Today was our first meeting to find out more about some of the animal-related issues going on on the island. Robyn set us up to meet with Joan Carroll, one of the founders of Pet Pals, an organization based on Eleuthera which focuses on domestic animal welfare. Joan is a Swedish expatriate who came to the island about 6 years ago after a life of travel, and became active in animal welfare activism here. Not the silly sign-waving type of activism, mind you – I mean actually going into the towns and settlements and getting her hands dirty for what she believes in.

And that is indeed what Pet Pals does: tries to promote good pet ownership practices by providing what veterinary care they are able to provide, and educating people about pet welfare. Veterinary care is sparsely available at best; a veterinarian comes to the island once every three weeks to hold spay/neuter clinics and provide whatever other care is needed, but for emergencies, animals must be flown to Nassau – clearly a less than ideal situation. Otherwise, only occasionally do some veterinarians come from the States to do pro bono work. The spay/neuter initiative for potcakes is another large part of Pet Pals’ involvement, with the goal of reducing the number of stray and feral dogs on the island. Joan told us that they will typically go from settlement to settlement to try to pick up 10-15 potcakes at a time, checking to see if anyone owns them, and if so, offering to have them neutered at no cost. Obviously most owners don’t mind this deal. After neutering, the animals will be returned to their homes; or, if they do not have an owner, Pet Pals attempts to find an off-island adopter. The initiative has apparently already seen some success in just a few years; according to Joan, the number of roaming potcakes has decreased somewhat, and we plan to ask around about this and if people have noticed a similar trend.

*Note: Sorry to interrupt, but here is where the story gets a bit hairy (pun intended), so please keep in mind that much of what is presented below has simply been objectively relayed from our interview and discussion, and does not necessarily reflect our beliefs or the general beliefs and attitudes of the Bahamian people.

Most of the issues, though, came down to animal welfare rather than care. For example, poisoning of strays is rather common, to prevent them from going through trash or destroying property; we were even told of a late priest in Palmetto Point who was notorious for poisoning animals around his property. Dogs are sometimes left tied up outside with little or no shelter for endless periods of time; and though fed, are not able to exercise or socialize. Owners will put collars on some pets, but will neglect to adjust them as they grow larger, so the animal is eventually choked by the collar.

The problems extend beyond potcakes, as well. We were told the story of a man who for whatever reason shoved an entire broomstick into the genital tract of a mare, and only received the at-the-time maximum fine of $50 for animal cruelty. At one point there had been a small herd of feral horses in the south of the island. An aspiring businessman decided to try to capture all of the mares to turn into riding horses for tourists, and proceeded to hire a man to kill all of the stallions of the herd and capture the mares. He, too, was prosecuted, though we did not hear to what extent.

Joan’s belief was that many of these problems could be helped by increasing education as well as more support from the justice system. Teaching children about welfare for animals at an early age would hopefully instill them with such values for life, and they would be able to teach their own families, too. The fine for animal cruelty has been recently increased from $50 to $500, but according to Joan, enforcement is still inadequate. We would certainly like to do some investigation into these statistics ourselves while we’re here.

So if you’ve reached this point in this post, congratulations, you’re a trooper. Much of the rest of the day was a pleasant trip north with Joan to visit the Pineapple Vet Clinic where Pet Pals operates, north of Palmetto Point near Tippy’s Beach. The clinic was clean and nice, small but adequate. Afterward followed a phenomenal lunch at The Beachhouse, a tapas restaurant just north of Tippy’s overlooking a gorgeously deserted white beach and the deep blue Atlantic. Much of the rest of the day back in Tarpum Bay was filled with a beach visit and dinner at the Mission House, details to which I won’t subject you further. We have another meeting on Friday, but for the added effect of suspense, I won’t tell who it is that we’re meeting with.