S.A.F.E.ty comes at a price

We’ve all seen those ASPCA commercials — the ones with the depressing music and puppies in cages and celebrities telling you how to sponsor an animal for pennies a day. If you’re anything like me, you glance out at your happy dogs in the yard and change the channel before it gets too gut-wrenching. There are thousands of animals in the United States who are abused, mistreated and in need of loving homes, but at least someone gives them a voice. There are animal shelters, animal control centers and advocacy groups who work to eliminate animal abuse, and those who are responsible can face fines and criminal charges.

Not so in St. Kitts.

There are no shelters here, and dying animals rarely receive humane euthanasia unless they are picked up by veterinary students and taken to the campus clinic. Animals are property, not companions, and if an owner wants to leave a dog to slowly starve to death in his front yard he is free to do so without fear of legal repercussions. Animals suffer injuries and extents of neglect here that would never be allowed to go on in the United States. Every day dogs are seen tied to trees with heavy chains, wasting away, broken, defeated and barely able to rise from the ground when children gather to throw rocks and stones at the wormy skeleton. Every day. And no one speaks for them.

Kristen Decina, a New Jersey native, is trying to change that.

Decina, a student at Ross University of Veterinary Medicine, arrived on St. Kitts to begin her studies in April of 2012 and immediately recognized the incredible need for an emergency animal rescue agency in the area.

“The last dog rescue, P.A.W.S.*, was founded here in 2002. I felt that with the growing (vet) student population there was room and need for another rescue with a slightly different angle. PAWS was doing a great job, but one rescue could not do it all alone,” said Decina.

S.A.F.E. St. Kitts — “Saving Animals From Emergency” — was officially founded in the spring of 2013 and focuses on being an on-call rescue. There are an average of three to eight animals in the program at one time, with any number of other rescues in the homes of sponsored foster families. Decina and two other Ross students, who make up the SAFE executive staff, have successfully adopted out approximately 50 animals in the past year, with another 50 lives improved through foster families and local education on proper pet care.

“Our rescue provides 100% of the care the animals need, including general vaccines, deworming, treatment for emergent illnesses like heartworms and, in many cases, extensive surgeries,” said Decina. “We also go on rescue calls with other students and community members, and we provide food and supplies to rescuers who don’t have them. All of that adds up.”

It is amazing to see how much a scared, starving animal can improve after a warm bath, a soft blanket and a nutritious meal. During her interview, Decina cuddled the rescue’s newest addition — four-month-old puppy Quinn — who is a skittish skeleton. However, after only 48 hours in a loving home, Quinn was already wagging his tail, playing with his foster family and putting on weight.

Decina says her drive to continue such a daunting task is fueled by rescues like L.O.V.E. (“Left On Volcanoes End”) and Copper.

LOVE was found sealed into a 3’x2′ monkey cage in the jungle, deprived of human contact and affection. “I can’t imagine what being in the crate for so long did to her spirit. She looked absolutely defeated. Her teeth have wear marks from where she tried to chew herself out of her wire prison,” said Decina.

It is unknown how long LOVE had been in this tiny cage, and she was terrified of her rescuers.

LOVE was cut out of her tiny cage and taken in by a foster mother with experience handling unsocialized dogs. Now, after many months of patient care and attention, LOVE is beginning to trust again and greets her foster mother at the door at the end of each day. She is still looking for her forever family.

LOVE is such a couch hog!

Copper was found in port by cruise ship passengers, one leg irreparably mangled as he tried to pull himself through the crowds to a safer resting place. News of Copper’s condition reached Decina and the SAFE team and they were able to locate him in town, surrounded by a crowd of abusive onlookers who sneered at the poor dying animal, who was in so much pain he had given up the fight. The SAFE team transported him to the Ross Veterinary Hospital for evaluation, but they didn’t have any money left to pay for the amputation and other surgeries he would need. In a burst of inspiration, Decina emailed the cruise ship passengers who originally found the dog and begged for their help. Amazingly, all the passengers contacted immediately donated via PayPal to cover the hound dog’s expenses. Copper now lives with two veterinary students who adore him and spoil him rotten.

Copper is a beautiful older dog who doesn’t even know he only has three legs!

SAFE tries to offset its expenses through Ross campus fundraisers and private donations, however much of the costs are being absorbed by the students themselves.

Outsiders can help in a variety of ways, first and foremost by donating money to cover the costs of amputations, stomach repairs, broken bones and other extensive procedures needed by their rescues.

Their website, www.safest.kitts.org, is set up with a PayPal donation link. You can also donate via their GoFundMe account at http://www.gofundme.com/safestkittsrescue.

Those who would rather send supplies (via students returning to the island or USPS care packages), can send dog toys, Kongs, puppy milk replacer, collars, leashes, pee pads and treats — all of which are hard to find here on the island.

“I am blessed because the work I am doing now is what I feel I was put on this earth to do, and coming to St. Kitts and not making a difference in a place where there is so much room to help would have been my biggest regret,” said Decina.

To donate, please follow any of the links above. For more information, please leave a comment on this post or contact SAFE directly via email at Safe_st.kitts@yahoo.com. They are also on Facebook.

Remember, one U.S. dollar equals 2.7 eastern Caribbean dollars, so even if you don’t feel you can give very much, whatever you can give will be converted and applied toward the rehabilitation of an animal who deserves to find his or her forever home.

Decina responded to a call about puppies starving in a cane field last spring and brought home the tiny creatures that would turn into our strong, beloved Meera and her sister Kitt. Without SAFE, Meera would likely have died in that field, either killed by the land owner or wasting away slowly from starvation and exposure.

If you have pets you love, and who love you in return, please take a moment to consider making a donation to help veterinary students on St. Kitts rescue animals from emergency situations and better teach the island community how to care for their furry friends.

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*P.A.W.S. stands for “People for Animal Welfare on St. Kitts” and was founded by a local in 2002. PAWS is maintained and staffed through the Ross veterinary student community and has plans, with help from influential local families, to build the island’s first animal shelter. However, there is a long way to go until this goal is accomplished. More information about their organization and fundraising efforts can be found at www.rosspaws.com.

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I should have gone to Hogwarts

My mom sent me this image today, and while I’ve seen it before, it hasn’t ever been quite as true as this past week. I know that those who can knit or crochet (which are not the same thing, by the way) are in the minority, so I don’t expect my customers to know the difference or to know how crocheting works. However, I’ve been amazed at some of the things I’ve been asked to make over the past few days. Great horned owls (for which there seem to be no patterns online), centipedes (which I refuse to make because “if I build it, they will come”), and a variety of strangely exotic birds, to name a few.

Now, I don’t have a problem when potential customers bring me a picture of a particular animal and ask if I can make it. I’m flattered, actually, that they have so much assumed faith in my abilities. However, it does start to be a problem when said customer refuses to accept that something just isn’t going to work. Either a pattern doesn’t exist (I can freehand somewhat but I need at least a basic starting shape.), I don’t have the materials and they aren’t willing to wait (we live in a third-world country, people. I don’t exactly have a Hobby Lobby.), or the animal doesn’t look EXACTLY like the real thing.

That’s been an issue lately – people seeming to think their products are going to be exact replicas rather than toys. It’s a stuffed animal! Not a die-cast mold of your beloved pet. I try to find a basic body shape that fits the pet’s breed and then match the color scheme as close to a picture as I can. That’s the best I can do. If you have some exotic breed of parrot with multicolored iridescent wings, and the best I can do is a basic parrot, that’s the best I can do. I am not going to use hundreds of brain cells to make one stitch at a time in different colors just to mimic this species’ wings. No amount of money that a student is willing to pay could cover that kind of stress.

(And another thing, if you think the price I quoted you is too high, just say no thanks and walk away. Don’t stand by my table for 20 minutes and complain loudly about how you can’t BELIEVE I would make it so expensive. I charge in local EC prices, which means I’m actually only making a third of that in US dollars. I do this for my own entertainment and hardly make any profit at all. So if you want to complain about it [and be the only person, I might add, because nobody else seems to think I charge too much], that’s your own cheap problem.)

Sometimes color schemes just aren’t feasible with a customer’s deadline. For example, 7th semester students have to have their orders done before finals because they leave the island for good after that, and I work with them as much as I can to finish everything they order before they leave. Sometimes a 7th semester student wants something that is possible, but not with the supplies I currently have. I would have to get the special supplies when I go home in August, at which point the customer will have already moved away. Therefore, that order isn’t possible for that particular person. People refuse to accept this. One customer asked if her family could bring the special yarn when they come to help her move…. the week before she leaves. I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to happen. I have suitcases to pack too, you know.

I really should have gone to Hogwarts, because people seem to think I can just wave my little crochet stick around and POOF! life-like yarn animals appear. I’m not complaining, per say, because I enjoy making all sorts of animals and I’m glad to be making a little bit of money; I’m more just voicing my amazement at some of the orders and questions that have come in. For the most part, however, my customer-base has been very excited and supportive of my products and I’ve gotten lots of good reviews and referrals. This month I’ve done a donkey, a pomeranian, a blanket with a monkey head, a regular baby blanket, six baby sea turtles and a giraffe, and I still have another donkey and a red panda to work on this week. Business is keeping my busy, so I always have that to be thankful for.

What magic have you been asked to perform lately?

Meera’s Ten Commandments

Ten rules for living in Meera’s house (as declared by the head barker, me, Meera, the most high furball)

1. There will be no dancing, jumping, wiggling, jiggling, excited hand gestures or any other movements that might be misinterpreted as dancing. If such activity occurs, it will be broken up immediately with loud barking that lets everyone in the immediate area know of your transgression.

2. There will be no public displays of affection that are not directed at or do not include me. This includes hugging, kissing, snuggling and hand holding. If such an activity does not include me, I reserve the right to forcibly insert myself into said activity.

3. When swimming in the big water bowl, there should be no jumping, splashing, laughing or horseplay of any kind. If this occurs I will immediately take it as a sign that you are drowning and in need of life-saving assistance and I will leap in after you. Probably half-drowning you in the process anyway.

4. Dinner will be served promptly at whatever time I decide I am hungry.

5. Upon entering the backyard the first order of business is to patrol all five mongoose holes, from left to right, to ensure no breach of the perimeter is in progress. Then the yard and surrounding wall will be checked for birds. After the area is secure, bodily functions may be addressed, but only if there are no interesting branches in the grass to play with first.

6. A visitor’s danger-level is arbitrary, determined solely by me. Your friend with the funny white dog is acceptable, as is the funny white dog. The man who fixes the big water bowl, the man who takes away my poop from the can and the man who cuts the grass are undesirables and will be chased from the premises at every available opportunity. The next door neighbor is ok if she is in the yard, but if she is on her porch I will bark at her. The stranger who came to fix the neighbor’s water, however, is acceptable. He smelled good.

7. One set of scratchies demands another. Beginning the first set obviously means you don’t have anything better to do for the rest of the day and are therefore required to continue the scratchies until your arms fall off.

8. The first order of business when Mommy wakes up in the morning is to open the upstairs porch doors and look for golfers. The second order of business is to climb onto the big bed and stick my nose under Daddy’s arms until he wakes up.

9. The being known as Va-CUUM and I may never be in the same place at the same time. I understand that Mommy likes to have him around several times a week, and because I love Mommy I will allow this. However, I must be given enough notice of his arrival that I can go out onto the porch and watch him from a distance until he goes back into hibernation. Then, and only then, will I come back inside.

10. If Daddy is in the big bed when I go out to patrol the yard and is not in the big bed when I return, this is cause for considerable alarm and I will rush frantically throughout the house until I determine his exact whereabouts, even if he is standing in the strange water hose behind the curtain in the bathroom. Daddy is important and his activities must be monitored at all times for his safety. However, if Mommy and Daddy are in different places, I will go with Mommy. Unless Daddy has food, then that changes things.

Observation of these ten basic commandments will help ensure smooth daily living. Please find “Meera’s Rules for Peaceful Living” at your local library for the other 4,572 miscellaneous ordinances.

Thank you, and you may return to your regularly scheduled activities. (Unless you’re dancing, jumping, hugging, kissing, swimming…….)

Ohana

“Ohana” is a Hawaiian word introduced to most of us non-Hawaiian people through the movie Lilo and Stitch. In a dictionary it means family, in an extended sense, and includes “chosen family” as well as blood relations. However, I think Lilo explains it best when she says, “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.

I have a wonderful biological family and an equally wonderful in-law family, and I’ve had many sets of “chosen families” over the years, the closest being the group of young women I lived with in college. However, it wasn’t until one night a few weekends ago that the true meaning of “ohana” really sank in deep.

I was with a group of friends laying out by a pool at midnight looking for shooting stars, listening to soft music and laughing about whatever was funny at the moment. There was a long moment of silence as we all scanned the sky and it occurred to me that we are a group born of desperation. We are a cluster of people that probably would never have been friends if we’d all gone to our chosen stateside schools. We likely never would have met. We didn’t come together simply because we lived in the same dorm or happen to go to the same school; we bonded out of nervousness and fear of the great unknown that was this unfamiliar place and have formed an unlikely bond that – quite possibly – is stronger than anything else. We are ohana. We are each other’s closest companions and strongest rocks in the storms of St. Kitts life.

We consist of two Floridians, five southerners (some more so than others), a girl from Michigan and a girl from Oregon. We have pessimists, optimists and who-cares-ists. The youngest is 22 and the oldest is about to be 30. We have two married couples, one engaged couple, two single girls and one with a boyfriend back home. We are Greek, Hispanic, Native American and just plain who-knows. We come from all sorts of family and religious backgrounds and don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything, but the innate knowledge that we are all we have keeps us together regardless of our arguments.

Yet we are the same. We are all working toward the common goal of becoming veterinarians (six of us students, three of us spouses). We are all far away from home – many for the very first time – and we have all been separated from all the people, places and things we hold dear and tossed onto this rock hundreds of miles from real land. I think the RUSVM bond is probably greater than that of other vet students at stateside schools because they at least have the familiar, the knowledge that home is a car trip or a short flight away; but us… we only have each other. Sure, we all have friends and family waiting for us back home, but when something happens here and help is needed, we don’t have the luxury of a visit from Mom with hot chicken soup; we don’t always even have the ability to call home. Without each other, we would flounder; but together, we’ve learned how to swim.

We started out with our original orientation group from first semester, when nobody knew anybody or where anything is or how anything works here. We stuck together because we were required to. Now we’ve added a few stragglers from other orientation groups and picked up a former Black semester. The Mister isn’t in the same classes anymore, after having had to repeat a semester, but we’re still together every chance we get and they are always quick to offer him any advice or materials they have to help him succeed. No one is left behind or forgotten.

I write this long, sappy post to say this – I am eternally grateful for the ohana we have found here; for those we have chosen and for those who have chosen us in return. I don’t know where we would be or how we would get through this without them, and I hope they know they can count on us as well. The saddest part about repeating a semester is knowing we will not finish this journey with them, that we will have a semester on this island alone after they have moved on to greater things. But I have a feeling we will find each other again along the way, whether in clinicals, at professional conferences or at weddings and other special events. We will find each other, because we are ohana, and no one will be forgotten.