Light at the end of the tunnel? (08/29/2020)
Almost three years now we are fighting for our project in Boca Chica – spay & neuter, medical care and feeding program for the beach dogs – being confronted continuously with huge problems that we struggle to overcome, starting with the tremendous time it took to obtain the necessary permits, the difficulties of finding a suitable place for our feeding station and the lack of helpers to run the station. Now for this last problem there might be a solution in sight, a light at the end of the tunnel…
A friend of Helena Motta, the lady who takes care of Boca Chica’s cats, might volunteer to run the feeding program She is Italian, like Helena, and obviously an ardent dog lover. Whenever Emily Espinosa manages to send food she goes out to feed the dogs that are already anticipating something good coming their way….
Watching this and the following videos, one realizes quickly that the goal of this project is not to save some dogs from starvation. The problem is a different one. Strays living in larger groups near restaurants, bars, hotels, beaches and other touristic hot spots, searching for food, begging, barking, quarrelling and leaving their excrements, are a nuisance to all tourists who are no dog lovers and a great problems for restaurant owners and hotel managers who have to cater to all their guests, those who love animals as well as those who don’t. Only a regular feeding program, the conditioning of the dogs to a feeding place where they like to spend time and that is agreed upon by everybody involved as well as teaching the dog lovers among the tourists how to deal with strays responsibly, offering them real possibilities to help the animals at their vacation spot effectively will provide a true alternative to poison.
Garbage bins such as here right alongside the beach are irresistible for strays At night they knock over the bins, tear sacks open rummaging through the garbage in search for food, eating what’s edible and scattering the rest, leaving a big mess behind. Not a pretty sight for beach visitors the next morning and a great annoyance for restaurant owners.
With this project we aim at so much more than just helping the dogs at this one location! If we succeed in realizing it Boca Chica could become role model and hope for many thousands of dogs living at holiday destinations where their lives are threatened year after year by seasonal poisonings. This is why we fight so hard for this project. Now, with beaches, bars and restaurants deserted because of Corona would be a good time to condition the dogs to a new feeding place and Emily Espinosa is doing her best to make this happen. A location for the feeding station seems to be found and possibly also a volunteer to run it – we’re holding our breath and keep our fingers crossed! We don’t now yet how to finance this but we’ll give our very best!
Of course we can’t neglect spay neuter as one can see here. The population has already been reduced from over a hundred beach dogs that Emily counted when visiting Boca Chica in December 2017 to a current number of about fifty, surely also a result of three years spay neuter campaigns. And so our first possible operative in 2021 will take place in Boca Chica with Claudia Bretthauer!
What happened so far…
Boca Chica, our greatest challenge…
It started in December 2017 with a call for help from tourists – as countless times before – this time from Boca Chica, a holiday resort in the Dominican Republic, not too far from the capital Santo Domingo.
8 adult dogs and several puppies were abused by the security of the BelleVue Dominican Bay Hotel with tazers, sticks and stones when they begged at the beach restaurant of the hotel. The hotel did not respond to complaints on Tripadvisor. We knew that it wouldn’t be enough to spay and neuter the dogs. Only a feeding place accepted by everybody could help the animals. A survey was done during which these dogs couldn’t be located anymore but 117 beach dogs were counted and 60 cats. According to Dominican animal welfare activists the last “cleansing” of this beach took place in 2014. All beach dogs were poisoned then. This shall never happen again! Together with Emily Espinosa, vice president of Cat Lovers RD, on the board of the Dominican Scouts and now also director of the project Boca Chica we decided to take up our so far greatest challenge in the program Tourism & Animal welfare:
The beach dogs of Boca Chica should all get spayed and neutered and get fed daily at an officially accepted feeding station, a „dog restaurant“ where they could also be monitored and medically treated. A giant task because projects like this exist so far only for cats in some places, see the Cat Cafés of St. Thomas, but nowhere for dogs! It began with the operative of Anja Heß and her team in February 2018.
1000 flyers were distributed during the operative by Emily‘s Dominican Scouts among tourists and business people of Boca Chica informing people about the project. The reaction was surprisingly positive right from the start.
Because in order to get all necessary permissions a bureaucratic marathon began now for Emily Espinosa that lasted a whole year…
A verbal agreement existed already when the vet team left Boca Chica after the clinic in 2018 but it took months to get the written confirmation.
And then there were special permits necessary, for instance to install the feeding station solidly into the ground on public land so that it can’t be removed easily. An agreement had to be reached with the municipal garbage collection service to empty regularly a garbage bin that has to be put up to collect the dog excrements in the surrounding of the feeding station.
And so on and so forth…Emily Espinosa drove countless times from Santo Domingo to Boca Chica to negotiate with officials. In the middle of this process a new mayor was elected – what would he think about our plans?
We were very fortunate! The new mayor is a man with visions who fully understands how this project can benefit the image of his town: Boca Chica, the first community that solves its stray animal problem in a humane, animal-friendly fashion!
Apart from meeting official requirements there were and are a great number of problems to solve to guarantee a successful operation of the feeding station:
As who feed the animals daily, clean the station and the area around and register health issues as well as new or missing animals. A supermarket donated already 1000 little plastic bags to collect doggy waste. A Dominican vet is willing to volunteer once a month to treat the beach dogs, also against parasites. The dogs will have to be vaccinated against rabies annually. Pet food companies are willing to give discounts on dried food. Still we’ll depend on restaurants and hotel kitchens to donate meat left overs instead of throwing them into the garbage.
This will not only help to feed the dogs but also reduces the risk of dogs rummaging through the garbage and scatter waste everywhere on their search for food, a frequent nuisance that has caused poisonings in more than one cases…
One of the most important conditions for the success of the project is the cooperation of the animal-loving tourists! Flyers in several languages have to be placed everywhere, in all hotels, at the receptions, in the rooms, in restaurants, bars and cafés and all stores frequented by tourists that inform about the project and ask tourists to feed dogs nowhere else but at the feeding station. The info must include the daily feeding times when the helpers are at the station as well as possibilities to donate and a contact address in case tourists find an animal needing help. These flyers will have to be stocked up regularly.
And that is by far not everything yet!
It is not enough just to take care of the beach dogs because feeding places are popular places to abandon animals as similar cat projects have shown and that would torpedo the entire project. In order to prevent this we have to spay and neuter intensely in Boca Chica in the coming years and educate the local residents. Emily Espinosa wants to do this with the help of her Dominican Scouts and the Humane Education program in Spanish that ANPA Costa Rica supplied us with. Additionally we need an emergency program to help poor people before they feel forced to abandon their animals.
Meanwhile we have also the bills for the material and the construction of the feeding station financed by the donations of the crowdfunding:
In January 2019 our second spay & neuter operative in Boca Chica took place. Our hopes that the opening of the feeding station would coincide with the clinic weren’t fulfilled.
We will never use ear tags again but tattoo the ears instead and put light colourful collars on the beach dogs that identify them as participants of the project and that will have to be breakable in case a dog gets caught somewhere. The tattoos shall prevent attempts to abandon dogs at the feeding station with the help of stolen collars to camouflage them as beach dogs.
After the spay & neuter operative in January 2019 there were several dates for the installation of the feeding station that were all postponed. We were desperate not knowing what to tell our supporters.
Only recently we received an explanation:
The location that had been previewed for the installation of the feeding station in the beginning shall now be used commercially. A number of small shops shall be constructed there catering to the tourists at the nearby beach. A new place had to be found.
Here, in front of the navy office, shall be the new location!
An ideal place to protect it against vandalism, it has only one problem: During torrential rains typical for the tropics water from the sewage system floods the road which is the access to the place so that the helpers will have to take a longer way round to get to the station, an issue that can be dealt with.
On her latest trip to Boca Chica Emily visited also a part of the town where about 70 already spayed and neutered dogs live that are being taken care of by residents.
They all look good and are even tolerated at the entrances of houses...
And everywhere Emily meets people who have heard about the project and who wait for it to begin just as much as we do here.
We here in faraway Europe have for the moment done everything that we could do to give aid and have placed the project for the time being completely into the hands of Emily Espinosa and her Dominican supporters. Without Emily and her good connections the project would have never developed to the point where it is today. The mayor wants for the future even 2 feeding stations, one at each end of the beach which is very sensible considering the number of dogs. We concentrate now on that what we can do from here: The organization of further spay & neuter operatives in Boca Chica. 2 clinics are planned for 2020: In February we will cooperate with the American NGO Caribbean Spay Neuter in the largest operative we ever participated in, with the goal to spay and neuter 500 dogs! Even before that a cat spay & neuter operative shall happen following a request of 2 large restaurants in Boca Chica. We have asked Dr. Josef Beisl to help us. He has already spayed and neutered 193 cats for Cat Lovers RD in Santo Domingo 2016. In Boca Chica 100 stray cats and “not quite as many owned ones” are waiting for him. And all Dominican vets that worked with him 2016 are looking forward to his return!
News from Boca Chica! (08/16/2020)In December 2019 the mayor of Boca Chica died unexpectedly, a great loss to us, but the good relations with officials remained as well as the positive attitude of the community towards animal welfare efforts. The spay neuter clinics were held as planned, in December with Dr. Beisl and in February with Caribbean Spay Neuter. The goal of 500 spays wasn’t reached but 386 animals that don’t reproduce anymore will be felt as a great relief. The restaurant owners who had asked for help with their problem of cat overpopulation sent every night of the operative gourmet dinners for 20 people!
Then Corona came and the tourists stayed away…
Some animal welfare activists got special permits during the lock down to go out to feed animals and we could send a donation for dog and cat food to Boca Chica.
It seemed to be the right time for a new attempt to start our feeding program because without tourists it would be much easier to condition the dogs to a new feeding place and Emily seemed to have finally found the right place for the feeding station in front of the fire station, equally safe in regards to vandalism as in front of the navy but better protected from the weather and without the danger of flooding during heavy rains.
The animal welfare association Diakimyi, located in San Christobal, agreed to prepare the food they give to their dogs also for the dogs of Boca Chica and to deliver it which would have solved the problem of lacking helpers. But then we received their cost estimate of 400 Euros monthly to feed 50 dogs and we had to realize that this is not affordable for us. The only possibility to run a program like this inexpensively would be to arrive at a cooperation with hotels and restaurants ( and animal-friendly tourists ) and collect all left overs and table scraps daily - the main food source of strays in vacation spots – and prepare and feed that to the animals at the feeding station, thus minimizing the unwanted begging and rummaging through the garbage in touristic areas, a behavior that often causes problems. But for this many volunteers are needed and Boca Chica simply doesn’t have them.
Still, our work so far wasn’t in vain: After 3 spay neuter operatives the number of beach stays is reduced from around 100 to about 50 animals. Some died of course during this time; the life expectancy of homeless animals being much lower than of protected pets but there were no mass poisonings. Officials and business people of Boca Chica regard animal weldare efforts favorably and ask for help with spay neuter in case of overpopulation instead of laying out poison - these positive conditions hardly found in any southern holiday paradise we owe solely to Cat Lovers vice president Emily Espinosa and her wonderful Dominican Scouts who ran a very successful advertising campaign during our first spay neuter clinic 2018 and who are eager and ready to do more Humane Education in Boca Chica once Corona is over. In 2021 we plan a big spay neuter clinic with Claudia Bretthauer and who knows – maybe we have a chance one day to realize the feeding program one day for a further reduced number of animals or with more helping hands…