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Street Dogs of Paradise

The earliest successful spay-and-neuter project was conducted in Jaipur, India, run by a chemical engineer named S. Chinny Krishna. Rabies is a serious problem in India, killing 20,000 to 30,000 people every year, and most cases result from dog bites. Krishna’s organization, Blue Cross for Animals (Help in Suffering), concentrated on vaccinations, but they also spayed and neutered. Since 1994, they have kept a record of every animal they’ve treated, and can document a dramatic decline in the number of human rabies cases in Jaipur, from several hundred a year to zero. Their work has been so successful that the Indian government has adopted their methods and extended its support to programs in other cities.

India may be a special case. As a predominately Hindu country, they value all animals and humane treatment. And India is a nation with considerable resources. But Help in Suffering was the result of a few individuals’ efforts, and its success is a consequence of their persistence and determination.

The island of Abaco in the Bahamas is the site of more recent project in a tougher society. Bahamian street dogs are not valued by the residents, who call them “potcakes,” a reference to the hard disc found on the bottom of cooking pots. This burnt residue of dozens of meals is what they toss to the dogs as food.

Fortunately, the potcakes’  plight touched Kathy Hargreaves. Her personal turning point to activism came when she found herself planning her trips to Marsh Harbor, the island’s big city, to avoid driving past the dogs.

“It was the starkest of visions,” she says. “Animals run over by the side of the road, dogs that were skin and bones that could barely walk, litters of puppies, some dumped in boxes, all near death. I said to my husband, ‘We have to do something about this.’” But what could two people do?

She started by surveying her neighbors. She tells of going into dozens of houses, asking the residents, “Do you own any dogs?” No, they’d say, but she’d just walked past two or three potcakes in their yards. So she’d ask about the dogs in their yards—while they wouldn’t admit owning them, they did admit feeding them. But when it came to doing something to control their numbers, the dogs belonged to no one.

So Hargreaves tried a new strategy: bribes. Her new organization, the Spay and Neuter Incentive Program (SNIP)—which received funds from HSI, Pegasus and local (mostly expatriate) donors—offered $10 for every male dog brought in, and $15 for every female. Local vets agreed to do the operations at discount prices (the Bahamian government prohibits visiting veterinarians from doing any work, even on a volunteer basis). The bribes worked, and 138 animals were brought into the first clinic, the most ever for a Caribbean island. Their project is now five years old, and because people can see the results, the number of clinics has dropped from three a year to two, and they don’t have to offer bribes anymore. Where Hargreaves could once count on seeing at least one dead dog a day, she now sees none.

The genesis of my own group, the Esther Honey Foundation, was a vacation a fellow Oregonian, Cathy Sue Anunsen, took in the Cook Islands. She stayed in a resort on Rarotonga, fully intending to rest and relax. While there, she met Honey, a sort of “resort” dog. Like other street dogs on the island, he’d adopt tourists for the duration of their visit, and this time, Cathy was his new “family.” He slept outside her bungalow and accompanied her to the beach every day.

But only a few months before, a tourist had died in an auto accident caused by the driver trying to avoid a dog. In response, the police had been shooting all “stray” dogs; any dog not locked up was a target. When Anunsen found out about this, she was appalled. Then she read an article about a local resident, Tom Wichman, who was starting the Cook Islands SPCA.


Photograph by Trent Parke

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