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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Joanne Lefson Opens Africa's First Farm Sanctuary

From a Dog’s Tale to a Pig’s Tail


Farm Sanctuary SA. Photo by Joanne Lefson.

They say when you adopt an animal that animal’s world changes forever. Sometimes, though, our own worlds change when we bring a creature into our lives. For Joanne Lefson of South Africa, her world changed into one giant adventure after adopting a furry little mutt she named Oscar.

Back in 2004, the recently divorced Lefson was visiting the Cape of Good Hope SPCA animal shelter in search of a companion and after seeing this unique looking animal in kennel B5 was told that he would be put down the next day if he didn’t find a home. Lefson couldn’t let that happen and took him home on the spot. Oscar then made a name for himself in Cape Town winning the SPCA’s Mutt of the Year Pageant the same year. Lefson soon released that this little dog had a lot to show people. He proved that ‘mutts’ could be just as cute as any purebred and that shelter dogs make wonderful pets. But how to spread that message?

Lefson and Oscar. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
Not one to think small, Lefson came up with the idea to travel around the world with Oscar to promote shelter pet adoption. To make this idea reality she sold her house for funds and spent months planning and getting permits. She took this implausible trip in 2009 and 2010 published a book about her adventure called Ahound the World. The book is filled with globetrotting exploits, some funny, some touching and some slightly scary, but mostly the book is filled with amazing photos of Oscar at the world’s best known landmarks, such as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Colosseum in Rome, The Great Wall of China, the edge of Macchu Pichu and at the foot of Christ the Redeemer. These photos helped propel Oscar into the international spotlight as a champion of rescue pets everywhere.

Sadly Oscar’s life was cut short by a car accident in 2013, however, his and Lefson’s mission to help animals continues. Lefson never stopped promoting animal welfare and in 2016 opened South Africa’s first farm animal rescue shelter, Farm Sanctuary SA, opening on World Farm Animal Day, October 2. Lefson emailed What’s Pawsitive from South Africa to talk about her new life chapter.

The stalls at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
The Farm Sanctuary SA is home to abused and unwanted farm animals and currently has three pigs, two young calves, two sheep and 46 chickens. Lefson expects that number to grow. The mission of the shelter is that we as humans are getting farther removed from agricultural animals and that these creatures have lives to be valued and should be treated with respect.

“Being in the animal welfare field for quite some time,” says Lefson, “I so often heard so many declare their love for animals – yet literally be eating one at the same time – oblivious to the systematic cruelty involved with each bite. How this unbelievable disconnect exists is beyond my understanding. The sanctuary is not to judge or dictate eating preferences. It is a sanctuary space where we invite people to enter in, openly interact with these rescued farm animals and awaken a connection with these animals they would only really know as supermarket packages. It is my hope that in this experience, compassion for their plight is awakened.”

Bedroom loft at Stay in the Hay. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
One such creature is Baloo, a male calf. He was found tied to a settlement along Route 62 malnourished and could barely stand. He suffered because male calves have no monetary value to dairy farming and was simply discarded. Another sanctuary resident is Pigcasso, a large yet friendly porcine. Turns out she’s handy with a paint brush and the organization sells her artwork to the public.
After two years of planning and construction, The Farm Sanctuary is open and visitors can wander around and are encouraged to interact with the animals. The sanctuary also offers a unique B&B experience, “A Stay in the Hay,” an overnight accommodation in the barn’s loft bedroom. The stay includes a fresh organic breakfast in the morning.  The cost is R1500 (Rand) per night June-October and R2500 October-May (that comes out to around $105 and $175 US).

Bathroom at Stay in the Hay. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
The sanctuary also has its own organic garden and the produce grown will end up in the sanctuary café, The Garden of Vegan. The café offers smoothies and “Vurgers” vegan burgers. She says the café also plans to sell deli items like vegan butter and organic produce. The café will also host special chef-driven dinners called Vegan Cuisine Experiences for groups of up to eight people. The café is open Saturday and Sunday 11 AM to 3 PM.

Lefson says the shelter is needed because her country’s farm animals are not as sustainably raised as they were in the past.

Urban Hen Project at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
“Globalization means the loss of traditions and cultures in many areas,” she says. “Africa is still a raw continent, but the powers of corporate greed are filtering in. Factory farming is prevalent here. Most of the practices you would find in the States are here, just on a smaller scale. We aim to inform consumers what is going on within these operations and in doing so, hope to inspire consumers to make kinder, better choices.”

One program the sanctuary offers is the Urban Hen Project where the public can adopt hens. This will allow the sanctuary to continue bringing in more “spent” hens for rescue. Spent hens are those that used for laying eggs, but are considered “past their prime.” Most are sold to slaughter after only two years, however, hens have a life span up to eight years or even longer. Adopting out hens to families makes more room for others.

The sanctuary has an animal trainer and a vegan chef  on staff along with a small group of volunteers. People can sign up to volunteer on the farm and they must be 12 years old or older. The sanctuary states its mission on the website. “We believe in a food system that preserves our environment, supports our local communities, values our health and respects farm animals as sentient individual beings.”
Meet the residents at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Joanne Lefson.

Lefson hopes to change people’s minds about farm animals through direct contact. “[I want to] provide the venue for the public to meet and interact with farm animals,” she says, “and inspire an awakened connection of compassion for their plight.”

The Farm Sanctuary SA is the only officially registered sanctuary on the African continent for farm animals. The sanctuary accepts donations on its website, but only in SA Rand and donations are not tax deductible tin the US. Guests can visit the sanctuary at Dirkie Uys Street, Franschooek 7690, about 75km west of Cape Town.

The Farm Sanctuary isn’t Lefson’s only project. The long awaited Oscar’s Arc is scheduled to open in November of 2016 and What’s Pawsitive will be learning more soon.

Oscar at the Sphinx in Egypt in 2004. Photo by Joanne Lefson.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Colorado's Cat Care Society Updates Its Cat Clinic

“To Be a Friend to All Cats”

Walking down a flight of grey steps at Colorado's Cat Care Society leads to a bright light at the bottom doorway. Once inside the Cat Clinic you are greeted by a giant orange tabby named Max.

Max does his thing at the Cat Clinic.
Photo by What's Pawsitive.
“He does tricks,” says Hilary Harman, the Front Desk/Room Assistant at the clinic. She holds a tiny cat treat in her fingers a few inches above Max’s head. Max then stands on his hind legs to reach the treat, which he eats with a few quick chews. “Well,” laughs Harman, “he does one trick.” Considering his size, the feat is quite impressive. 

The Cat Care Society is a special shelter in Lakewood, CO. As the name suggests, this animal shelter is cats only. That is because cats can face unique challenges when it comes to pet adoption and medical care. Especially in dog-centric Colorado, the Cat Care Society fulfills a needed void in animal rescue.

Founded over 20 years ago, the Cat Care Society is home to the city’s homeless, injured and abused cats. The shelter is also unique in that is it “cageless,” the cats roam free in and around the shelter. Some of the cats are divided into groups and housed together in different rooms that fit their personality, such as a room for shy cats and a room for kittens. Some cats have free reign of the shelter’s main hallway. When guests enter the lobby, they are often greeted by resident cats at the front desk.
Colorado's Cat Care Society. Photo by What's Pawsitive.

What people may not know is that as a part of the shelter’s services, the Cat Clinic in the downstairs portion of the building provides medical care for the shelter’s residents as well as services available to the public. While all pet owners should have a regular veterinarian to care for their pets, the Cat Clinic can provide some services at a significantly lower cost. With a minor remodel and some new equipment, the Cat Clinic can now serve more cats.

Heather Allen is the Executive Director of the Cat Care Society and spearheaded the update of the clinic shortly after being hired as Shelter Manager in 2015. When she was promoted in January 2016, the clinic changes were her main priority. The clinic also hired new head veterinarian Dr. Katie Weisanen in February.

Visitors can enjoy a new waiting room area that is comfortable for cats and their families. A colorful cat mural and an art gallery wall invite patients into the space to sit on the new furniture. Special kennel covers are available for “scared-y cats.” Cats who are unhappy about a vet visit can have these soft covers placed over their kennels to provide a bit of peace and quiet.

Cat Clinic mural. Photo by What's Pawsitive.
“We’ve put a lot of new protocols in place because we want to ensure it is a fear free vantage point and calming environment for the kitties,” says Allen, “and we have a really seasoned staff that are very good with cats and love interacting with them. So if you have a scared cat, you don’t have to worry. We will take very good care of them.”

As Allen gives a tour of the clinic, one of the biggest updates is the least noticeable. While the clinic still occupies roughly the same square footage, the smaller modern equipment, and a little storage reorganization, has increased the clinic’s work area and efficiency. Here Allen and Dr. Katie proudly show off their new toys.

First is an Idexx Labs blood work machine for in-house blood tests. In partnership with Idexx Labs of the US, however, for every test they do that is sent to the lab, the clinic gets $10 off of their total bill. They haven’t had to pay a bill the last few months. Another new tool is the Urine Culture Test. Since felines are susceptible to urinary tract diseases, this test kit looks for bacteria in the urine. While the culture test doesn’t provide all the answers, it is still vital.

“It doesn’t tell you what antibiotics to use,” says Dr. Katie. “It doesn’t tell you what bacteria it is, but it does give you a ‘yes or no,’ which is nice because some things you need to know right away. Sure, eventually you do need to know what [kind] the bacteria is, but sometimes you just need a yes or no.” For stray cats who come into the shelter with no medical information, this can be an important test.

Tonopen to test for glaucoma. Photo by What's Pawsitive.
“It will save us from treating cats that don’t have UTI,” Dr. Katie continues. “If it’s negative, you don’t do antibiotics. We used to do an antibiotic course because it looked like [a cat had] UTI. Even at our cost it’s still $75-85 to get a culture sent out. Getting an answer in house helps to save some of that cost.”

Another small, but mighty piece of equipment is the Digital Dental X-ray tool. This tiny piece of equipment puts cat dental x-rays on the computer instead of having to print large chemically-made photographs that also take a long time to develop. Photo x-rays also take up a lot of space. This digital x-ray is a tiny sensor that goes inside the cat’s mouth to take pictures of the cat’s teeth and then send the images as a digital file directly to a computer screen where Dr. Katie can look at it. While expensive, it is faster and cat-sized. The entire system fits inside a small black box.

Another interesting item is a Tonopen that quickly and easily measures intraocular eye pressure. This equipment, which looks and is held like a pen, is used to test eyes for glaucoma. The clinic also now has one Circulating Water Blanket System, used when the cats are under anesthesia. It is important to keep a cat’s body temperature up to normal while under anesthesia and traditional heating pads have been known to cause burns. A Circulating Water Blanket works better and safer. Allen hopes to get a second one soon. For Dr. Katie, this new equipment is important to have.
An exam room at the Cat Clinic. Photo by What's Pawsitive.

“The dental x-ray was an emergency [need] to me because I didn’t feel like I could do a dental medically correctly until I got that. Certainly we could have hand-developed the film, but then you have to keep the cats asleep for an extra hour, which is not good. In house blood work was also an emergency, Now we can actually treat critically ill animals.”

All of these items come with a large price tag. Even when purchased used from other clinics, the Digital X-ray Machine alone was $7,800 and the Circulating Water System, Urine Culture Test, and the Tonopen were together around $2,000. However, Allen found creative ways to obtain the funding. While she applies for traditional grants from several organizations, she found that online crowd funding is faster. Using her 20 years of non-profit and animal rescue experience, Allen knows what works and what doesn’t.

“Crowd funds are more successful if they’re under $20,000 and they’re even more successful if they’re under $10,000 because the idea of a crowd fund is that you get a large volume of people donating $5 or less, so the lower [the dollar amount] is, the easier it is to hit.” The crowd fund for the new equipment was $13,000 and Cat Clinic supporters came through.

Not all of the updates are expensive. Allen has secured a contract for the clinic to carry Royal Canin brand prescription pet food. They sell it to the public and in exchange the shelter gets it for free for the cats that have special diets. Allen is working on getting regular cat food to sell as well. Currently between 15 and 18 shelter cats require a prescription diet.

Max and Harman at the front desk. Photo by What's Pawsitive.
The clinic has also updated its online administrative computer systems to keep tract of its public patients, to make and keep appointments and to make information easier for clients to access. The clinic can now text appointment reminders and other information to people instead of relying on old fashioned snail mail. With all these cost saving measures the clinic has been able to hire an additional vet, Dr. Barbara Goodrich, two vet technicians and make Harman’s front desk position full time.

All of these updates serve a dual purpose. Not only will this equipment help the shelter’s cats, but by increasing services to the public, the clinic can provide a revenue source for the shelter. Allen is in the process of looking at other spaces in the downstairs area for expansion of the clinic to increase the clinic’s value. She says they have added almost 200 new clients since the updates began. Staff and volunteers have become clients as well.

With increased services come extended hours. Currently the clinic is only open Tuesday through Friday from 8-5 PM, which doesn’t really fit with most people’s work schedules. The clinic plans to increase its hours from 7 AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday and open a half day on Saturday so working families can bring their cats to the clinic. Allen hopes to have the clinic operating under the new hours by mid-September.

A vet tech and Dr. Katie (left) help a cat with ear mites.
Photo by What's Pawsitive.

While the clinic is undergoing all these updates, the care the clinic provides to cats both inside and outside the shelter is of the utmost importance. To help everyone’s cats, the shelter offers low-cost services and special pricing for families that need financial assistance. See the Cat Care Society’s website for more information and to fill out forms to see if your family qualifies.

Some of you might be thinking why is this so important? They’re just cats.

“I’m so glad to be working in a place that has all this,” says Dr. Goodrich.” Some people may think, ‘Oh gee, cats don’t really need all this.’ Yes we do! These things keep the cats safe while they’re under anesthesia to monitor them closely and to keep them warm. And to have good [dental] radiographs especially in cats, much more than dogs and much more than people, the dental pathology tends to be under the gums. I’m thrilled to be working at a place with this kind of technology.”

Allen has plans to do another round of updates to purchase a new digital x-ray machine to replace the old photograph x-ray machine and an ultrasound machine. Expected costs are upwards of $23,000 for the digital x-ray and a new ultrasound is $10-12,000. Dr. Katie believes she can find a used ultrasound for around $8,000. Allen has already applied for grants for the equipment, however, it will be weeks before she finds out if the shelter will receive the grants. She thinks these items are too expensive for a crowd fund. Although, depending on the grant money received, she might be able to do a crowd fund to make up the difference.

Says Allen, “These are all the big things that we’ve done to improve the quality of care for the animals that come through here, for both the public cats and the shelter cats. They get quicker care and more efficient care.”

A Cat Care Society resident 
Photo by What's Pawsitive.
Adds Dr. Katie, “I’ve only been here since February, but it feels good...We’re so much busier then when I first started. And I was at a VCA hospital before I came here so I wanted to be able to offer the same quality of medicine and I almost can. When we get the digital x-ray, that will be the thing to push us over the edge. It’s been a cool place to be over the last few months.”

The cats at the Cat Care Society think so too.




If you would like to donate to the Cat Clinic at the Cat Care Society or to any of the shelter’s programs, visit the website and click on How to Help.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Uncertain Times for Island Dog in Puerto Rico

It takes an island

Red Collar Dogs/Photo by Island Dog

Puerto Rico is a jewel of an island in the Caribbean Sea. Home to beautiful beaches, tropical rain forests and century-old Spanish colonial plazas, the island has a rich and colorful history. Lately however, it has been beset by problems. The island, a US territory since 1898, is $72 Billion in debt with unemployment at high of 12.2%. Citizens are flocking to the mainland US in search of better jobs. In the midst of all this strife, the island’s animals have been forgotten. That is where IslandDog steps in.

Imagine if the state of Connecticut were home to over 200,000 dogs, all roaming the streets. That was the situation on Puerto Rico 10 years ago. Even though each of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities is required by law to have an animal shelter, there are only five currently operating and they are so overwhelmed with animals that they are forced to euthanize almost 98% of the incoming animals. Another sad statistic is that there are an estimated 450 pet shops on this tiny island, all of them selling uncertified animals. Fortunately these creatures have hope through Island Dog.

Photo by Island Dog
Katie Block founded Island Dog in the city of Fajardo in the summer of 2006. A native of Baltimore, MD, Block came to Puerto Rico in 1999 to work at the El Conquistador Resort hoping to find a little slice of paradise, which she did. However, she noticed that Puerto Rico was not much of a paradise for the many dogs roaming the beaches. Soon she was rescuing dogs and begging hotel guests to take them home. In 2002 she realized her rent money was going to veterinary bills and had to return home to Baltimore. During this time she finished her Bachelor’s degree and did some traveling. However, she never forgot about the dogs and eventually made her way back to Fajardo.

As Director of Island Dog, Block oversees this growing organization along with a small group of dedicated volunteers. Their mission is a large one, some might say impossible:  To create an animal-friendly Puerto Rico. They work on this goal in a variety of ways. The most important is by offering free or low-cost spay/neuter clinics and other veterinary services because she estimates that less than 10% of the island’s population has ever taken their pets to see a veterinarian. They feed and medicate homeless dogs who live on the beaches and provide rescue for adoptable animals. One of their more ambitious projects is to provide education programs for children to encourage humane treatment and respect for animals. 

Block has her work cut out of for her. Attitudes towards companion animals in Puerto Rico are vastly different than on the mainland.

“In the States we treat our pets like family. We feed them daily, walk them on leashes, bath them, take them to the vets, etc.” Block says. “However, pets here are treated as secondary. Many suffer long illnesses and never see a vet. Others are just dumped on the street or beach when they get sick. Animals are easily thrown away as trash, when they aren’t cute anymore or you’re just not interested.” Block is quick to add that Puerto Rican people are welcoming.

“They are misinformed about the proper treatment of animals. It’s not an intentionally cruel island,” she says. Island Dogs currently feeds about 200 beach dogs every day in six different locations with the help of volunteers.

Photo by Island Dog
One of the worst areas for dogs is an area nicknamed Dead Dog Beach on the southeast coast near the city of Yabucao. Due to easy access and lack of law enforcement, the beach near Yabucao has become a dumping ground for unwanted and sick dogs and sometimes a training ground for dog fighting. This beach is so notorious it has been featured in major magazines. Island Dog is trying to clean up the reputation of this beach. Because of this work Island Dog began to get notice from the mainland. A former volunteer was featured in People Magazine. Television show host Ellen DeGeneres happened to see that article and donated $10,000 of her Halo dog food to the shelter. Recording artist Selena Gomez, also a fan, recorded a You Tube video promoting the shelter.
After 10 years, Block finally sees some results.

“We are still working daily on the East Coast to sterilize as many homeless and owned dogs as possible,” she says. “We have seen at least a 50% decrease of homeless dogs on this side of the island. Proof all the spay and neuter work is doing the job. We are rescuing less dogs because there are less dogs on the streets.” This allows the organization to move funds that would normally go for ongoing care back into spay and neuter.  “Which is really the key to ending the overpopulation problem,” she says.

“I would say over the past five years we have really focused on sterilization verses rescue because we have seen such a positive and dramatic difference. We have done over 6,500 surgeries on the East Coast in the past eight years.” However, other parts of the island are not doing as well.

“The sad part is that when we travel to the middle of the island or isolated area, it’s like all our work has been for nothing. There are homeless dogs and puppies everywhere. It’s very difficult to see the difference in towns where spay and neuter is available verses not having programs. Therefore we are trying to expand our sterilization program to more remote areas of the island.”

Puerto Rico’s current economic crisis makes things more precarious.

Island Dog Shelter/Photo by Island Dog
“Sadly, Puerto Rico is going through a difficult time. The island is financially broken. People are suffering. We fear even more animals will be dumped by their owners on the streets as people are fleeing the island in record numbers. Receiving government help is not possible. We understand whatever aide the island does receive has to go to keeping lights on in the hospital and schools open. I’ve lived on the island on and off for the past 20 years and I’ve never seen it in such bad shape. It’s scary living here not knowing what will happen. We worry everyday about the future of the animal culture as the island’s future is unknown.”

Island Dog has a large dedicated team of volunteers, both on island and on the mainland, people who work hard for the island’s animals, providing lifesaving medical care and transportation services for adopted animals. Although the organization has received much publicity over the years, it hasn’t always turned into funds. What Block needs most right now is cold hard cash.

“This is difficult because there are never enough funds,” she states. “We have to keep sterilizing everyday on the East Coast to maintain the work we have already done, plus spread the love to other towns. People are very giving when it comes to rescue, but spay and neuter does not pull on the heart strings like rescuing a pup from the streets. Which is very sad and frustrating, because we have proven that spay and neuter PREVENTS the dogs from being dumped onto the streets in the first place, thus decreasing the need to rescue.”

Island Dog Shelter/Photo by Island Dog
Block is frustrated by the lack of response in community vets in helping spay and neuter. Many fear it will lower their profits. Currently, law prohibits volunteer vets from the mainland coming in to provide free services. Block and the island’s animal welfare community have helped create a bill currently in the legislature that will allow volunteer vets to help. If passed, it will allow Island Dog to serve more communities with spay and neuter programs.

Block stated on her June blog that when the bill was introduced, the organization is doing this because they have to, not because they want to. Block argues that because these are homeless pets, pets that wouldn’t enter veterinary offices anyway, the ban is overreaching and veterinarians won’t lose money. The Humane Society of the US, which helped craft the bill, estimates that there now are 300,000 dogs and 1 million cats homeless on the island. The bill also includes making breeding and selling animals illegal, one of the strictest laws in the US and its territories.

“Let’s be clear. Island Dog works daily with a few veterinarians on the island that have lowered their costs and opened their clinics to us so that we may help decrease the overpopulation problem,” Block writes. “We have highest regards and respect for these vets…All of us in the animal welfare community are grateful for their presence and efforts, but sadly it’s not enough.” Read the full legislative response on Block’s blog here.

Photo by Island Dog
Island Dog has many programs for those who want to help. Along with raising needed funds, guests can sponsor a dog or cat as part of the Red Collar program. Dogs along the East coast are evaluated and taken in for medical help and sterilization. Once healed, these dogs are returned to the streets with a special red collar. These dogs are monitored by Island Dog and given fresh water and food daily. Island Dog says is costs about $100 to turn a homeless dog into a red Collar dog and costs around $400 a year to sustain them. Patrons can sponsor a Red Collar dog on the organization’s website and help directly save a life.

People can also volunteer to be foster pet parents, even if they don’t live on the island. Pets can be flown to a city served by the Puerto Rican Airport and take care of animals until they are ready to be adopted or can adopt them themselves. Foster parents are given first choice on the animals in their care. Other ways to help include assisting dogs traveling to the mainland and getting them to their new homes.

However, Block wants to make it clear, what she needs most is money. If you can help, here is the organization’s donation page.


Photo by Island Dog 


Monday, June 27, 2016

SAWA Seeks a Permanent Home for its Shelter



Photo by SAWA. 

From harassment to a new home

Over a decade ago, I saw a photo of the blue roofs of Santorini overlooking a sapphire blue sea on the cover of a travel magazine. The scene was so mesmerizing, I wanted to learn more. Inside the magazine was a photo of a dark brown donkey with a red tassel hanging from its head and a multi-colored blanket across its back. The magazine’s article said visitors to the island would ride the donkeys up an ancient flight of steps to the old city of Thira, where the blue roofs awaited. I wanted to make that journey.

I began researching this mysterious Greek island and found it full of history and animals. Online were many photos of cats; cats roaming the streets, lounging on walls and doorways and hiding under restaurant tables.  Wondering who takes care of all these cats, I came across Santorini Animal Welfare Association doing a Google search. From them I learned not about the island’s cats, but about the hardships of Santorini’s donkeys.

The donkey has a special place in the history of Santorini. Santorini is located in the southern Aegean Sea as part of the Cyclades island group.  The island is famous for being the very top of a large ancient volcano and the cities that grew here are perched precariously on the edge of the volcano’s cliffs. These cliff-side settings make Santorini one of the most picturesque places to visit and have been enticing travelers for decades.

Hundreds of tourists riding donkeys clog the steps from the port
to Thira. Photo by M. Light.
A century ago for those living on this vertical island before cars and navigable roads, donkeys were invaluable. Donkeys carried supplies and people. They helped till the fields that now hold grape vines and olive trees. They helped move building materials for homes and farms. Then in the 1950s when the island was “discovered” by Europe’s traveling elite, the donkeys would carry guests and their luggage from the ship port at the bottom of the caldera up to the capital city of Fira (Thira) through a series of 600 winding steps. Back then riding the donkeys was considered “romantic” and “exotic.”

Flash ahead a few decades and Santorini’s tourism numbers have increased (According to the Greek Tourism Board even during the economic crisis of 2015, the island experienced a record number of visitors.). With the help of a local wealthy benefactor in the 1960s, a cable car was built to ferry visitors to the top in only three minutes. In 1972, Santorini International Airport opened. By the 1980s newly paved roads help cars and trucks crisscross the island.

Now in a new millennium the “traditional” practice of riding the donkeys of Santorini up the port steps is still as popular as ever. Sadly though, some people are not convinced this is a good thing. While the scenery surrounding the caldera steps from the port is gorgeous, the hordes of tourists on donkeys crowding the steps make for a bit of ugliness. For the few who chose to walk the steps, they are messy and slippery from donkey urine and feces. It is also no secret to the locals that the donkeys are pushed to the brink of exhaustion continually carrying people up and down the port steps along with their luggage, with inadequate food or water and no shade from the sun. The animals often have saddle sores and cuts from ill-fitting harnesses. Many of these abuses are documented by travelers on Trip Advisor. And let’s be honest, the average weight of us humans getting heavier. The Donkey Sanctuary in the UK says the maximum weight a donkey can handle is 50kg (110 pounds) and a mule can handle 80kg (186 pounds). To compare, the average American man weighs 196 pounds and the average American woman weights 156.

Volunteers build the Donkey Arc. Photo by SAWA.
This is where the Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA) comes in. What began as a group of people who came together to help the stray cat and dog population, they quickly learned that it was the donkeys who needed the most help. When I first emailed SAWA President Christina Kaloudi, I asked her about riding the donkeys from the cruise port dock up the mountainside. She flatly said no.

“I can show you all 12 donkeys and mules currently abandoned in the refuge [at the shelter],” she told me at the time. “Most are ‘broken’ by this treadmill…It should be noted that the donkey owners receive a share of the cable car profits so they are not losing out on income if people chose not to ride the donkeys.”

She then told me about the Donkey Refuge Center, a program run by SAWA that takes in donkeys too old or too sick to work anymore. Most of these donkeys are dropped off at the shelter overnight under the cover of darkness because their owners don’t want to admit they have mistreated them. Christina says very few mornings go by without some creature, dog, cat or donkey, tied up to the front gate.

The Donkey Arc. Photo by SAWA.
The best way to describe the Donkey Refuge is as a retirement home for donkeys. When the donkeys can no longer work (and no longer valuable in the eyes of their owners), they come to SAWA to live out their “retirement” years in peace, free from work with plenty of food and water. Last summer, a group of volunteers from England and Germany came to SAWA to build a permanent barn for the donkeys to protect them from the elements. Called the Donkey Arc, the refuge currently has 16 donkeys in residence. SAWA does receive help with the donkeys’ care from The Donkey Sanctuary, an organization based in the UK.

Besides donkeys the Santorini Animal Welfare Association is a typical animal shelter in that they care for homeless pets and work hard to adopt them to loving, safe homes. Visitors to Santorini can easily spot the stray animals roaming the streets. When Kaloudi first moved to Santorini in the mid-2000s, she saw the problem firsthand. She says back then “packs” of dogs or cats would follow tourists around hoping to receive food scraps. Kaloudi joined SAWA shortly after and is now the organization’s President. The organization has been around since the mid-1990s and was formed by a group of expats and a local veterinarian originally to help control the stray dog and cat population with spays and neuters. Over the last 20 years, it has grown to into a physical shelter holding, caring for and rehoming dogs and cats.

Photo from SAWA's Facebook campaign during the court case.
Photo by SAWA.
Last fall the organization came under duress. The shelter was purposely built on a dry plot of land in the middle of the island with few trees for shade and no permanent structures. Since a large group of animals can be quite noisy, the organization wanted to be away from people. With the exception of the Donkey Refuge, most of the Shelter was built with metal sheets and tarps and makeshift wire fencing tied together. Kaloudi said the location was picked because no one wanted the land and it was away from residential areas. That didn’t stop a town mayor from trying to force the shelter to close. Anastasios-Nikolaos Zorzos, the Mayor of the nearby village of Katerados, took SAWA to court to force the shelter to close. He said the shelter was unhealthy and too loud and that the dogs would be better off on the streets. After a very strong showing in court last March by the shelter and its supporters, which included the Santorini Fire Department and the island of Santorini’s municipal government (which does provide a small amount of tax money support), SAWA won the court case, but sadly still has to move from its current location. The Mayor, even though he lost the court case, is now threatening to bulldoze the only road to the shelter to keep food and water trucks from entering. Water is delivered by truck daily on a dirt road that often gets washed out during heavy late summer rains so bulldozing the road would be quite easy to do. Zorzos has also threatened to poison the animals.

The shelter is now in the process of raising funds to buy land and build a new shelter. According to spokesperson Debbie Spillane, if the shelter owns its own land, no one can harass or remove them. The land Kaloudi has selected has to remain secret until she has the money to purchase, but is also in the middle of the island away from towns and people.

Kaloudi posted this to the organization’s Facebook page shortly after the court decision:

“Winning the court case does NOT mean we can stay where we are, but it does give us time to find and buy our own site – land that the local authorities can’t take away from us, land where we can host the 300+ dogs that need our help each year, land that can offer refuge to worn out, retired donkeys.”

The legal process of securing and purchasing land will take some time. Kaloudi expects the purchase to cost upwards of 110.000 EUR (that’s about $125,410 US). To help raise funds, Spillane set up a GoFundMe.org page for the shelter. The goal is to raise 50,000 EUR and is currently at 12,800 EUR. There is also a Paypal button on SAWA’s Facebook page for direct donations. Keep in mind that both Paypal and GoFundMe accounts for SAWA accept credit cards from all over the world, however, the pay amount is in euros. So, if you enter the number 100 in the euro donation box, a US-based cardholder will be charged $114 US, or whatever is the current exchange rate.

Volunteers from Animal Action provide veterinary and
farrier care for the donkeys.
Photo by SAWA
The shelter relies on the help of volunteers, many of whom arrive as tourists during the busy summer months. Tourists from all over the world visit the shelter helping to feed the animals, clean kennels and stalls and take the dogs on hikes and beach walks. Many animals are adopted to families from overseas and the organization does have a program to help visitors who want to take a Santorini cat or dog home. SAWA’s sister organization Tierschutzverein-Santorini based in Germany helps assist people wanting to adopt the island’s dogs and cats.


Santorini Animal Welfare Association has come a long way since I first found them in 2010. I continue to root for their success and spread word of their mission to help the island’s animals. And when I finally visit Santorini, I will not be riding the donkeys.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Horses and Harmony at the Denver Dumb Friends League's Equine Center


Photo by Carrie Dow
Home on the Range

Just four miles east from Castle Rock south of Denver, you encounter some of Colorado’s most scenic ranch country. The rocky bluffs of Franktown give way to open pastures that undulate like green waves of earth. Wooden fences and long gravel roads leading to homes line Highway 86 as you drive toward Franktown. This area is not quite the plains, but isn’t quite the foothills either. Here in this bucolic setting is where abused Colorado animals learn to be whole again. Welcome to Harmony Equine Center.

This 168-acre sanctuary resides under the watchful mantel of Gateway Mesa and is owned and run by the Denver Dumb Friends League. The DDFL was founded over a century ago to provide a voice for voiceless animals and is one of the largest animal shelters in Colorado. The organization has its main shelter and administrative headquarters in south Denver and a second adoption facility, the Buddy Center, in Castle Rock. In 2012 DDFL opened Harmony Equine Center.

Harmony is for equines only:   horses, ponies, donkeys and mules. Also the organization only takes in horses that come from impound situations. That means all animals were seized by law enforcement because of abuse and/or neglect. Owners cannot surrender horses to the sanctuary like a dog or cat.
Photo by Carrie Dow

Upon exiting a car from the parking lot, one can immediately hear the chirps of birds in the trees and the even louder frogs in the nearby irrigation ditch. In the distance a tractor hums. The green grounds are immaculate and a white fence surrounds the property. The main building has a few vehicles sprinkled in the driveway. On this sunny day, the horses hang out in their outside paddocks dining on hay.

Garret Leonard is the Director of the facility. As he enters the main building hallway, his tall slender frame is bookended by a dark cowboy hat on his head and muddy spurs on his boots, which jangles as he walks down the hallway. He jokes that he “came with the property.” The DDFL purchased the ranch that Leonard was already running. The ranch purchase was secured by a donation from media mogul John C. Malone and his wife Leslie. The Malone’s have also agreed to donate $300,000 per year for 10 years to help with expenses. However, the center relies on donations from the community and from volunteers as well.  When purchased, the ranch already had several building and barns in place. The DDFL did a few updates, like turning part of the arena building into a classroom, but the property already had most of what they needed. Today, the ranch has three barns, 26 pastures and turnouts, two indoor riding arenas and the education center.

Starting this year, Leonard says the facility will begin taking in transfers of horses, up to 125, from other rescues for training, mostly from surrounding states like Nebraska, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The goal is to have more adoptable horses. The horses will receive 90 days of training from Harmony and then returned.

The Center has four full-time trainers, two along with Leonard, live on the property. There are 11 full-time staff members and about 80 volunteers. The facility currently houses 77 horses, but has capacity for up to 100 horses. Joan Thielen, Communications Director for the DDFL says they try to keep between 70 and 90 animals at a time. That way they always have room for more when the inevitable phone call comes.

Photo by Carrie Dow
The need for this facility was apparent because law enforcement couldn’t handle the care or cost to seize horses, especially when the recession hit in the mid-2000s. Many people could no longer afford to take care of their horses and left them to pasture, often to starve. Sheriff’s Offices were inundated with cases, but the court process takes a long time. Impounding means horses can be stuck in legal limbo for months. If a Sheriff’s Office takes in impounded horses, the money to care for them comes out of their department budget and Leonard says the cost for 20 horses can be up to $50,000. Before the Equine Center, Leonard says Sheriff’s Offices often “looked the other way” when dealing with horse neglect cases because they simply couldn’t pay for the horses’ care while in custody.

That’s when the DDFL stepped in. The DDFL offers these very services to law departments at NO COST. The Center takes in, cares for, and also collects evidence for law enforcement. Volunteer veterinarians provide medical care. The staff also provides help writing warrants and will even testify to help the horses. Everything is funded by the generous donors of the Denver Dumb Friends League.

“Our donors are key to everything we that do,” says Leonard. “We don’t get any money from the Sheriff and very rarely do we ever get restitution from a court case…We underwrite this whole project so that horses don’t have to stand out there suffering and starving.” Impounded horses are then held until they go through the court process. After being released from the courts, the horses are evaluated for behavior and training can begin.

Leonard says the training the horses receive is considered “natural horsemanship” and the purpose is to create an all-around adoptable horse. Horses are not trained for specific skills, like ranching or trail riding. However, those who are looking for more specific horse skills, like jumping, Leonard will recommend other organizations. To be adoptable, horses must be halter broke, pick up their feet, stand for the farrier (a person who handle horses’ hooves) and be loaded into trailers. They also need to be ridden and most Harmony horses are ridden daily.

Photo by Carrie Dow
To adopt a horse, the Center will check out the potential adopter as much as the adopter checks out the horses. Upon arriving at the Center staff will ask what kind of horse you are looking for and what your skills are. Then they will show you a horse or horses that they think will fit your needs and skill level. When you find a horse you like, you then meet with that horse’s trainer and together will decide if you both are a fit. Once the interview process is done, an investigator from the Colorado Humane Society will conduct a site visit to ensure your property is suited for horses. A property must have good fencing, access to water, no debris and a safe environment. While it seems drawn out, Leonard says the process only takes 4-5 days. In 2015, 99 horses were adopted into new homes and the goal for the facility this year is to place 200 horses. Leonard believes with the addition of the training horses from other rescues, they should be able to reach this number.

Like other animal shelters, volunteers are an important part of the organization. The Center could not survive without them. Something to keep in mind at the Equine Center, however, is that volunteers do not train or ride the horses. Most have minimal contact with them. This is important for the safety of the volunteers and horses.

Volunteers are asked to make a three-month commitment of three hours a week when working with the Center. This commitment is actually less than the six-month commitment the Denver shelter asks for. The reason is because the job involves much physical labor:  cleaning stalls, moving hay bales, and storing equipment. Leonard says that a volunteer’s main responsibility is to clean the facility.
Photo by Carrie Dow
During this period, volunteers do not come into contact with horses at all. After this six-week commitment, volunteers can then take a horse handling class where they will be taught how to halter, lead and groom horses. If the volunteer does not pass the class, they cannot handle horses, but can still continue to volunteer at the facility.

Horses are organized by behavior into three groups and those groups are set up in a familiar way, Green Blue and Red. Green means easy, like the Why Not Ski Run at Steamboat. Blue is intermediate and Red means staff only. After a volunteer has passed the horse handling class they can handle horses designated green and in some cases blue. Staff only handle horses designated red. Leonard says this works well for Harmony and that a large number of volunteers actually come from Denver. He says most are city folk looking to get their “horse fix.” To volunteer, simply fill out the volunteer form on the DDFL’s website.

For Leonard, a horse that is suffering is not acceptable and he says everyone should evaluate themselves and their capability before purchasing a horse.

Photo by Carrie Dow
“Horses are a luxury item, not a necessity,” says Leonard. “Where a dog and a cat in a home feels like more of a necessity for a family. That pet holds that family together, well horses are a luxury item. They’re expensive. You have to have different care for them, you have to have different property for them and, at the end of the day, they’re the ones that are going to go last because of the expense that goes with them.”

“A lot of the stuff we see is just poor horse ownership.” He continues. “It’s not that the people are bad, it’s they don’t have the skills to know how to take care of them.” He goes on to say, “A lot of it is just education. So if we get a call of a cruelty case, investigators will meet with them and figure out what’s wrong here. Let’s not go in with a warrant and try to take your horse. We don’t want your horse. We want you to care for your horse. So let’s help you figure out how to do that.”


If you are someone interest in horse ownership or just enjoy horses, visit Harmony’s Open House on Saturday, June 4. Along with a full day of activities, visitors can take a horse ownership class, what Leonard calls Horse Ownership 101. This FREE event will take place from 10 AM to 3 PM. Visitors will receive a guided tour of the facility, plus games and activities for kids and refreshments from local food trucks. Visitors will also get to meet adoptable horses.



Harmony Equine Center is located at 5540 E. Highway 86 just west of Franktown, CO.

Photo by Carrie Dow



Monday, April 4, 2016

Soi Dog Foundation Builds Asia's Largest Animal Hospital

Amid much tragedy, hope

The new Soi Dog Animal Hospital
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley

When British expats John and Gill Dalley retired in the early part of this century to the stunning island of Phuket off the coast of Thailand, they expected their days to be filled lazily reading books on the patio followed by casual strolls on the beach. The most active they planned to be was the occasional golf game. Thailand’s largest island, Phuket sets on the western edge of the country in the Andaman Sea. The island is an extremely popular beach and resort destination. The Dalleys had honeymooned in Phuket years earlier and returned every year. They so loved the island, it only made sense to retire there too.

“The climate, the people, and of course the animals!” said John. However, retirement did not become the simple life the Dalleys had planned. Gill realized there are only so many books and John said his golf game was more frustrating than rewarding. They also wanted to contribute to their new community, not just sit around. Gill had hoped teach English, but there was already an abundance of teachers.

As much as they loved their new island home, they couldn’t help but notice the terrible plight of the island’s street dogs, called Soi Dogs (Soi means Street in Thai). The animals were sick, injured, sometimes on purpose by human hands, and suffering. Wanting to help, the Dalleys partnered with a woman named Margot Homburg Park, who had also moved to Phuket. Park had created the Soi Dog Foundation in Bangkok in 2002. Her organization paid for the sterilizations of stray dogs in Park’s former neighborhood. Together, they created a Soi Dog Foundation for Phuket. The organization’s original mission was to provide spay/neuter clinics and veterinary care. John organized volunteer veterinarians and Gill and Margot rounded up the dogs. Soon the Dalleys were rescuing and rehoming dogs as well. Quickly Soi Dog grew into a rescue mission with a shelter. Unfortunately, Margo took ill and had to return to Bangkok. Now on their own, the Dalleys worked 14 hour days seven days a week saving animals, harder than they ever worked during their professional careers.

“Sometimes I joke we could do with going back to work for a rest!” said John.

Construction work on the building.
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley
Despite the hard work, the couple made progress helping the stray animal population in Phuket. They had a shelter, a small vet clinic and the support of the local community. Things were busy, but going well. Then in September of 2004, the unthinkable happened. Gill was bringing a tranquilized stray dog into the clinic for treatment. To get to the dog, she walked through a flooded buffalo field or swamp. Shortly afterward, Gill became ill and her legs turned blue-grey. She had developed septicemia (blood poisoning), a potentially deadly infection. Doctors told the Dalleys the only way to save her life was to amputate both legs below the knee. Gill had her lower legs removed and began the rehabilitation process. However, that too was interrupted by a more horrific event.

That December the Indian Ocean Tsunami plowed across the island causing terrible destruction. While John and Gill’s home and shelter were spared, John said they lost one of their dearest friends, a dedicated volunteer, in the disaster. However, what looked hopeless helped Soi Dog come together. In the weeks following the tsunami, disaster relief organizations and volunteer veterinarians from around the world arrived. Since Soi Dog was already well established, they made things easier for visiting organizations. Soi Dog knew who to contact and where these organizations should go to be the most effective. They helped round up injured animals and provided vaccines to prevent the spread of disease. Soi Dog was so effective, the organization received awards from both Humane Society International and The World Society for the Protection of Animals. During this entire ordeal, Gill worked from a wheel chair. 

Gill had since relearned to walk on prosthetic legs and in 2008 was selected as Asian of the Year from Channel News Asia, the first non-Asian born person to receive the award. The Dalleys and Soi Dog Foundation have won other non-profit awards including the Asia Pacific Canine Hero in 2011. With all the accolades, you would think Soi Dog is resting on its laurels. Not the case. John and Gill work harder than ever. 
Continued work on the building. It will open in April 2016.
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley

This decade the organization has been raising funds for a new facility because the original building was on leased land. The Dalleys have since purchased the land and began construction. John says a new 8,200 sq. ft. veterinary hospital will be complete this April, after nearly 18 months of construction.

“It will be the largest and most modern dedicated animal hospital probably in Asia and entirely for stray dogs,” says John. “[It] should drastically improve the standard of care we can give these dogs and dogs belonging to poor Thais. It will include a digital x-ray and ultrasound and hydrotherapy unit.”

The Dalleys list the important reasons for having a new hospital. John says a larger hospital will help decrease the risk of cross infection due to lack of segregation, avoid having dogs kept in outdoor kennels with no temperature control, avoid healthy dogs getting sterilized from mixing in areas with sick dogs, provide the ability to put dogs in quarantine that need it and to provide the healthy conditions necessary to promote more rapid healing. Gill adds that soothing music will play inside to help de-stress the animals and there will be special grooming baths for animals with serious skin and coat conditions, something quite common in Southeast Asia.

Soi Dog now has a shelter in Buriram northeast of Bangkok and assists with spay and neuters in Bangkok using a mobile clinic.

Exterior of Soi Dog Hospital
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley
“Last year we passed 107,000 animals sterilized,” says John. They are also working with shelters in the US and Canada to find homes for the soi dogs they are able to rescue. The organization also has employed a manager in Vietnam and will begin to help dogs there as well. Soi Dog now employs over 100 people in Phuket and Bangkok.

While the organization is called Soi Dog, they haven’t ignored the island’s cats. The organization’s mobile medical clinic has dedicated cat days and there is a special donation page set up specifically for sponsoring cats. John says that recently sterilization of cats has outpaced that of dogs as the island’s stray dog population has started to decrease. John says as the dog population decreases, they expect the cat population to rise.

“Nature abhors a void!” he laughs.

Soi Dog is also working diligently to combat the Asian dog meat trade in Thailand and Vietnam. Dogs in Thailand are often rounded up (sometimes even bred) and sold for butchering. The suffering that happens to these dogs cannot be put into words. Soi Dog has partnered with three other organizations, Humane Society International, Animals Asia, and the Change for Animals Foundation to create the Asia Canine Protection Alliance to put an end to this practice. What’s Pawsitive hopes to get more information on this organization soon.

Despite the difficult times, the Dalleys’ work with Soi Dog has been fulfilling.

“It has been my dream for many years to build a modern facility with x-ray, ultra sound, hydrotherapy and all the modern technology that goes with such a hospital,” says Gill. “In a few short weeks that dream will be realized. Not only will it benefit all the street dogs who need our help,… but I hope it will serve as education to all in Asia who see it and set the standard for all such future facilities.”

While the hospital is almost finished, Soi Dog still needs funds to help furnish and equip the hospital and for ongoing treatment and operating costs. If you would like to donate to the hospital, or to any Soi Dog program, visit the website and select a program. Donations are tax deductible in the US, Australia, the UK, France and Holland. The organization can receive a variety of currencies through PayPal. Countries are Australia, Canada, Euros, Japan, Hong Kong, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and of course Thailand. People can also donate by credit card with amounts in US Dollars. Soi Dog has been listed as a Top Rated Non-Profit by GreatNonprofits.com for the last three years.

“These are excitedly exciting times for the street dogs of the region,” says Gill. “Just a shame they don’t know about it yet!”
The 8,200 sq. ft. hospital will be the largest animal hospital
in the region, quite possibly in Asia.
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Fight to Save the Bali Heritage Dog

An ancient breed on an enchanted isle

Bali is a small tropical island that is only one of the fourteen thousand islands that make up the archipelago country of Indonesia. However, its natural beauty and unique culture has had a large impact on people who travel there often turning globe trotters into permanent residents. One such person the island had an impact on is Janice Girardi.

BAWA Founder Janice Girardi
Photo from BAWA
After university Girardi traveled extensively in the 1970s and even traveled to Bali in 1973 before moving on to India and Africa. However, she returned to Bali in the 1980s never forgetting the beauty and friendliness of the island. Shortly after returning she rescued her first “Bali Dog” and has been doing so ever since.

“When I first arrived in Bali, the indigenous dogs were healthy,” says Girardi, “as they had access to fresh water and even a healthy food supply provided by families, or even temple offerings or food they found in night markets. When Bali started booming with tourists and population growth, Bali dogs were faced with new challenges, as roads, cars and buildings rapidly spread across the island.”

She started rescuing dogs on her own, feeding those who were hungry, taking dogs hit by cars to city veterinarians, and rehoming strays when she could. However, she says it wasn’t until the new century when development kicked into high gear and threatened the dogs’ very existence.

“The situation for the dogs – and many other animals – deteriorated over more recent years with the import of non-native breeds,” she says adding that importing was illegal until 2004. “It undermined the value of Bali’s indigenous dogs, prompting the establishment of backyard puppy mills and a huge increase in pet abandonment, not to mention the growing dog meat trade and even pit bull fighting. As Bali became an increasingly popular tourist destination, the roaming dogs were perceived to be a nuisance, prompting cruel and abusive treatment.”

In 2007, Girardi founded the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) to tackle these issues. It’s a unique organization in that it doesn’t have a physical building, but instead a group of dedicated volunteers and a roaming animal ambulance.

BAWA has a number of programs and welfare campaigns. BAWA runs the island’s only free animal ambulance service. BAWA also provides rehabilitation, adoption and education. Other programs include island-wide street feeding, free vaccines and spay and neuter services. To understand more about Bali’s unique animal history, we asked Girardi about the Bali Dog.

Photo by BAWA
The Bali Dog, or Bali Heritage Dog, is considered a unique breed. The dogs are indigenous to the island and genetically different from other dogs giving the breed scientific value. According to a study by Dr. Niels Pederson of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California Davis, Bali Dogs are one of the oldest dog breeds in the world with a rich gene pool. The dogs’ DNA includes a mix of Australian Dingo, the Chow Chow from China and the Akita, a Spitz breed from northern Japan. (find Dr. Pederson’s work here)

Because of the study, it is believed that the Bali dog is a direct link to the Dingo marking a link between wild and domesticated, which would make this breed very old indeed. Girardi points out that this genetic diversity creates a very hearty breed of dog. Along with scientific value, the people of Bali have a long and rich cultural history with the dogs. Bali dogs have served the island for centuries protecting homes and crops and having a dog is believed to bring good luck. For Girardi, her devotion to the Bali dog is personal.

“Bali dogs are smart, loyal and great fun! I believe in Bali’s dogs and in the communities that share their homes with them.” 

Dog rescued by BAWA Ambulance
Photo by BAWA
She continues, "Historically, the Bali Dog lived in harmony with local communities, guarding the Island of the Gods from evil spirits, accompanying children to school and families to market. However, over recent years, the numbers of true Bali Dogs has plummeted after the introduction of rabies in 2008 when it was believe that a single rabid dog was imported. Bali’s dogs had never before been exposed. Rabies spread rapidly.”

At that time, the government began mass killings by strychnine poison. Girardi says that BAWA initiated a pilot program of catching, vaccinating, and releasing dogs in hopes of protecting the dogs and people and build herd immunity. She says BAWA vaccinated 48,000 dogs in just one region of Bali and reduced the number of rabid dogs in that area by 86%. That program was then turned over to the Provincial Government in mid-2011. For some reason, mass killing resumed in 2013 and have continued to the present. BAWA estimates the number of pure-bred Bali Dogs has gone from 600,000 to around 130,000.

“Fear of rabies has changed the dynamics of the local communities’ historical relationship with the indigenous dogs," she says. "On an island that had never before been faced with the deadly disease, panic and fear followed as the number of human and dog fatalities took their toll. The image of Bali’s dogs as loyal protectors was replaced with one of ferocity and danger.”

“BAWA is working seven days a week to promote and facilitate mass vaccination to help save animal and human lives. We also run a ‘hot line’ telephone service for people exposed to a rabid dog or who have seen a suspicious dog on the streets so we can provide life-saving advice and services.”

Bali Animal Welfare Association is different because instead of a traditional animal shelter, the organization uses a network of foster home care providers. The organization rescues animals that need help, rehabilitates them and rehomes the dogs. The organization also takes in cats, kittens and even bats, birds and other animals, but the vast majority of animals the organizations helps are Bali Dogs. The organization has some 150 dogs in foster at over 12 locations. BAWA also provides vaccinations, sterilization and socialization training so animals can be adopted into permanent homes.

BAWA provides education in schools.
Photo by BAWA
“Foster carers in Bali are an essential component of our work, which we find better than animals shelters, which very quickly become overcrowded and havens for disease,” she says.

BAWA's free 24/7 hotline and ambulance services is the most used program. Girardi says the service receives about 40 calls a day and treats over 1000 animals. The ambulance helps all animals, including snakes and monkeys. The service is provided from one van and a three-wheeled motorbike with trained staff. Animals can be treated roadside or taken to veterinary clinics if needed. BAWA not only pays for the ambulance, the organization also pays for additional veterinary services if necessary. That makes it one of the organization's most expensive programs. However, the BAWA ambulance and other services are funded entirely by donations.

“Monthly pledges help so much to cover our operational expenses for the ambulance, clinic bills and other ongoing expenses,” she says. Along with funds, volunteer fosters are another urgent need. BAWA also provides school and community education and promotes responsible tourism from the people that visit Bali every year. Girardi says of all these programs, the most pressing need is for more rabies vaccinations.

“Without action, we could lose the Bali Heritage Dog within a matter of years,” she says, “and that would be a devastating loss to Bali and the world.”

For those on Bali, if you find an animal that needs assistance, please call +62 811-389-004 (081 138 9004, available 24/7) or +62 812-384-0133 (081 2384 0133). Those interested in becoming a monthly donor can visit the website. Donations are tax deductible in the US and Australia.

Photo by BAWA