While writing about Cats and Dogs International (CANDi) for the Spring 2015 issue, we were in touch with board member Tracey Buyce, who’s also the organization’s volunteer photographer; she made many good points that space prevented us from including in the print article. Here’s the “value-added” expanded version of that conversation.
Bark: What motivated you to become involved with CANDi?
Tracey Buyce: A few years ago, my husband I were vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, and took a romantic walk on the beach after dinner. Suddenly, we encountered a starving, stray mother dog with her malnourished puppy, searching for food and comfort. I fed her my dessert. I didn’t know what else to do, and my heart ached after that encounter.
What became clear during our stay was that there were even more dogs living on the beach, trying to survive. I knew I had to do something to help them, and couldn’t rest until I did.
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As soon as we returned home, I searched the Internet for animal rescue groups in Cancun and discovered CANDi. I contacted the founder, Darci Galati, who invited me to return to Cancun the following month as a volunteer photographer for their free spay/neuter clinic. Almost immediately, I came on board as their official photographer for the clinics, and was invited to join CANDi’s Board of Directors in 2014.
B: Have you had any “aha” moments while working with the group?
TB: Yes, many, but the most notable was my change in perception of the underlying cause of the stray dog problem in Mexico.
My volunteer work has required me to visit many of the communities surrounding Cancun’s tourist resorts to photograph dogs and the local people. Although Mexico has some very dangerous areas, its hard-working people are doing their very best to survive and make it through each day with extremely limited resources. When people’s basic needs are not being met, their animals’ needs come in second, which I believe is the case here.
Visitors tend to be judgmental about what’s happening in Mexico with the stray animal and overpopulation issues, and assume that it’s the fault of the local people and community that the animals are not cared for. The reality is—and this was my personal “aha! moment”—as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means of caring for them. Many live without basic resources and are unable to provide necessities such as immunizations for their kids; sterilizing their pets is almost impossible.
I think it’s a government issue. There needs to be an infrastructure in place to provide for the basic needs of families and children, and there also needs to be some support from the tourist industry to help offset the devastating poverty in the communities that surround the resorts.
B: Do you have a special CANDi story?
TB: My work with CANDi has provided many moments of joy, success and surprise, but the one that is most memorable involves Luna, a dog I found in someone’s yard, who was near death. I had seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of street dogs before I came across Luna, but something about her was different. I knew I couldn’t leave her there.
With a lot of difficulty and the help of a translator, I managed to get the owner to relinquish the dog, and through CANDi, she got the immediate veterinary care she needed until she stabilized. I found her a loving home in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, and that’s where she lives and thrives today as a happy, healthy, well-loved family dog! Luna is my special success story. [Editor’s note: You’ll find Luna’s story here.]
B: What do you consider to be the organization’s greatest strength?
TB: That it’s a grassroots group and brings volunteers from all around the world to communities that have the greatest need for spay/neuter clinics.
Everyone, including the veterinarians, is a volunteer who donates his or her time, skills and resources. All of our stories are similar in that we saw animal suffering and wanted to do something to help. CANDi is the vehicle that not only brings us together, but also, paves the way for each of us to help. Without CANDi, none of it would be possible.
CANDi’s approach—partnering with the tourism industry—is what we need to continue to build on expanding our volunteer base. This partnership also translates into resources that support more spay/neuter clinics, the implementation of humane programs at tourist destinations, and education and resources for local residents.
B: What can individuals do to help CANDi?
TB: As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home! There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico and it’s very easy to do.
Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life.
And, of course, volunteer! I am a professional photographer, and I give based on my talents. Not every volunteer is a vet, or wants to pick ticks off dogs at a clinic. Think about your greatest skill or asset and then think about how you can apply that to helping animals through CANDi. Visit CANDi’s website for more information on how to get involved!
B: Finally, a personal question: any dogs of your own?
TB: Yes, I have two rescue dogs, Roxy and Sydney, plus a shelter kitty, Reece, and a horse named Moose. I’m a bona fide animal lover, and that’s why I do what I do!
The interview was conducted in January 2015 and has been edited for clarity.