Tuesday, 27 March 2012

I never asked to be your pet

I never asked to be your pet

By Annique VSPCA Volunteer

I remember that fateful day
The skies were blue, not a spec of grey
That day was the eve of a forth-coming storm
Despite its deceitful weather, comforting and warm.

I lay in the box alongside my eager siblings
Awaiting an owner, my heart filled with longing.
Soon after, I saw you, your gaze locked with mine
I thought I’d found a master divine.

You took me into your home; put me upon a grand pedestal
Pampered me like a sacred baby so regal.
This life was more than I would ever fathom,
Little did I know the fate to which I was to succumb.

As the months passed by and my youthfulness shed
The quality of care given began plummeting like lead
My safe haven, my palace began to shake and crumble
The reality of my prison peaked out from beneath the rubble.

Lavish meals turned into meagre portions
I went from within the house to the harsh environs
No longer could I roam freely from bedroom to deck
Instead I am bound by the chain cutting into my neck

The warm affectionate touches have turned to cold lashes
The fire of affection has burnt down to dry ashes
The initial connection that grabbed me has been long destroyed
My soul has become an abysmal void.

As you humans say, one time leads to another
However I sometimes wonder why you took me, why’d you even bother?
Why pit me into this thunderstorm of misery and drench me wet?

I never asked to be your pet.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Hello Dog, it’s me, Kiersten

When I was little, I knew the following things to be true: Velcro shoes were amazing and saved time in the morning for Ninja Turtles and toast, ice cream birthday cake was a given, and that I loved and felt connected to non-human animals more than most kids. Growing up an only child, my siblings were hamsters, dogs, cats and horses and it felt natural to channel Dr. Doolittle most days after homework. Before I knew biology was not my strongest skill, I was convinced of my path as a primatologist taking over where Dian Fossey left off- in the deep forests of Rwanda living with and studying mountain gorillas. Attributing anthropomorphic qualities to my companion animals, I became certain from a young age that truly “the least I can do is speak for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Jane Goodall) and encourage empathy as much as possible.

Fast forward to today… just around one year into my volunteer service on this plush, volcanic and mango-dripping island, I am happy to report that I have found my path in life (at least for now). A group of Vincentians and myself initiated a non-profit organization called the Vincentian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, VSPCA. For those of you reading this on neighboring islands, I am sure you are aware of the challenges with overpopulation leading to unwanted and wandering street animals, a lack of education when it comes to non-human animal welfare, care, and basic needs, as well as an overall indifference to the conditions in which our companions live. Quite frankly, I would not be able to sanely survive in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) for 27 months without trying my hardest to improve the situation while I am here and setting up some kind of organization sustaining our hard work when I leave.

The last year has been one of extreme personal and professional growth. As a Masters International volunteer, I feel fortunate to put to use some of the skills I have recently acquired in grad school- SWOT analyses, needs assessments, mediation techniques, stakeholder analyses, and especially grant writing. As of today, VSPCA has over 150 members, 230 Facebook supporters, 100 followers on Twitter, and has not only had two very successful fundraisers, but we received two significant grant awards to assist in launching our humane education and community outreach program. We are thankful to the Pegasus Foundation and Humane Society International for their support! Due to commence in April 2012, this program and curriculum are currently being mapped out and created by yours truly and one of the only private vets on the island. VSPCA has already been invited to present to various schools and youth groups on the mainland, as well as the Grenadines. Kids have been receptive to the content and curious on how they too can become vets one day… a concept I am trying to encourage- local leadership and ownership of the first and only animal welfare organization in SVG. Sustainability is a buzz word- but looked at twice, is really the crux of our volunteer work… will our efforts for roughly two years of our lives be sustained and appreciated?

In addition to educational outreaches, VSPCA is highly focused on spaying and neutering efforts. In respect for the culture, it is imperative to not simply advocate for the operations themselves, but to clearly explain the benefits and costs to begin to control the street animal population and thereby eventually eliminate unwanted and diseased animals. No one can choose what life they are born into but all are deserve a life of freedom, love, and joy.
Besides a mobile clinic, our long-term goals (yes, I will be connected to this for my life!) include a comprehensive and holistic rehabilitation site; equipped with a clinic, staff, shelter, quarantine and adoption area, and a peaceful home for those in need. It’s a dream, right? But to so many, VSPCA was a dream- something worthy of pursuing, something desperately needed, but overwhelming and daunting to begin. But we have begun, and the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

So for the next year here, with the love and support from my three rescue pups, myself and the team will plant seeds. Some seeds will slumber, some will flirt with growth, and some, I hope the majority, will flourish into beautiful palm trees extending knowledge, creating change, and offering love to all. This is my prayer. This is my purpose.  

Kiersten Anderson, President of the VSPCA & Peace Corps Volunteer SVG 11-13
Contact VSPCA at: svg.awi@gmail.com

Monday, 19 March 2012

Wolf’s Courage

During my visit to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I learned one of the most difficult tasks was taking Isla (my girlfriend’s first rescue dog) for a walk. Kiersten’s neighborhood was full of wandering dogs; some owned, some unowned... all appearing hungry and somewhat timid of humans. At the bottom of the hill was a group of dogs that were owned, but allowed to roam freely and were not very social. On the top of the hill were dogs that were owned or strays that also roamed freely and also unsocialized. There is a tendency for most dogs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to be territorial and they would be aggressive towards Isla and other dogs that wandered onto their turf. I would usually have to pick Isla up when we were confronted by a pack of roaming dogs. Most dogs I encountered tended to be afraid of humans because they were abused by having rocks thrown at them or worse, but when they were in a pack they acted aggressively, especially when walking Isla on a leash.

There were occasions when a few of the local strays would walk with Isla and me, forming their own pack. I would start off with one dog and arrive back at the house with five other dogs trailing behind. Isla became the pack leader and the other dogs would visit our yard to play with her during the day. One day I was walking Isla and a small German shepherd started running towards us. I was weary at first because he was a male dog and they tended to be after Isla when we walked around the neighborhood. Isla and him met nose to nose, but he seemed more interested in me. He came walking up to me. This was highly unusual as most dogs were afraid of me- even the ones that would walk with Isla and I, would keep me at an arms length. He walked right up to me and hugged my leg and let me pet him.

I began to see the German shepherd on a daily basis and he was always friendly towards me as he licked my face, while his tail wagged fervently. He was such an adorable dog and I decided to name him Wolf Blitzer after the dashing CNN anchor. I would bring him food whenever I saw him in the morning and at night because I felt bad that he was a stray and did not have a home, let alone a consistent source of food! I could not fathom, for the life of me, how someone could have abandoned such a sweet and loving dog- or any dog for that matter! It must have taken a great deal of courage for Wolf to be so friendly and trust me because I could have easily been a human that would throw rocks at him or hurt him. He soon started showing up at our door looking for food and playing with Isla and Roo. We soon found out that he was a great cuddler and kisser and it earned him the nickname handsome Wolfie. He is still getting used to baths and interaction with people outside of Kiersten, but overall an amazing dog. We found him a home in Bequia, but unfortunately he was still in the process of being socialized, so Kiersten has been fostering him and we will eventually bring him back to the States.

Wolf is a lucky St. Vincent dog! He spends his days at Kiersten’s new place, playing with Isla and Roo and digging holes to China, or whatever is on the opposite side of the world of St. Vincent. He has toys to stimulate him, chicken to eat, treats that clean his teeth, and a comfy couch and bed to sleep on. We had him neutered shortly after he moved in with us and got all of his shots. Although he had some medical issues, we caught them early enough and thankfully they are a thing of the past. He is adjusting to walks on a leash and collar and becoming more socialized every day. If Wolf did not have the courage to come near me, he would still be wandering the streets- scrapping by hour to hour, getting attacked by bigger dogs, picking through trash, impregnating other strays, and possibly dead on the road, especially if a van ever saw him in the street. There are so many obstacles for stray dogs in St. Vincent and without caring animal advocates, animals like Wolf end up being viewed as “nuisances” and are deliberately killed, whether by poison, being ignored, physically attacked, drowned, and so forth.  Thankfully Wolf is soundly asleep with his pals Isla and Roo dreaming of living in the US where he hears there are lots of doggy treats and endless opportunities of off-leash parks to explore...

Nick-VSPCA Social Media Strategist 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Elena's Post: Pets Bring Joy

I’ve seen a lot of animals in miserable conditions while travelling and volunteering for animal welfare projects but nowhere else have they touched my heart as much as in the Caribbean. Seeing an overpopulation of stray dogs and cats and not being able to find owners for them is one thing but seeing dogs and cats that have owners being neglected and abused by them is a whole other thing. It’s so sad and it makes me very angry. Why would people do something like that? There’s still a lot of education on animal rights and ethical treatment of animals to do on these islands. It’s not an easy thing to establish an animal welfare organization on an island like Saint Vincent but Kiersten Anderson and a group of volunteers did what no one else had dared to do before. I’m so grateful for the VSPCA and Kiersten’s incredible commitment to the project. She has achieved so much in only a few months and if we now spread the word about this wonderful project I’m sure with the help of new volunteers and donors she will be able to achieve even more! 

I’m from Germany but lived on Saint Vincent for about a year and was lucky to stay with a local family who has a great passion for animals. They have rescued dozens of stray dogs already and it’s very touching to see with how much love they care for their animals. It was great to be surrounded by so many happy dogs and cats. I wish there were more people like them in Saint Vincent. I’m sure there are but the sad reality is that there are just not enough! At least not yet! Hopefully the VSPCA and other initiatives will help to change the thinking of those who still believe that a pet is just an object that can be (ab)used and thrown away if not needed anymore. Hopefully one day they will be able to look into an animal’s eyes and find some love in their frozen hearts and realize that these are living beings which need our love and affection just as much as we need there’s. If you have pets and treat them right they will be loyal and devoted to you forever and bring immense joy and happiness to your life.

Elena-VSPCA Volunteer 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Greatness of a Nation...

This is a short article I wrote for the Northern California Return Peace Corps Association about my experience with the VSPCA.

Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” This philosophic statement became real for me after recently assisting a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Kiersten Anderson and a group of community members created the first and only animal welfare organization in SVG, the Vincentian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (VSPCA). The VSPCA began as a secondary project, but soon it transformed into Kiersten’s primary project as more members got involved and the movement expanded. The much needed organization is beginning to plant seeds with Vincentians, hoping to one day completely transform attitudes and actions towards those who cannot speak for themselves; becoming a great nation by Ghandi’s standards. The VSPCA’s two biggest initiatives are humane education programs in schools and endlessly advocating for, and financially assisting spay and neuter operations to control the non-human animal population.

I volunteered on this small Eastern Caribbean nation working with the group and fostering dogs with hopes of finding forever homes. I was amazed by the passion displayed by members, and the appreciative animals they were protecting. Not a day goes by, that I don’t think about my four legged friends that remain homeless and owner-less. I continue to assist the VSPCA from the States through enhancing their social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  It is an amazing project and while trying to be a voice for animals they are also bringing up topics such as family planning, the golden rule, empathy, and compassion. Please check out the VSPCA website  and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Nick VSPCA Social Media Strategist & RPCV Uganda 08-10