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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Bahamas Humane Society

Almost a Century of Helping Animals

BHS was founded in 1924, over 90 years ago.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
Nassau is the capital and commercial heart of a collection of islands known as The Bahamas. Located east of the US state of Florida, this island nation is geographically in the Atlantic Ocean, however, vacationers consider part of the Caribbean and it has that island vibe. Palm trees, sandy beaches and a little pirate history make this part of the world worth visiting.

As a big city, Nassau takes up most of the main island of New Providence and its smaller sister landmass Paradise Island, home to the Atlantis mega-resort. Nassau has its share of city issues, traffic jams, drugs, and old infrastructure. What makes Nassau unique is the city’s port handles the world’s largest Caribbean cruise ships. When docked at Prince George Wharf, these ships can add an extra 25,000 to the city's population of 274,000 in a single afternoon. So how does a large metropolitan area on an island handle animal welfare? The Bahamas Humane Society has been doing that for almost a century.

Bahamas Humane Society (BHS), founded as the Dumb Friends’ League in 1924, is one of the Caribbean’s oldest animal shelters, founded 30 years before the Humane Society of the United States. The original focus was to help the plight of the city’s pack animals, including donkeys, mules and horses. In 1947, the shelter opened in its current location and changed the name to Bahamas Humane Society. It is the oldest charity organization in Nassau and today helps all animals. Percy Grant, BHS Shelter Manager, has been running the shelter for over 30 years.

Shelter Manager Percy Grant. Photo by Carrie Dow.
“When I came [to work] here in ’86, we [Nassau] were an old fishing village, farming, and all that kind of thing. Animals were more of a nuisance in a sense because they would kill sheep or cause damage and people did all sorts of hideous things to them because it was more about survival. We’ve come a long way.”

Today the Surrey Horse industry in Nassau is still an issue. Surreys are door-less carriages pulled by horses to take tourists sight-seeing. However, last year, several viral videos surfaced showing horses collapsed in the street, possibly dying. According to Grant, the industry has a horrible welfare track record. The horses have a reputation of being underfed, under-watered, and forced to work during the hottest parts of the day. Regulations are in place to help the horses, but they are not enforced. For example, only two adults and up to two children can be in a surrey at one time, but often the surreys are overloaded with as many adult tourists as will fit.

“We have the horse surrey industry that we fight with every year, every month, trying to regulate,” says Grant. “We have the surreys on Bay Street (downtown Nassau) and that is the biggest attraction, but we have issues with it.”

When it comes to dogs and cats, Nassau is much like other cities, hundreds of strays on the streets and disease occurs. Pitbulls and Cane Corsos (AKA Italian Mastiffs) are banned throughout the Bahamas, but it’s difficult to enforce for unique reasons. The country has 70 ports of entry with boats of all sizes coming and going. Often these boats are privately owned with pets on board. When a wealthy foreigner brings his Cane Corso (or any dog) on his mega-yacht to Nassau, all he or she has to do is bribe the local police to disembark with the animal.

A pet parent checks into the vet clinic at BHS.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
Distemper outbreaks have happened, however, the last one was several decades years ago. Today the shelter is able to combat outbreaks before they happen with vaccines. However, Grant developed a special remedy for the animals that were already sick during the 1980s outbreak. Grant used Cerasee, a locally growing vine-like plant used for a variety of human ailments from skin conditions to fever. He boiled Cerasee leaves into a tea and gave it to the sick dogs. The tea worked and all the dogs survived.

Located near historical Fort Charlotte, the shelter is made up of seven buildings covering six acres. The building that houses the shelter’s vet clinic and offices was built in 1998. The original building is now The Cattery. There are three dog kennel buildings, one for small dogs, one for large and one for puppies. The Cattery houses adoptable cats and a second cat building in the back is for those awaiting adoption. Both are cageless with indoor/outdoor areas and the cats roam around hiding in boxes and lounging on cat towers with ample food and water. There are two more buildings, one used for storage and the other for medical care and the cat infirmary. There is a fenced and shaded outdoor play area for the dogs and as Grant gives a tour, a staff member watches a group of rambunctious puppies tumble all over each other. There is also a large pen for pack animals that is currently home to a donkey and another pen filled with chickens. Grant says several years ago school children painted the buildings in bright Caribbean colors.

Cat building.
Strangely, the chickens are behind these cats,
but since they have plenty of food,
the cats don't seem to notice.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
Grant says that the stray dogs of Nassau are considered a unique breed, Royal Bahamian Potcakes. Potcakes is a common term throughout the Caribbean for stray dogs and comes from the patties of congealed peas and rice found at the bottom of a cooking pot. These remains were often fed to dogs. Potcakes come in a variety of colors and sizes, but often share cocked ears, a long face and a smooth coat without undercoat. They are also smart and loyal and make great pets. For stray cats BHS has trap-neuter-release programs. Most importantly, BHS does not put down animals for space. There is no time limit on how long animals can stay and the shelter will only euthanize the very sick.  The programs Grant is most proud of are a children’s education program that teaches animal well-being in all curriculum areas including math and science and a kids’ summer camp where they help out at the shelter while learning about animal health and care.

Something else Grant is excited about is the city government called him last fall to discuss sheltering pets during 2017’s horrible hurricane season. While the hurricanes spared The Bahamas, the fact that the government called was monumental and Grant says desperately needed. Together BHS and the government created an action plan to house Nassau pets during hurricanes. Although not needed in 2017, it will be in the future. Grant calls this progress for animals.

Royal Bahamian Potcakes available for adoption.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
The shelter does allow visitors to adopt animals. The only requirement is proof of rabies vaccination and a certificate of health from a local vet or the shelter’s vet. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries need to sign the certificate and there is a small fee.

Donna Kiriaze, Shelter Accountant, says visitors are welcome anytime and can view adoptable animals. Volunteers are welcome at the shelter, however, due to safety and insurance concerns, tourist volunteers cannot handle animals. They are allowed to help set up food dishes, clean kennels maintenance work, and other tasks. Kiriaze also suggests that those who want to help the shelter simply donate money through PayPal. She says sometimes people visit the shelter with a few bags of pet food. She says the public pays retail for pet food while the shelter pays a special reduced rate.

“While you purchased three bags,” she cautions, “we could have purchased 10, if you had just donated the money instead.”

If you visit Nassau on a Caribbean cruise or resort vacation, consider spending some time at Bahamas Humane Society. The shelter is only a mile walk from the port terminal and near the attractions of Fort Charlotte, the Botanical Gardens, Junkanoo Beach and the fantastic fish fry restaurants of West Bay Street. For those interested in riding a surrey, do your homework before you go. Trip Advisor has tourist reviews and check the horse's condition before boarding. Walk away, if you’re not comfortable with what you see.

Adoptable cat from BHS.
Photo by Carrie Dow.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Keeping the Wild West Wild

Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center keeps Colorado’s wild animals wild

Tom and Cecelia (Cec) Sanders.
Photo by Bill Vogrin/Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Nestled in the foothills of the Wet Mountains west of Pueblo, CO, Cecelia and Tom Sanders have spent a large portion of their lives dedicated to an unusual occupation. The couple rehabilitates sick, injured and orphaned Colorado wildlife including large predatory mammals such as bears and mountain lions. Former schoolteachers, their second career in wildlife rehab started small - squirrels, bunnies and raccoons - while living in Pueblo where they taught. They eventually earned a rehab license from the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1984 and began taking in larger creatures.

“We have always loved wildlife,” says Cecelia or ‘Cec' as she's known. She and Tom have been married for 46 years. 

Wet Mountain Rehabilitation Center is one of only three rehab facilities in Colorado that work with large predatory mammals. These animals receive veterinary treatment and the best nutrition the couple can afford. The animals are kept on the couple’s secluded property near the town of Florence where sick and injured animals can recover and orphaned animals can learn to live on their own. Most all are released into the wild when they are able. Their first large mammals were an orphaned Pronghorn and Mule Deer fawn. Cec says they received no formal training.

“At that time rehab was a ‘we trust you’ kind of business, but eventually we had to be licensed by the DOW [Department of Wildlife],” she says. “Since then rehab has been very regulated. We have had great relationships with veterinarians who have done much research for treatment of wildlife. We built our facility around the animals that were brought to us.”

When they started, Cec and Tom lived in Pueblo. Cec taught physical education at Highland Park Elementary and Tom taught Science at Central High School. Back then rehabbing animals was more of a past-time until they were officially licensed. The Sanders had a large corner lot with a tall cedar fence. They build another enclosure inside their property that was very private. They rehabbed the Pronghorn and Mule Deer who were successfully released in the fall of that year. While still in Pueblo, they were given a bear cub and an injured mountain lion to care for with their neighbors none the wiser. Cec says the mountain lion was released into the wild after it had healed and the bear cub was sent to a different facility that could handle him.

Bear enclosure at Wet Mountain.
Photo by Bill Vogrin/Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The Sanders then made an important decision. If they wanted to continue wildlife work, they needed a larger, more private location, but still close to Pueblo where they taught. They found that location in near Florence in 1986.

“From then on things just happened,” laughs Cec.

At their new location they were brought many different species of wildlife from birds to elk, deer, and bear. Cec says they have migrated to the larger animals because there are so few Colorado facilities that can handle them, while there are many that handle the smaller mammals and other facilities that specialize in birds and waterfowl.

“That has taken a lot of pressure off of us so we can focus on the large animals.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officers deliver most of the animals and the department has worked with the Sanders for over 30 years. Cec says they occasionally get animals from the public, but bears are always handled by CPW. The center currently has 12 bears, one of the largest groups they have ever had. It has caused quite a strain on their budget.

The Sanders operate Wet Mountain as a non-profit and accept donations for supplies, however, they don’t publicize their work and pay for many things out of pocket. Unfortunately, 2017 has been a difficult year. According to the CPW, late Spring freezes along Colorado's Front Range resulted in fewer acorns that bears need to sustain themselves. A lack of their natural food source caused many bears to venture into cities and foraging in trash cans and garages. Bears in urban areas are dangerous. They can get hit by cars and will be euthanized if they threaten any humans. Often these conflicts leave orphaned cubs behind. Cec says the bears they have been caring for will be placed in artificial dens by the CPW in early January. From there the bears can either stay or choose to leave. Cec says most are now capable of finding their own dens.

The center also had 14 fawns over the summer. She says donations of dry dog food and produce from grocery stores help to reduce costs, but they still have to spend their own money. That is why earlier this year, the Colorado Park and Wildlife office wrote about their plight in the department’s September 2017 newsletter. Shortly after Walmart and Big D’s Superfood in Canon City donated tons of produce. Because of the CPW story, monetary donations also poured in. Cec says each donation they received contained a thank you note for what they do for Colorado beras, which left her overjoyed. Cec wrote in her own Winter 2017 newsletter that without this support, they would have had to sell their house.

Cec putting out food for bear cubs.
Photo by Bill Vogrin/Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The couple divides the animals in their care between them so there are animals that only Tom cares for and animals that only Cec cares for. This keeps human contact to a minimum. Cec cares for the youngest animals by hand and even though she is allergic to raccoons, she had to bottle feed three raccoon kits this year. There was also an orphan badger, however, Cec says those are her favorite. This particular badger had an eye infection that required twice daily eye drops, which the creature was not thrilled about receiving. Once the animals were healthy, She moved them outside to a larger enclosure. As the badger got older, the eye drops became more difficult. He also returned to his nocturnal habits.  By August, Cec says the badger tunneled out of his enclosure and returned to the wild himself, but not before trying to play with Cec the day before. Cec believes the badger was trying to say thank you and goodbye before he left.

The bear cubs began arriving in May. The first were twin bears rescued after their mother was shot by a person who said she charged at him while walking his dog. The cubs were fifteen pounds each upon arrival. Later that summer another bear arrived after his mother was found dead in a residential back yard. A week later they received triplets along with other cubs here and there. By summer’s end, they had 10 bear cubs. Then in October, they received two more. When they receive bears that small, they are put in separate enclosures because they are too small to interact with bigger bears, However, the Sanders keep family units together. As the cubs get bigger and stronger, they are moved into groups in larger enclosures.

Bears at mealtime.
Photo by Bill Vogrin/Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Cec mentions a unique item that helps these young bear cubs adjust are a number of real fur coats she has collected over the years. She uses them for any young mammal, from raccoons to cubs, and often they bond with the coat until they are old enough to be on their own. She says the real fur gives them comfort. The Sanders also do all the work at the center themselves because the fewer humans these animals come into contact with, the better it will be for them. Therefore, there are no volunteers or other staff onsite. However, Tom adds that they have people/friends that will make food runs and other errands to help them out.

Something Cec would like to let the public know is that when encountering a  young wild animal, especially deer, while the animal may look alone, often it is not.

“People assume that a fawn without the mother is an orphan and needs to be ‘rescued’,” she states. “Many of the fawns that we get should never have been picked up. The mother hides the fawn from predators, but stays in contact with them by using low pitched vocal calls.” Cec also says that deer imprint very easily and they have to limit human contact with them except for feeding or medical attention. They also have two “volunDEER” from the previous season that hang out with new fawns and keep them company.

Centers like Wet Mountain are becoming fewer and fewer in Colorado. Ellicott Wildlife Rehab near Colorado Springs closed last June. According to a Gazette newspaper report, the organization simply ran out of money.

If you would like to help Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center continue the important work they do to keep the Rocky Mountain’s wildlife wild, send a tax-deductible donation to 743 Crestview Drive, Florence, CO 81226. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tips, Tricks, and Treats to Keep Halloween Safe for Pets from Denver Dumb Friends League

Keeping our pets safe on the scariest night of the year

Photo by deedeeflower.
Halloween is almost here and for us humans, it can be a lot fun. Dressing up, getting candy and other sweet treats and visiting friends and neighbors are things we all look forward to. However, for pets this night of fright can be stressful and even dangerous. With that in mind, Maia Brusseau, Public Relations Manager for the Denver Dumb Friends League, has some tips and tricks to make sure this Halloween is full of only treats for us and our pets.

1) For all pets, keep Halloween candy out of reach, especially chocolate. Candy and sweet treats can make pets sick and ingesting chocolate can be fatal.

2) Wires and cords from decorations should be kept out of reach to keep pets from chewing on them. Your pet could suffer cuts and burns or even electrocution from electrical cords.

3) For pets that are easily stressed and wary of strangers, put them in a separate room away from the main door during peak trick-or-treating times. This will help reduce the stress of constant visitors in strange costumes. It will also prevent pets from darting outside when the door is open.

4) Don't take your dog trick-or-treating with you or let pets outside. Pets that are out at night might be more easily scared by noises and unknown people, which could cause them to run away. 

5) Always make sure your dog or cat has proper identification. In the event your pet does escape, an ID tag and microchip can save a pet’s life and increase the chance of your pet being returned.

Photo by Rubie's
For their parents who know their pets can handle the trick-or-treaters and are generally calm, you may want your pet to be part of the fun on Halloween by dressing them up in costumes. While this is great fun and makes for adorable Instagram photos, make sure to have a well-planned and safe costume for your pet to wear.

1)  The outfit should not restrict your pet’s ability to walk and sit down comfortably.  

2) Avoid making your pet wear a mask that covers eyes, ears or nose.

3) Don’t put your pet in a costume that makes it difficult to breathe. This is especially important for flat-nosed dogs and cats, such as bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese and Persians. 

4)Always supervise while the pet is in costume. Pieces of the costume, when chewed, can pose a choking hazard.

5) Look for and understand your pet’s body language while he is wearing the costume. If the pet looks miserable, he probably is.

6) An alternative to dressing up a pet could be a festive bandana or collar.

From everyone at the Denver Dumb Friends League and What’s Pawsitive, have a safe and fun Halloween.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Unleashing the Power of the Dog House

IFAW offers unique program to help dogs and wildlife

As a part of their mission to rescue and protect animals around the world, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has integrated a simple program in Mexico to protect the area’s dogs, people and its wildlife. It all begins with a simple dog house.

Playa del Carmen is one of Mexico’s favorite beach destinations, but now has to deal with the growing pains all tourist locales have to deal with; increase in population and visitors and an increase in habitat destruction. Located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Playa del Carmen is a part of the Riviera Maya. The city is located between the beaches of the Caribbean Sea and the inland jungles filled with ancient Mayan Ruins, places like Chichen Itza, Tulum and Uxmal. Indigenous Mayan descendants still make up a sizable portion of the peninsula’s population. The city is also located between the Spring Break party zone of Cancun and the beach enclave of Tulum making it a central location for residents and visitors to the area.

As the area grows in people, settlements make their way into the nearby jungle and homes and hotels loom over the beaches. With people come companion animals - mostly dogs and cats - to areas where sea turtles and jaguars once reigned. This clash of domestic and wild animals can be dangerous, but IFAW has come up with a simple plan that is making a huge difference in this area.

The project is Casitas Azules, or Little Blue Houses. The project provides small dog houses to locals along with education and medical care. In return, the houses are protecting local wildlife. It may seem surprising that a simple dog shelter can do so much, but IFAW isn’t surprised at all.

“We ran some successful programs in Cozumel for years and Playa del Carmen reached out to us to roll similar programs in their community,” says Tracy Weeks, Supporter Relations Specialist for IFAW.  “The community has been super engaged and we run all kinds of programs – like feeding stations for stray cats and now Blue Casitas for dogs.”

The dog shelters are small, but painted a bright blue, just like the Caribbean waters along Playa’s coastline. While the protection to dogs is obvious, shelter from the elements and hot sun and a safe place to stay at night, what may not be obvious is how these shelters help local wildlife.

Res Krebs, Communications Specialist for IFAW's Community Animals Program, says IFAW rolled out this program just this summer and Casitas Azules is the first project IFAW created with the primary goal of reducing wildlife conflicts. The program came about because of requests and reports on conflicts from the local community.

According to reports the IFAW received, roaming dogs have scavenged along the beaches eating marine turtle eggs and hatchlings or attack adult turtles, animals already endangered. In the jungle, where jaguars are known to live, dogs wondering at night can be attacked and killed by the big cats, which results in scared and angry dog owners and other residents who might retaliate. Worse, the jaguars may chase the dogs into populated areas making it dangerous for people. Keeping a dog inside a shelter at night will protect both dogs and jaguars.

“From what I understand,” says Krebs, “the reports come from both villagers and the Mexican wildlife service. IFAW was not part of the scientific studies related to dog predation on sea turtle eggs. However, because IFAW is so well-connected to these two communities, we learned of these conflicts first hand. Our regional representative Joaquin De La Torre-Ponce and program manger Erika Flores then came up with the idea to distribute these dog houses, which signal that a household is a kind of 'animal welfare ambassador.' Those dogs are sterilized and vaccinated, and their owners are education about what a dog really needs.”

For example, a properly fed dog will stop scavenging the beaches and stop roaming for food at night. Dogs that have been neutered will also stop roaming and having a shelter to stay in at night will protect the dogs from roaming jaguars. 

Everything about the program is locally handled, from the building of the houses to the distribution. Local carpenters donate time to construct the houses from donated wood and Torre-Ponce, Flores, and other IFAW staff distribute them.

“The wood itself was donated by the Convention on Biological Diversity and is certified to be from sustainable sources,” says Krebs. Krebs also says they distribute solar powered outside lights, which works as a deterrent to jaguars roaming through communities.

Krebs says IFAW’s plan is to distribute 100 dog houses to the local community and so far 15 houses have been constructed. Each dog house costs $40 to build and the public is being asked to donate to help IFAW achieve their 100 house goal. Donations to this and many other IFAW programs can be found on the organization’s website. Donate specifically to Casitas Azules here.

“When we give out a free dog house,” says Weeks, “it affords us the opportunity to speak to the owner about proper care, feeding, shelter and even spay/neuter and vaccinations. We always bring treatments with us. We also find the bright colors attract attention from friends and neighbors who ask about them and starts even more conversations and results in more dog houses and more educated owners.”

See how the program works in this IFAW video.


As this article was being prepared, Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coastline and devastated parts of Houston, the fourth largest city by population in the United States. IFAW is already on the ground in Houston helping animals and taking donations for their rescues in Texas as well. Visit the IFAW website for more details or to donate.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Animal Care Center of St. John, USVI

Making a Big Difference on a Tiny Island

The Animal Care Center of St. John. Photo by Carrie Dow

My husband and I have been traveling to the tiny island of St. John for over ten years and have come to know this little slice of Caribbean paradise intimately. After several visits we are proud to say we hold many island people and places close to our hearts. One of those places is the island’s only animal shelter, the Animal Care Center of St. John (ACC).

We first made our acquaintance with the animal shelter in 2010. It is a tiny building located in the main port town of Cruz Bay on Southside Road near the Sprauve Museum and Library, next to St. John Head Start. It is within walking distance of the ferry dock and all the cozy tourist trappings that Cruz Bay has to offer. Only by walking uphill into town will you find it. We searched it out because we support animal shelters at home so it only made sense to support the shelter in our favorite vacation spot.

Happy dogs on a trail walk. Photo by Carrie Dow
We met with then Operations Manager Diana Ripley. The shelter had just come out of a period of financial difficulty and the people in the organization were working hard to keep up the care of the animals and the shelter’s community programs with a bare bones budget. Despite its popularity with island residents who support the shelter both financially and by volunteering, budgets can be more difficult on an island.

At the time Ripley told me one of the obstacles facing the shelter was the high cost of veterinary care and even finding veterinarians at all. Throughout the early decades of the shelter (it formed in the 1960s), the local veterinary clinic could not always afford its own costs and would shut down. Doctors would come and go. At the time we met Ripley, the Great Recession was affecting the island’s only vet clinic and the vet was forced to charge the shelter regular rates. Here on the mainland, many shelters are charged discounted rates for routine visits and spay and neuter surgeries or receive medications for cost. In the past, when the island vet had to close up shop, the shelter was forced to send animals to St. Thomas for veterinary care, which adds time and transportation costs to the bill. Fortunately, the current island vet has been there for 14 years.

Volunteers play an important role at the shelter.
Here they are getting ready for a dog walk. Photo by Carrie Dow
Despite the recent financial woes, Ripley and her staff were positive things would turn around. One thing the shelter has always been able to count on is visiting volunteers. This program was most evident in the popular Sunday Morning Trail Hikes. On our visit in 2012, we took one of these hikes. The hike began at 8:30 AM at the shelter. Volunteers from on island and visitors, including entire families, arrived to walk the shelter dogs. A local volunteer ran the program and she helped pair hikers with the best dog for their age. The hike was on the scenic Lind Point Trail in Cruz Bay. The Lind Point Trail begins at a set of wooden steps behind the large yellow National Park Visitors building. Poop bags were provided by the shelter. The hike was not very long, but went up and down hill providing a nice challenge for dogs and humans alike. The walk stopped at the Lind Point Overlook with gorgeous views of Cruz Bay. The cover photo for this blog was taken on this walk. My dog’s name was Brutus and he was adopted by a family in Massachusetts shortly after our visit.  Unfortunately the volunteer that coordinated trail hikes moved away and the shelter has been unable to find a replacement. Daily walks are usually at 8 AM and at 3 PM, and run a half mile loop around the shelter’s block.

Donkeys roam freely on the island. Photo by Carrie Dow
Something else that makes St. John unique is its population of wild donkeys that roam the island freely. The pack animals are descendants of domestic donkeys brought during colonial times to work in the sugar mills. When the mills stopped running they were either released or escaped. They tend to roam in groups of three to five, however, a large population has taken up residence on the North Shore beaches. Tourists often take photos of and with the donkeys and for the most part, they are harmless. However, the USVI tourism board says the donkeys should not be harassed or bothered because they can kick. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of that. Guests should also be aware that residents of the Virgin Islands drive on the left side of the road, something remaining from when the Dutch ruled, and because donkeys like to eat the grass next to the roads, incidents between donkeys and cars are common. If you drive during your stay, do so with caution and keep to the speed limit.
Most donkeys are friendly, but approach with caution.
Photo by Carrie Dow

Because this is a small island with finite people and resources, the shelter has to handle things differently than a shelter in the states might. That is reflected in the ACC’s Feral Cat Trap/Neuter/Release Program (commonly called TNR). Cats are allowed to roam freely on the island, but receive regular food and medical care to control the population and keep diseases from spreading. Each Tuesday evening traps are set for collecting feral cats. On Wednesdays these cats are taken to the local veterinarian for health checks and then spay and neuter procedures. The altered cats have an ear clipped to mark that they have been neutered and then released where they were found. There are also several ACC feeding stations across the island staffed by volunteers who put food and water in the stations. This keeps the cats from foraging in people’s trash and getting into fights with other cats and animals. In 2011 the ACC was awarded a two-year PetSmart grant to assist with the TNR program and 700 cats were altered during this period.

Cat feeding station, one of many on the island.
Photo by Carrie Dow
Like shelters on the mainland, the ACC shelters and fosters animals until they can find permanent homes. However, many of their charges end up finding homes on the mainland because there aren’t enough people on the island. St. John’s population is less than 4,000 and even fewer live on island full time. To help these animals find homes and because St. John is a US Territory, the ACC makes it easy for visitors to adopt. They are given shots and health certificates for traveling and some airlines allow small pets to travel in the cabin for a low fee. The current shelter manager is Ryan and he would be thrilled to show any visitors adoptable animals and help get animals to mainland locations. Visitors can also see adoptable dogs at various adoption clinics in Cruz Bay either at The Marketplace or Mongoose Junction.

The ACC welcomes volunteers of all ages (restrictions can apply) to help out at the shelter. ACC information is placed in all guests welcome packets with rental villas and resorts. Visitors are invited to take a tour of the shelter, walk the dogs, socialize with the cats, clean kennels or fill whatever need the shelter has at the time. On our visits we often bring a bag of supplies like poop bags, litter box scoops and collars and take dogs on a walk. It is the least we can do for an island that has given us so many wonderful memories over the years.

Although small in size, the Animal Care Center of St. John is mighty in the caring of its staff and volunteers. The ACC conducts three major fundraisers each year beginning with Wagapalooza in May. Photos of the most recent Wagapalooza, which raised over $19,000, can be seen on the shelter’s Facebook page. There is a “No Fleas Please” Flea Market in October and a holiday gala event in December. To learn more about the shelter’s programs, visit the shelter’s website. To learn about upcoming events, see adoptable dogs and cats, or just to see what new at the shelter, follow on Facebook.
Brutus takes in the view after our trail hike. Photo by Carrie Dow

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ernest Hemingway and His Key West Cats

"A cat has absolute emotional honesty:  Human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not." - Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway Home & Museum, Key West, Florida. Photo by Carrie Dow.
Ernest Hemingway arrived on the island of Key West in April 1928 at the recommendation of a fellow writer. He was so enamored with the place that he sent for the car his second wife Pauline’s uncle had given them as a wedding gift. It would take three weeks for the car to arrive. While waiting, the newlyweds lived in an apartment and Hemingway decided to use the time to finish a novel he had been working on. The novel was A Farewell to Arms.

Cats sleeping on Hemingway's bed. Photo by Carrie Dow.
Today Key West is a vacation destination that sees visitors from around the world and Hemingway is one of the reasons the island has become so famous. He bragged about his fishing exploits in the gulf waters, drank at the various watering holes on the town’s main drag, Duval Street, and his famous friends came to visit him spreading the word. When the Hemingways decided to live full time in Key West, Pauline’s wealthy Uncle Gus came through again and purchased a home for them. The Spanish Colonial home on the corner of Whitehead and Olivia Streets was built in 1851 made from limestone that was dug from the ground underneath it. The couple promptly began remodeling it filling the home with treasures from their travels around the world. Ernest built a writing studio in a room above the carriage house where he wrote To Have and Have Not, novel about Key West during the Great Depression. All these things can be seen today by visitors because the house has been turned into a museum for admirers, historians, literary fans and … cat lovers.

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to more than just literary history. It is the actual home to the descendants of Hemingway’s pet cats. What makes Hemingway's cats so incredibly unique is because of a physical defect. The cats are polydactyl, which means they have extra digits on their paws. Polydactyl cats are more commonly known as six-toed cats.

“One cat just leads to another.” - Ernest Hemingway

Photo by Carrie Dow.
Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship’s captain, Captain Harold Stanley Dexter. As cats on boats are good luck, the captain had a white cat named Snowball he sailed with and after Hemingway admired his cat while on a stop in Key West, he gave Hemingway one of her kittens, which Hemingway’s two sons named Snow White. Soon more offspring followed and the cats were given the names of Hemingway’s famous friends. Over the decades subsequent cats have had names like Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich. It is a tradition that continues today. On the grounds of the home there is cat cemetery and a memorial with the names and dates of all the cats who have lived on the property. Staff members guess they have between 40-50 cats currently on the property.

Polydactyl cats have extra digits on their paws.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
Polydactyl cats have a genetic abnormality that causes them to have extra toes. Most cats have 18 toes with five toes on each of the front paws and four toes on each hind paw. Polydactyl cats may have as many as eight digits on their front and/or back paws, however, is more commonly found on the front paws. The extra toes don’t impair the cats in any way, but because the cats are free roaming and occasionally allowed to breed, they pass the polydactyl gene to each new generation. The cats come in all shapes, sizes and colors and spend most of their days lying about the home and gardens, in the shade when it is hot or nuzzling up to visitors when the mood suits them. Behind the carriage house/bookstore, there is a mini replica of Hemingway’s house with rooms for the cats. Some staff at the museum believes it is possible that most of the island’s stray cats are in some way related to Hemingway’s original felines. 

Hemingway was a life-long lover of cats. According to Hemingway's Cats, an illustrated biography by Carlene Fredericka Brennen, Hemingway grew up with cats as a boy in Illinois and Michigan. He had cats wherever he went, including Feather Kcat in Toronto and F. Puss in Paris, who made an appearance in his book A Moveable Feast. After moving on from Key West, he had a menagerie of cats and dogs on his farm in Cuba. However, it is the cats of Key West that still fascinate locals and tourists alike. His cats have become so famous that often polydactyl cats are referred to as “Hemingway Cats.”

Hemingway divorced Pauline in in 1940 and shortly after married his third wife Martha and moved to Havana, Cuba. Although he moved away from Key West, he retained ownership of the house and spent weekends there with his cats. Pauline remained in the Key West home the rest of her life. 

 “No animal has more liberty than the cat. The cat is the best anarchist.” - Ernest Hemingway

Photo by Carrie Dow.
The cats all have free reign of the home and during a visit could be found lounging on Hemingway’s bed, walking through the gardens and even sitting next to the cash register in the gift shop. A sign at the ticket entrance states that guests are allowed to pet and interact with the cats, however, no one is allowed to pick up the cats. Let a sleeping cat lie.

A cat sleeps on the floor of Hemingway's writing studio.
Visitors are not allowed inside. Photo by Carrie Dow.
The Museum website has its own cat page with information about the cats, along with names and photos. Although the Museum advocates spaying and neutering animals, they do keep some of the cats unaltered so they can have one or two litters each year to continue the lineage. However, the majority of cats at the house and on the island are fixed. As a private enterprise, the Museum provides and pays for all of the cats' care, including high-quality cat food, catnip on special occasions and regular vet visits and vaccinations. Pfizer Animal Health is also a sponsor and provides some medicines for the felines. Museum literature says that the reason there are so many cats on the island is because of its maritime past. In the days before pesticides, cats were kept aboard ships to control rats and mice. Since Key West was a port town, many of those cats ended up on shore and because of the mild weather, cats were, and still are, able to roam outside year around. Many restaurants and guests houses have their own resident cats that roam their grounds as well. All this makes Key West a cat-friendly town.

Hemingway Home and Museum is located at 970 Whitehead Street and is open every day, 365 days a year, from 9 AM to 5 PM. Cost is $14 per adult, children 6-12 are $6 and kids five and under are free.

The cats roam the gardens. Photo by Carrie Dow.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Refugio

Saving animal lives in Costa Rica

When Lilian Schnog’s attorney husband decided to move his family from the Caribbean island of Aruba to Costa Rica in 1986, it was culture shock. Having lived her whole life in the former Dutch Antilles and growing up on the island of Curacao, she only spoke Dutch, had always lived near a beach and had a young son to raise. Her husband, however, had purchased a parcel of land in the lush rolling hills of San Rafael de Heredia just north of the capital San Jose. It was both beautiful and lonely for Schnog.
Adoptable dog at The Refugio. Photo by AHPPA.

While adjusting wasn’t easy, she discovered that five minutes from her new home was a tiny dilapidated animal shelter. It was small, it was outdated, but it provided help.

“I started volunteering in 1991,” Schnog says. Volunteering at the shelter became a way of connecting with her new country. After five years, she asked her husband if they could pay off an existing debt that prevented the shelter from expanding. With his blessing and encouragement, she paid off the debt and took over the shelter.

Formally known as the Asociancion Humanitaria para la Proteccion Animal de Costa Rica (AHPPA), the shelter is called The Refugio by locals because of the respite it provides to the region’s homeless animals. Lilian Schnog is the shelter’s President and Director and the driving force that makes it one of Central American’s most progressive shelters.

The shelter goes where it is needed. Photo by AHPPA.
“Back then the shelter had some run down cages and an operation room in very poor condition,” she says. “Now over 20 years later we have a very professional operation room where we receive students from foreign countries who practice in our facilities.”

Located northeast about 45 minutes from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, visitors will find a quaint little mountain town nestled in the Heredia canton. San Rafael is just nine miles from the nearest major city, Heredia, and sits on the slopes of the Cordillera Volcánica Central. Home to coffee plantations and hiking trails this tranquil hillside town has fewer than 30,000 residents. It is also home to untold numbers of stray dogs and cats foraging for food and shelter.

Schog says 20 years ago residents allowed their pets “live” on the streets. Many newcomers like herself assumed the animals roaming around town were homeless. That wasn’t the case. Owners often turned their animals out in the morning and then let them back inside in the afternoon, not just dogs and cats, but even cows and horses. Now residents are aware that providing for their pets includes a safe place for them to stay at all times. Although numbers from a recent survey are not in yet, Schnog says that the stray population has dropped drastically over the last decade. She says her new challenge is to change attitudes about neutering.

“[The] most important issue is that people start neutering their pets in time, not after the first litter,” she says.

Dr. Luis performs surgery. Photo by AHPPA.
Creatively using resources is how the shelter has thrived over the years and one of the shelter’s biggest programs is the Spay and Neuter Clinic. The Refugio is able to provide low cost and no cost spay and neuter surgeries along with other veterinary services by having student veterinarians and techs volunteer at the shelter. The shelter even provides limited housing for visiting students. This program helps everyone involved. The students get needed experience with a practicing vet and locals receive needed medical care for their pets. The shelter now performs 40 to 50 cat and dog neuters per day.

To work for the shelter, medical volunteers must be fourth or fifth year vet students in order to assist the shelter’s resident vet, Dr. Luis, with surgeries. Third year students can be accepted as volunteers in the clinic, but will be unable to assist in surgeries. Students may also travel with Dr. Luis for mobile surgery clinics around the country to help provide these services to poorer rural areas. Again this program not only provides experience for the students, but helps rural communities around the country reduce the stray animal population. Students do need to provide proof of their level of study, which can vary by school and country. Visit the shelter’s website to learn more about these opportunities and how to apply.

Vet students assist with spay and neuter. Photo by AHPPA.
The organization also needs help from citizen volunteers, but these volunteers cannot work in the medical clinic. However, they are valuable in helping keep the shelter clean, caring for resident animals, performing shelter maintenance and working with the public.

Although much has changed, Schnog says Costa Rica is still a third world country in many ways. Financial help is difficult because animals are far from the top of the country’s social issues list and the AHPPA does not receive any government assistance. In fact, The Refugio helps the Costa Rican government to take care of its K-9 animals. To help with funding, the AHPPA has an annual “Mutts Party” and does receive monetary assistance from the Humane Society USA/International, the Wallace Foundation and the S.B.A. Holland. Private donations then make up the difference.

“There still is a huge need to better the situation, especially with educating the people,” she says. “Their idea of having a pet is so much better, but we are still far from getting people to understand that shelters are not the solution for their unwanted pet or puppies.”

Volunteers help the shelter. Photo by AHPPA.
Although the shelter takes any opportunity to adopt out an animal, Schnog wants travelers to be aware adopting can be difficult for foreigners. The paperwork is complicated and the process takes up to five days for animals going to the US, about the length of a typical vacation. For European visitors, the process can take several months. The best way visitors can help the shelter is through monetary donations or by volunteering. Visit the donation page to help.

For Schnog, a 2009 recipient of “Extraordinary Commitment and Achievement” award by Humane Society International, all of the progress the shelter has made is more important to her now than ever.

“My husband has always backed me in my volunteer work. He passed away in the year 2010 and the animals gave me the power to go on and keep me going,” she says. “I love what I am doing.”

The shelter is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Check their Facebook page to learn more about adoptable animals and events.

Adoptable cat at the shelter. Photo by AHPPA.