Our very own Mel Isherwood wrote this beautiful piece about Dogs and Cats of Antigua and her Beach Dog Adoption Programme. She also express what Antigua means to her.
It was published in the Observer Wednesday Dec 21 and it is well worth a read.
Charity May Begin At Home But Doesn’t Have To End There
My name is Mel Isherwood, and I live in Canada, in a forested, lake-filled environment, north of Toronto. It’s a beautiful place, and often frequented by tourists in the summer, but the long winter months find us escaping for as long as we can, to enjoy the warmth of both the people and the climate of Antigua. In fact, we have been visiting this special gem in the turquoise sea of Leeward Islands now for so long that if is really our second home.
What makes a location feel like a home is so much more than sunning oneself on a lounger, sipping a cool cocktail, or sampling local delicacies, it is the feeling that one garners from the connections that one forms with others; one can’t visit Antigua without interacting with Antiguans – the feeling of being appreciated for simply being there, in whatever one’s capacity – from checking into a luxury resort to buying fresh produce from a roadside vendor – are vital to one’s well being: Such experiences will take root and last forever, and disseminate in a multitude of directions.
But even a second home may present challenges as idealists like myself may grapple with this concept, but nothing is perfect. For me the fly in suntan ointment was witnessing the ubiquitous presence of stray dogs and cats, but mostly dogs: everywhere my husband and I walked outside: to the shops, at the beach, or whilst driving about. There were emaciated adult dogs, skulking behind restaurants, scrounging bits of freefall from the bins; starving puppies with prominent ribs begging for food scraps; mangy and obviously neglected adult dogs, fearfully prowling the streets, and sad-looking, post-partum mothers who had had far too many litters, with their nipples practically dragging the ground.
No mentally healthy person wants to witness suffering, so here one has a choice: to look away so as not to see it, and as the adage goes: “out of sight, out of mind”, or facing it, and feeling the pain, and allowing this pain to propel one to do something. And do something, I did. As a tourist, I felt initially helpless because I didn’t know who to contact and what to do. All countries have strays, but many of these countries have a social infrastructure in place to control, and support animal welfare.
I happened to see a donation box for an animal welfare group at the grocery store and so used this connection to track down a way of donating to support the group. But I wanted to do more to help: It’s a terribly frustrating situation to watch helplessly while innocent creatures, who have no more ability to help themselves than a newborn, are withering away. I felt isolated from the community I wished to help because I didn’t know how.
However, through word-of-mouth, I became involved with Dogs and Cats of Antigua, for whom I transported an adorable pup to Canada with me in March. Since then, I’ve partnered with a friend in my community and together we have created our own partner group, Beach Dog Adoption, in Bracebridge, Ontario. Since March, we have helped to bring back and re-home fifteen Antiguan dogs. We even started our own Facebook page, and have developed a large support group.
Volunteering to help animals abroad may not be the first image that comes to mind when one thinks about a Caribbean holiday, but many of us are just doing what we would normally do in our home countries, so why not share one’s love and compassion for the world, wherever one is? In fact, responsible tourism (which includes volunteerism, and eco-tourism) is actually on the rise. Many savvy travellers want more.
I also want to point out here, that advocating for the ubiquitous strays in Antigua does not point a negative finger at this beautiful island nation: Everyone has problems, but it is a crisis, and crises deserve attention. To wit: foreign aid is sent to hurricane, flood and famine victims. Refugees are re-homed in richer and more stable countries. Carrying a dog in a collapsible carry-all on one’s return trip to Canada, or the US is a comparatively simpler act.
Unlike we humans, animals have no concept of nationality; they don’t carry passports and don’t speak different languages. Their uniform needs lend themselves to an easy solution: Dogs and Cats of Antigua is working very hard to resolve that by working with tourists and residents alike to chip in both financially and physically to feed, foster, re-home and provide veterinary care for these hapless canines. This animal welfare group also relies on both tourists and residents to act as flight volunteers to take dogs back home (to Canada or the U.S.), with no costs involved to passengers.
It is incredibly rewarding to give back to a country by literally “taking back” one of these precious Antiguan, or “Wadadli” dogs. I feel very blessed in my connection with such loving, and sweet, little creatures of God. Several of them are now frolicking in the snow at their new homes in Canada, whilst I will soon visit my second home and bask in the sun. Charity may start at home, but it doesn’t have to end there – especially when more than one place can be home.