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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Learn to Live as Bear Should Live

Boo greets visitors at his refuge on
Kicking Horse Resort.
Photo by Carrie Dow.

The sad happy story of Canada’s Boo Bear

This warm Canadian morning I am introduced to Boo the Grizzly Bear, a resident of the Grizzly Bear Refuge on a mountainside in the town of Golden, British Columbia. He is big and burly and several shades of brown with huge, sharp claws growing several inches long off the edge of his giant paws and big incisors inside his mouth. As he eats his morning snack of corn, carrots, and yams filled with nutrition supplements I can see the big pearls of death between chews. Despite the menacing facade, I can also see Boo’s more friendly side, his big goofy dopey side as he half rolls/half lumbers from one snack to the next along the lower fence of his space. Some birds get a little too close to his head and he swats them away like flies. To see how big and healthy Boo is now compared to his beginnings is to learn the sad fate of many bears in North America.

“Boo was born in 2002,” says his current handler, Refuge Assistant Manager Cat Cowan. “He came from a few hours north around Wells in the Cariboo Range. We didn’t find a bear here and put a fence around him nor did we take a bear in the wild and put him here. It was an unfortunate situation.”

Boo the grizzly bear near the fence of his enclosure.
Look at those claws.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
“Boo’s mom,” she continues, “was a healthy, thriving, high-reproducing bear in that region. Now all cubs are born in the den during hibernation. While he’s over 800 pounds now, at one time he was the size of my hand. They won’t leave the den until the end of May. When they do leave, they all leave together. Mom is very protective.”

“Boo’s mom leaves the den with her three beautiful cubs seeing the world for the first time in May. Then June 4, 2002, is the day that would change his life.”

Boo’s mom was foraging by a road side for dandelions. According to Cowan bears are often found near roads because dandelions - a favorite food - are easily accessible.

“You’ll see moms and cubs by the side of the road so mom can forage and the cubs are found in or near the trees. Mom is able to rush them up the nearest tree if needed,” she says.

“Often we call that a ‘bear dam,’ when a bear is by the side of the road and people stop. They stop and get out of their cars and run up to bears and take a selfie or get a bunch of Instagram likes. That scenario can be dangerous, not only for the person, but for the bear. The first time that happens, the bear runs into the woods and is fearful of that person. But the tenth time, the hundredth time, the thousandth time that happens, that bear is not gonna care. Highway fatalities are the number one killer of grizzly bears as well as our train tracks.”

“On that day, Boo’s mom was close to the road and people were actually being good for the most part. They were stopping a safe distance away, taking a quick photo from their vehicle, and moving along. There were a few people monitoring the situation from a safe distance making sure no was running after the cubs.

“But of course, somebody had to,” she says with a sigh.

“This guy pulls over in his truck, gets out, and runs up to momma bear. The people watching start yelling at him saying, ‘hey, get away, what are you doing, leave them alone’. The guy turns and people realize he is not holding a camera, but a shot gun. He unloaded a 12-gage on Boo’s mom by the side of the highway and killed her.”
Cat Cowan tells visitors about Boo.
Photo by Carrie Dow.

After several gasps from the visiting crowd, Cowan continued.

“What did the cubs do?” she asks for us. “One ran into the woods and was never found. The odds for that cub were not good. With mom, cubs have a 50-50 chance of survival. Without mom they have a 5% chance. The other two cubs, Cari and Boo climbed a tree and waited there for several days. Mom’s body had to be brought to the base of the tree before they came down. They were waiting for their mom’s vocalization it was safe. It never came.”

All the visitors raised their hands for questions, but they all had the same one. Why?

“No rhyme or reason why he did it. Locals said he is ‘that kind of guy’ who wants to take down a bear. He didn’t just take one bear out of the eco system that day, he took out all four.” According to Canadian newspaper reports, the man was fined $9000 for his actions. Cowan says then some clearer thinking humans entered the scene.

“Obviously this got a lot of media attention and that ended up saving Boo’s life,” says Cowan. “People asked, ‘what do we do with orphaned cubs? What are the issues in conservation? We’ve done so much with wolves, why not bears’?”
In both the US and Canada, there are rehabilitation centers for Black Bears, (see WP's Keeping the Wild West Wild) however, centers focused on grizzlies are not common.

“Black bears have a wide spread habitat and high reproduction rates and we’re helping them whereas grizzlies we’re not helping,” says Cowan. “Not to mention habitat loss. California use to have a huge population of grizzly bears. The flag has a grizzly on it! There are no more. They used to be found as far south as northern Mexico and as far east as Ontario. Prairies used to be the grizzly bear’s main habitat, but colonization 150 years ago exiled them. Now you only find them in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canadian Rockies.

Cowan and Boo. Photo by Carrie Dow.
“So it was either euthanize the cubs or find somewhere in captivity,” says Cowan.

First they went to Gross Mountain Endangered Species Refuge because that organization offered to take them. However, they already had two older bear cubs and existed on only five acres of land. That is not enough territory for four male grizzly cubs.

“Well, Kicking Horse and Gross Mountain were owned by the same company at that time so Kicking Horse said, ‘we have the habitat and why don’t we try something’?”

Kicking Horse then offered up 20-acres of natural grizzly bear habitat with a variety of eco-systems for Boo to enjoy. However, Cowan cautions that this place is not a show or display.

“It’s not just putting cubs up with a place to live for the rest of their lives,” she states. “It’s also for education and research matters. We wanted to learn if these cubs can teach themselves within a protected area how to survive. Can we see what their instinctual behaviors are compared to what their mother would be teaching them? Most importantly, to learn to live as a bear should live.”

To that end, the refuge has a double fenced in area of 20 acres of alpine and sub-alpine habitat. There is also a pond, a waterfall, forest, and a den in a separate enclosure next to the acreage. Cowan says there are other animals that live in the enclosure and those creatures are a source of entertainment for Boo and sometimes food.

Boo enjoying his pond.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
“The biggest thing he would hunt is a marmot getting through the fence,” she says. “There are ground squirrels, but they are too fast for Boo to catch. There are frogs, birds, insects. He has a pond, but there are only tadpoles in it, no fish. He does eat the tadpoles. He swirls the water to get them to the surface and then cups his paws and slurps them into his mouth.” Rangers from surrounding parks also bring in road kill animals such as elk and deer, to help them clear the highways and to provide Boo with some variety.

Then there was the time Boo actually caught a moose, she announces laughing.

“That was an interesting work morning,” says Cowan still giggling. “We don’t want that to happen, but it does.”

The fence around Boo has sensors on it that alert staff when damaged or knocked over. The alarms went off at night and the manager came to check on things, but didn’t see anything suspicious. Thinking a bird slammed into the fence he decided to wait until daylight to investigate further.

Boo's enclosure is underneath the mountain
resort's gondola and can be viewed from the air.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
“I was in training at the time,” says Cowan. “I come up with [the manager] in the morning. He said he needed to check the fence and for me to go ahead and check Boo and give him his supplements. I come to the viewing platform and some of the fence is torn up and the big wooden post was snapped. I’m thinking, ‘where’s the bear?’ I’m calling him, trying to find him. Right by that interior fence by the isolation enclosure (north fence), his big head pops up and he has a big smile on his face. I give him some grapes, his favorite food. I’m looking him over and he looks fine. I go back with Ross (the manager) and tell him Boo is fine. As we’re talking we then see ravens flying overhead. We lock up the isolation enclosure so we can go in and Boo walks over and he’s looking in this one direction. He had a cheeky grin on his face. Sure enough, four feet to his left there was big leg sticking out of the ground. It was a 500-pound two-year-old bull moose. That was a shock!”

“He looked at us like, ‘Look what I did’!” she laughs. “I thought, wow, you still have those instincts.”
Bear arrived at Kicking Horse with his sibling, Cari, however, Cari developed an intestinal twist during hibernation and died as a result. Cowan says he never woke up. That left Boo alone.

“It took a toll on him,” she adds. “He ended up going to all of Cari’s favorite spots throughout the habitat. Bears are fairly solitary animals, so he continued on with life. Boo continues teaching us and we continue to learn from him. He teaches me something new every day.”

What has the facility learned about grizzlies during Boo’s tenure? Quite a bit.

“Bears are incredibly smart creatures. They have a sense of humor. Grizzly bears can take a joke and they laugh all the time. Smell is like vision to him. It’s how he sees the world. Right now you are looking at the bear refuge and when those memories come up, you’ll picture him playing with his landscape ball; you’re making that map in your mind. For him he makes that mental map with his nose. Olfactory maps.

“What bears need in terms of enrichment, they are on the same level as chimpanzees. The amount of activity, thinking, problem solving skills are amazing. As his caretaker, I give him lots of things to play with in his isolation enclosure while I hike through his habitat. When I come out, he’s smelling where I was. The gondola is a great tool. I’ll drop food from the gondola spreading it throughout the habitat so he just doesn’t follow where I’ve been stepping. When he comes back in, he’ll smell where things are and add to his map. When I hide food for Boo inside the enclosure, I have to walk and remember every step I took so I can return the same way to confuse his nose as much as I can. Bear games is a big part of the job of keeping that big beautiful brain of his stimulated.

“That mental stimulation will induce natural foraging so he’s discovering something and not just being given food. Helps with issues such as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) that bears in captivity can develop. Keeps him mentally healthy.”

Cowan takes questions about Boo and grizzly bears in general.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
Despite Boo’s occasion moose capture, a regular grizzly bear’s diet in 80% vegetarian, but they do catch fish and small mammals on occasion. Since bears need to put on a lot of weight in the fall, they eat what is easiest to get and that is plants. When Boo comes out of hibernation in May, he weighs about 500-600 pounds. He is heaviest before hibernation topping over 800 pounds. Boo’s enclosure includes bogs, meadows, alpine forest, a waterfall and a cliff face. There is a wooden pen on the north side that is his winter den and a separate area for him to enter when humans need to be in his enclosure. While in hibernation his respiratory rate, temperature and humidity are also monitored. Contrary to popular belief that bears sleep during hibernation, Boo often wakes ups a few times a day during hibernation to stretch, but does not leave the den. Cowan says he does ‘yoga’ when he wakes from his sleep and rolling around on the ground in Happy Baby is his favorite pose. His blood flow to his extremities drops to about 70% during hibernation so he has to shake and stretch his arms and legs several times a day. Inland Grizzly Bears like Boo are a bit smaller than their cousins on coastal British Columbia because those bears have more access to salmon and other proteins.

“Since Boo has displayed all these beautiful, natural behaviors, you might be saying, ‘why isn’t he in the wild?’ Bears have incredible memory, second to that of elephants. Boo remembers the first people who handled him, he remembers me and he remembers big groups of people and has been conditioned to people. He’s socialized. So, he is very comfortable with people and that is not OK for a bear in the wild. However, it allows us to see into Boo’s world, he blesses us, to see 80% to 90% of his day. If we studied bears in the wild, we’d only see 10% of their day, if you’re lucky.

During the summer months there are extra staff and interpretive guides that help out from May through September. The last day of September is the last day of operations to the public and staff help Boo get ready for hibernation. Cowan says he typically goes to sleep in November. Cowan says that she and current Refuge Manager Nicole Gangnon care for Boo all year around. Cowan, an affable blonde from Ontario, has worked in natural parks and in human/wildlife conflict and has always worked with bears. She has been Boo’s caretaker for three years now.

“My life revolves around Boo.”

Paid public tours of Boo are given every hour from 10 AM until 2 PM Monday through Thursday and 10 AM to 4 PM on Friday and Saturday. Cowan says the best time to catch a glimpse of Boo is during morning hours when he is more active. No tours are offered at 1 PM because that is Boo’s afternoon nap time. The tours are not scripted and guides will follow Boo around his enclosure so each day is unique. For those with difficulty walking, there is a viewing stand of bleachers and because it is close to where Boo’s receives mid-day snacks, he often hangs out nearby. If you do not see Boo on your initial visit, you can come back the next day for free. Rates are available on the Grizzly Bear Refuge page of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort website.




Sunday, July 1, 2018

Keeping Pets Safe over the Summer Holidays


The most dangerous day of the year for pets is July 4th


Photo from AVMA
Summer is a time to get outside and visit friends and neighbors with backyard gatherings and playing at the park. These activities almost always include pets, especially dogs. However there are dangers out there that, while harmless to humans, can severally affect furry family members. Most of these summer outdoor activities come together on 4th of July Independence Day celebrations. While many people enjoy the excitement of this summer holiday, there is one family member that absolutely hates it:  Your pet. The booms and bangs and strange people that come and go around this day are, while fun for us, terrifying for our pets. According the Humane Society of the United States, shelters around the country report an increase in the number of cases of lost pets during this time, making it a dangerous day for pets.

To help your pets get through the July 4th holiday, while still enjoying it ourselves, here are helpful tips from HSUS that will keep our beloved four-legged friends safe on what is a very scary day for them. More summer safety tips follow below so keep reading.

Photo from HSUS
ID your pet – This is the easiest thing people can do to ensure the safe return of lost dogs and cats (Yes, Please ID your cats!), but often we forget, or we don’t keep our animal’s information current. If your dog or cat escapes on the Fourth of July, being able to identify that animal is the only way to be reunited. All pets should have ID tags on their collars, even if they have microchips and even if they are indoor-only pets. This is because some sounds are so frightening, a dog or cat will do anything to get away, including busting out a window. If you have or are at a party and guests are constantly opening exterior doors, pets can escape. While microchips are useful in reuniting lost pets with their families, the person who finds your pet may not have access to a digital chip reader. Having an ID tag with a name and phone number will make it easier for civilians to find you instead of taking the pet to a veterinarian or animal shelter for identification, especially since most businesses are closed for the holiday. If your animal already has a tag and microchip, make sure the tag is readable and the information on the microchip current.

Leave pets at home – Sometimes social events can be stressful for dogs. Then add the loud pops and bright lights of fireworks and you have a potential disaster. It is best to leave dogs at home when going to BBQ’s, firework displays, and other 4th of July gatherings. Put pets in a quiet room in the house and turn on a fan or a radio or TV to mask the scary noises. If you absolutely must take your dog, keep them on a leash and under your control at all times.

Some other tips to help keep our pets safe during this summer season are from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Besides 4th of July fireworks, there are many other summer dangers for pets. Beware of these potential hazards.

Alcoholic Drinks – Never let your pets drink alcoholic beverages. They are toxic to animals.

Do not use human sunscreen or insect repellent on your pets – Human products are designed for humans. Only use sunscreen and insect repellent specifically labeled for pets. DEET insect repellents can lead to neurological problems in animals.

Keep matches and lighter fluid out of pets’ reach – This should go without saying because these things are poisonous.

Keep pets on their regular diet – If your dog doesn’t get table scraps the rest of the year, don't make July 4th an exception, especially if the dog has a sensitive stomach. Be sure to let your guests know this policy as well. (My husband likes to tell guests, if you give our dog table scraps, be prepared to clean up the consequences.) Also, summer picnic foods such as onions, chocolate, coffee, avocado, grapes, raisins, salt and yeast dough are potentially toxic to companion animals.

Do not put glow jewelry on pets or let them play with it – Luminescent items contain substances inside them that can irritate our pets, if it comes into contact with skin or ingested.

Keep pets away from citronella candles, insect coils, and tiki torches – These products contain substances that can cause stomach irritation and central nervous system depression, if ingested. Tiki torch oils can cause aspiration pneumonia in pets, if inhaled.

For the final summertime safety tip, the American Veterinary Medical Association would like to remind people that extreme summer temperatures can affect our pets as well as us. The signs and symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in pets are rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizures and unconsciousness. Animals most at risk are the very old, very young, overweight, those not in good physical condition, and those with heart or respiratory disease. Some breeds of dogs, like Boxers, Pugs, Shih Tzus and dogs and cats with short muzzles, will have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat. Keep pets cool by keeping them inside in the air-conditioning or in a shaded area. Treat over heated animals by applying ice packs and cold towels to the head, neck, and chest or run cool (not cold) water over them. Let them drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. If you suspect heat stroke, take them to a veterinarian.

Enjoy summer and be safe out there!


Photo from ASPCA

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Morning with Monkeys

 Sacred Sanctuary

Mandala Suci Wenara Wana

Remember, you are in their territory. You are the visitor. You are the foreigner. Remember that and you will emerge unscathed.

Curious Macaque. Photo by Carrie Dow.
Understanding your place is how to approach a visit to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Mandala Suci Wenara Wana), 27 acres of jungle-y forest in the northern suburb of the Balinese city of Ubud. With over 10,000 visitors each month, the sanctuary is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island of Bali, Indonesia. However, this place may not be for everyone because this is not a zoo. These monkeys are wild animals, not pets, not toys.

***

Do not panic. That is rule No. 1. Rule No. 2, Do not run. Not to be outdone by Rule No. 3, Do not look the monkeys in the eye. Still not sure of what we are getting into, we pay the 50,000 IDR entry fee (about $5 US) each to enter the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, before confronted by this giant sign of rules. Following the rules will keep us safe because the forest belongs to the monkeys. This is where they live, where they eat, and where they raised their families. They determine your acceptance.

The Rules. Photo by Carrie Dow.
The monkeys are Balinese Long-tail Macaques. Macaques are a subspecies of primate referred to by scientists as “Old World” monkeys and, although related to all of us primates, they are not as closely related to humans as apes. Macaques however, are as prolific as humans in their coverage of the earth, found throughout Asia, from Japan to India, and in northern Africa and southern Europe. Balinese macaques have long skinny tails and soft hair with a strip of light brown on their backs, grey on the sides, and almost white on their bellies and faces. The have exposed ears and tuffs of hair that make all of them look like they have beards and mutton chops. Their faces are pink to tan. Park brochures say there are over 600 monkeys living in the forest in five different social groups. Sometimes, these groups become territorial and fights break out, especially in the dry season when groups have to cross through territories to reach the stream that runs through the forest.

To reach the forest, we ride an Uber through the congested streets of Ubud. From Nusa Dua, it takes an hour and 20 minutes in the back of a Daihatsu, but costs less than $20. Our driver turns from a narrow street into an expansive parking lot dropping us off at the round open structure that is the new visitor’s center. After paying the fee and receiving a map, you walk through a rock tunnel to enter the forest. Before entering the tunnel, is the giant rule sign.

While the monkeys are fed a diet of sweet potatoes and fruits daily, a popular tourist activity is hand feeding the monkeys bananas. Guests can buy them from carts around the grounds. If you choose to do this, you must let the monkeys take the food and don’t pull your arm away. Monkeys will grab and jump on you to get the bananas and get annoyed if they can’t reach it. Some staff are available to help you get the perfect monkey-on-the-shoulder Instagram shot, but not many. Staff also ask that you don’t feed the monkeys peanuts, cookies, biscuits, and bread as these things are bad for them.

Curious Macaque.
Photo by Carrie Dow.
Not wanting to risk even an accidental monkey bite or scratch, we didn’t bring or buy any food. However, I carry a large beach bag with our belongings.  It didn’t contain food, but monkeys felt the need to inspect it just to make sure. Curious about the bag, monkeys would jump on it (instead of me) and try to get inside. They pulled the zipper, but couldn’t quite get it, and would give up and drop off. My husband, however, found himself covered in monkeys more than once, on his head, shoulders and arms. Once the monkeys figured out we didn’t have any food, they would leave us alone, but each social group had to figure that out. As we passed through a new territory, new monkeys would check us out.

Plastic bags are not allowed inside either. They are a hazard to the monkeys and get caught in the trees. Since plastic trash is a pollution problem Bali, this is important to observe.

While monkeys are the main focus, the forest is amazing on its own. The village of Padangtegal owns and maintains the land and it is their spiritual center. This sacred ground has three temples, each serving a different purpose. The structures have been dated to 1350 AD; about the same time the Black Plague ravaged Europe and the height of the Ottoman Empire. Not much has changed although the city of Ubud has grown up around it.

The cemetery at Pura Prajapati. Photo by Carrie Dow.
The large main temple, Pura Dalem Agung, honors the god Shiva, “The Recycler” or “Transformer.” Visitors are not allowed inside, but the low walls and gates allow us to peek. Old aptly describes the temple because the statues and walls are covered in bright green moss and trees grow in its midst. Statues of monkeys surrounded the perimeter.

A smaller temple is Pura Beji , a place of purification dedicated to the goddess Gangga.  The third temple is Pura Prajapati and adjacent to a cemetery. Cremation is how the Hindu depart this realm, but here it happens in mass ceremonies every five years. Until then, those who’ve passed on are buried in the forest until the next cremation ceremony. Creepy? Sure, but that’s how they do things here. While humans keep to the paved paths at the cemetery, the monkeys roam freely throughout the graves, each one marked by a small tomb stone.

The heart of the monkey forest. Photo by Carrie Dow.
The sanctuary is also a stunning nature center. Ancient trees that block the sun provide a home to the monkeys and make this a true jungle. Udayana University in Denpasar has identified 115 different tree species and the palms and bark of some trees are used in special temple ceremonies.

Because it is a jungle forest, it gets hot. A good idea is to bring or purchase bottled water while exploring and covering the entire forest takes a few hours. During our three-hour visit, we climbed stairs, crossed old wooden bridges and heard a variety of languages spoken. Some areas are teeming with monkeys lounging around steps and walls or playing on the paths. Other areas appear empty until a branch moves in our peripheral vision. The monkeys are just as intrigued by us and we are of them. While in the midst of it, we forget that this forest of monkeys resides within a metropolitan area. It truly is a sanctuary, for us and the monkeys.

***

Photo by Carrie Dow.
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is open daily from 8:30 AM-6 PM and new entrees stop at 5:30 PM. Adult fee is 50,000 IDR and Children 40,000 IDR (about $5 and $4 US).There is a first aid clinic for people and an animal clinic looks after the monkeys. There is also a concession area, picnic tables, restrooms and craft vendors. The street adjacent the sanctuary is full of artisan shops, jewelry stores, massage salons, restaurants, and even a few boutique hotels. Proud of the sanctuary, statues of monkeys line the street and are inside every business.
Photo by Carrie Dow.


Bali, Indonesia

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.