With so many incredible women living in the tropics, often going unnoticed on their little islands by the rest of the world, I wanted to take the opportunity to share their stories here. This series, Women Who Rock Their Rock, features island women in all their glory, inspiring others with the work they do and how they’re making a difference on their islands.
The woman featured in this addition to the series works to provide “a voice for those who cannot speak.”
MEET SUSAN BLEHR
ISLAND: Providenciales, TCI
NOMINATED BY: Her dedicated team of volunteers, with help from her husband, Bob
Susan Blehr was born in Bournemouth, UK, and found her way to the Turks and Caicos Islands with her then new husband Bob, via some pretty high profile publishing roles in Washington D.C. and Florida. She now lives in Providenciales in the TCI and runs the Turks and Caicos Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TCSPCA), a volunteer run non-profit animal welfare organization.
Susan began as a volunteer for the fledgling TCSPCA which was based in the house of the director. This woman was young, recently married, and was returning to live in Canada. Susan was asked if she would be interested in taking over. She had no experience in animal welfare, but that did not deter Susan. She was well aware of the need to curb the stray dog population in the Turks and Caicos Islands. From her time working at the airport, she had seen a truck drive down the runway before takeoffs and landings to ensure that it was clear of roaming dogs. At that time, the dump was located by the end of the runway and packs of dogs gathered to scrounge for food. She had been witness to the sad condition of these animals who were run over by cars all across the island. She felt she not only could, but needed to make a difference.
The TCSPCA was moved into her spare bedroom. The total assets were an old Ford van with holes throughout the floor, a computer, and $400 in cash. But she had a vision.
With two part time helpers and funding from the Conservation fund, the TCSPCA trapped stray animals. Many had to be humanely euthanized, but owned dogs were sterilized by a private vet and were returned to their owners with collars to mark ownership. She soon realized that this could be a never-ending task. The concept of potcakes as pets was not widespread at the time. People saw them more as community animals and fed and watered them. Susan saw education as a critical step. She and her assistants spent countless hours in the neighborhoods of Provo, getting to know the people and their dogs. On a local road map, the island was divided into 7 zones and each one was visited numerous times. Additionally, a more formal program was established in the schools and churches. Free collars were handed out to further back up the message. This process remains successful today.
As the conservation funding dried up, Susan recognized the need to raise funds from the local businesses and residents. As the organization grew, it also became necessary to find a suitable location. Not really knowing if it could be sustained, she took the bold step of renting an office on the second floor above the current office. The program continued to grow and eventually she was able to hire an assistant and replace the van after it died.
As the TCSPCA’s reputation and credibility grew, they soon outgrew the one room. The first step was moving to one room on the ground floor. When the space became available, an adjoining office was added. With no in-house vet, there was a reliance on the two private clinics on Provo, but this severely taxed the available funds. Several fundraising events were initiated, the calendar, the dog show, and the beach BBQ. All of which have grown and are key to the success of the TCSPCA. The organization has developed an incredible network of volunteers, local business support, and donors.
Their on-island vet performed low cost spaying/neutering for 5 years before deciding to return to the states. Rather than take that as a setback, Susan began cultivating a network of volunteer vets from the US and Canada so the program could continue. It not only continued, but grew. As Provo was the only island in the chain that had vet care, a promise was made to visit each family island at least once a year.
For over 20 years now, Susan has dedicated her time to the animals of the Turks and Caicos Islands. To date, through the TCSPCA she has enabled over 7,000 spay/neuter surgeries for dogs and cats across all the inhabited islands; she has worked to put welfare programs in place for the local donkey population; and she is also heavily invested in the welfare and the safety of horses across the islands. Susan has crafted education programs around animal welfare and regularly visits local schools where she engages children of all ages. She has helped get thousands of animals into new homes in the US, Canada, and further afield. She has also helped with birdlife, rabbits, and ferrets. Nothing is too big or small where animal welfare and care is concerned! It’s not uncommon for her to walk around the supermarket, or into a restaurant or bar, and forget the name of the person who comes up to say hello but instead greets them with “Hows Rex’s leg?” or “Is Coco’s tummy upset settled now?” Everyone knows Susan, and Susan knows everyone’s animals!
When Hurricane Irma ripped through the Turks and Caicos Islands as a Cat 5 hurricane in September 2017, homes were destroyed and many people were displaced which meant often leaving their yard dogs and cats behind, and the stray animal population was left with very little in the way of shelter and food. Despite having no power at the TCSPCA office for almost 6 weeks, and having no power at her home for over 2 months (which she shares with 4 dogs and a husband, who were also in need of care and attention!), Susan attended to every call, every animal in need, and offered shelter, support, treatment, and care wherever she could.
Thank you, Susan, for all you do for the sweet island souls who have no voice. Rock on!!
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Do you know of an amazing woman on your island who deserves recognition for the difference she’s making on her rock? Send us an email and nominate her for a chance to have her featured in this series.