadian culture, fare, landscape and culinary and wine talents.
To balance off the summer season I will also be co-hosting a handful of 4-day yoga getaways in the County. I feel Prince Edward County sets the perfect backdrop to disconnect from the city life and recharge with nature all while enjoying delicious and healthy local fare.
Late summer brings me full force with the Red Carpet Suite at TIFF, and early fall means lots of prep work for the Polo and Yoga getaways that I host in Argentina during the winter months, from November to April.