September 11, 2001, 7 am: Silvia was on her way to the south part of Mérida to rescue a dog who had been hit by a car. When she arrived at the scene, she saw that there was no hope for the dog…and it was clearly suffering. Some neighbors helped her to gently place the animal into a cardboard box, and she drove to her vet in the north part of the city. While enroute, she heard the news about the twin towers in New York. It seemed to take forever to reach the vet; by the time she got there, as the news about New York was sinking in and with her eyes full of tears, she vowed at that moment to learn how to put an animal to sleep if necessary. She would never again force an animal to endure an additional 45 minutes waiting to be released from its suffering. After the vet put the dog to sleep, she told him of her intention to learn to do it herself. “That is the work of a veterinarian,” he said; but he promised to teach her. “But not today; happily we don’t have another animal to put to sleep.” Throughout the day she watched the news about New York in disbelief, full of emotion. That same night, while walking her dogs, she saw a puppy on the sidewalk in convulsions from distemper. Once again she found herself on the way to the vet. He said, “Silvia, now you will learn what you need to learn.” And, unbelievably, she did, on the night of September 11, 2001. Her emotions were totally spent.

Arq. Silvia Cortés’s journey with animals began some years before that, when, as a young woman, she gave a home to her first 2 pets, a pair of puppies. Gradually she began rescuing dogs and finding good homes for them. When the number became unmanageable in her home, she asked her parents if she could open an animal shelter at the family property on the road to Umán, and they said yes. Today Santuario Evolución is a Mexican registered non-profit with 150 dogs in a happy, safe, no-kill, humane sanctuary where they are protected from the harm they experienced on the street or the neglect they suffered from careless or cruel owners. They are free to run, they receive medical attention, they are neutered, they are well fed, and above all, they are loved. Silvia knows the name and the history of every single dog; many were born there from abandoned pregnant mother dogs. The animals are available for adoption after the homes of their prospective new owners are inspected for adequate fencing and shelter.

“Education is the most important thing,” explains Silvia. “People must learn to take responsibility; they must report animal abuse and they must teach their children how to care for a pet. When parents adopt a dog as a gift for their child, in order to teach responsibility, we always tell them that you cannot teach a child that way. The WHOLE family must share the responsibility for the new member of the family; if the child neglects his duties the parents MUST step in, so the animal doesn’t suffer. And most importantly, this is the moment to show your child that if you don’t feel like caring for your pet, abandoning it is NOT acceptable; if they learn this lesson, they will never walk away from their responsibilities in life, including taking care of their parents when the time comes. We are a society; the word comes from ‘socio’, or partner. If we do not do our part, we cannot blame others if our country or city is less than perfect.”

At Evolución, Silvia teaches young people about the prevention of violence. She believes that abandoning a dog on the street is an act of violence; and in a country where drug and domestic violence is rampant, Silvia’s goal is to teach the children of our community, through volunteering at the sanctuary, “to evolve into better human beings through the use of our biggest power, Choice,” (hence the name Evolucion); to choose to evolve into a violence-free generation.

To volunteer or support Evolución, visit their website:

By: Juanita Stein
[email protected]

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