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.
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.
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.
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.
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.firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
*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.