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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.



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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.

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