I have been living on the Dutch side of St. Maarten for a few years now. About 3 years ago, I started working with a rescue group called SXM PAWS. They rescue and re-home animals and find homes for unwanted puppies and kittens. They are a very nice group of people who love animals and go to great lengths to find them homes wherever they can. There are other rescue groups on the island, but PAWS was the best fit for me.
I already had a rescue dog and cat of my own so I was aware of the large number of strays that were roaming the island and I used to help maintain one of the island’s cat feeding stations. Joining SXM PAWS was a way to help even more.
When I first joined, PAWS had a small space at one of the local veterinary clinics and we kept a few dogs and cats there until we got them re-homed. Volunteers would go to the clinic 3 times a day to walk the dogs, and in the mornings someone came in to feed them and clean the kennels. The kennels were also cleaned when the dogs were walked so it was a pretty nice place for them except for being in a small fenced kennel. We also worked with some of the other vets on the island helping to find suitable homes or fosters. I have gotten to know lots of animals, although dogs and cats are the bulk of the rescues. The founder, Corinne Mackie, and her cousin and PAWS partner, Dorette Pfenning, keep everything running smoothly.
In addition to taking care of the kennel dogs, there were many feeding places around the island for stray dogs and cats that there was unfortunately no room for. Over 40 dogs and countless cats were taken care of daily. There was a good system set up to do all of this and when someone went on vacation, someone else would fill in to make sure everyone was fed and cared for. If any of the animals needed medical attention, they were brought into the clinic. It was a pretty good system and was working well…until Hurricane Irma. After Irma, everything changed.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc everywhere they went. People and animals alike were effected. In our case, several of our volunteers and Corrine were off island and couldn’t get back. They evacuated 17,000 people in a couple of weeks, none of them were able to take their pets with them. There were homeless people and animals everywhere. The feeding stations were destroyed and there was no place to set up new ones until the debris was cleared. All of the vet clinics were badly damaged and there was no place to keep any of the animals. It was a nightmare of epic proportions. I was staying with Dr. Ruth, one of the best vets on the island, and she was taking in animals. There were 8 dogs and 15 cats staying at her house along with me, my animals, and Dr. Ruth’s dogs and cats. Every evening was feeding time for our guests and we were lucky to be able to come up with food and dishes for them all.
I helped Dr. Ruth with the evacuation of all of the medical students and faculty and their pets off the island. Some of them were fostering some of our dogs, and bless their hearts, they took the dogs with them when they left. The next evacuation was a month after Irma when an organized airlift was carried out to take almost 200 animals off of St. Maarten and out of danger to Florida where Corinne and her band of helpers met them and got them sorted out to other rescue groups. It was an amazing feat carried out by an army of dedicated people.
So here we are a year later with limited places to keep the animals, still trying to feed and re-home them as best we can. Everyday more and more of them are appearing, and we’re dependent on fosters to keep these dogs and cats until we are able to find them homes because we have no place to put them. People with no homes or jobs are unable to feed their pets, surrendering them for adoption or just turning them loose to fend for themselves on the streets. We have always had a problem with too many animals here for the number of homes, but it has now reached crisis levels. So many have gone un-neutered in the past year, only making matters worse. But the dedicated groups of people are all still working hard to get the job done, no matter how overwhelming it seems. I have to give them all so much credit for tirelessly working every day to help save the lives of the fuzz balls we have all come to know and love.
Have you found your volunteer niche on your island? How do you help make a difference on your rock?