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March 26, 2009

How the Tourism Industry Is Helping Animals in the Caribbean

Humane Society International

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    The organization "Save a Gato" works closely with the National Park Service of the United States through a unique partnership to manage a feral cat colony at the San Juan National Historic site in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The following examples illustrate the ways in which tourism can support animals in the Caribbean, often through partnerships with local animal welfare organizations:

A feral cat Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program operated by the Anguilla Animal Rescue Foundation's (AARF) at the Cap Juluca Resort has been a success since it began in 2004. That year, AARF approached Cap Juluca with the idea for a TNR program to control the births of unwanted kittens on the property. Cats are trapped, spayed or neutered and released back on the property where they are fed, watered and monitored. For information on establishing feral cat colonies and a TNR program, contact AARF at aarfinfo@aarf.ai.

The Potcake Place, a dog rescue group located in the Turks and Caicos Islands, lists on its website local resorts that support them.

The Grenada SPCA (GSPCA) features a link on its website to JustGrenada.co.uk, a travel company that has donated funds to GSPCA to build a new animal shelter in Carriacou. The travel company also offers discount travel for GSPCA members who book travel holidays from the UK to Grenada. THE GSPCA also reports that tourists learn about the shelter while researching their trip. Many visit the animal shelter and bring supplies for the animals with them.  Tourists have also been known to bring stray dogs and cats to the shelter.

Crew members from the cruise ship Disney Wonder often volunteer at the Bahamas Humane Society. The crew members, called VoluntEARS, spend their free time while in port at Nassau helping animals at the shelter. Volunteer duties include socializing cats, walking dogs, bathing animals, assisting with adoptions, maintaining the shelter and fund raising.

The Cayman Islands Humane Society (CIHS) enjoys the support of several hotels on Grand Cayman island. CIHS hosts its fashion show fundraiser at the Ritz-Carlton, which allows animals in the hotel. The event promotes animal adoption while raising money for the shelter. Several Ritz-Carlton employees also volunteer for CIHS. The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort hosts another major fundraising event each year for CIHS. In addition to offering reduced rates for use of the venue, the Marriott shares its bar proceeds for the night with CIHS. Morritt's Tortuga Club and Morritt's Grand Resort have also donated weekends for two as raffle prizes to raise funds for CIHS.

The Villa Tropical resort donates weekend stays that the Puerto Rico Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Isabela, Puerto Rico raffle off to raise money for its education, adoption and spay/neuter programs. Clients of PAWS who are not able to afford the low-cost spay/neuter program are asked to sell raffle tickets in exchange for free services. 

A sign at Antigua's cruise ship dock invites tourists to visit nearby King's Casino and purchase Antigua and Barbuda Humane Society T-shirts. The owner of King's Casino, a long-time supporter of the Humane Society, agreed to the arrangement. A large display case inside the casino showcases the Humane Society's T-shirts and cookbooks. A nearby photo display depicts scenes of the Humane Society's work to help the animals of Antigua. In addition to the money raised from the sale of the merchandise, the Humane Society gets exposure, which often results in e-mails from tourists who want to send a donation or become a member of the Humane Society.

A new animal ambulance was donated to The Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau, The Bahamas with support provided by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, a local car dealership, a sign company and an insurance company. The animal ambulance is used as part of the Humane Society's 24-hour emergency animal ambulance serviceto pick up sick and injured dogs throughout Nassau, which has an estimated 30,000 free-roaming dogs for spay/neuter, adoption, or, when necessary, humane euthanasia. The van is also  used to deliver traps and dog kennels throughout the community as part of the Humane Society's Who Let the Dogs Out spay/neuter campaign and to rescue wildlife.

The St. Croix Animal Welfare Center in the U.S. Virgin Islands is working on several fronts to reduce dog and cat overpopulation. While the center's low-cost spay/neuter program helps, the island's relatively small population limits the number of residents available to adopt animals locally. Since 2002, local spay/neuter and adoption efforts have been supplemented by Pets from Paradise, a program that engages tourists in helping homeless animals. The program recruits travelers who are flying to specific destinations in the mainland United States, to be travel companions for shelter animals.  Once the animals arrive in the states they are picked up by a representative from one of a sister shelter and placed for adoption. Most of the St. Croix Pets from Paradise ' are adopted within the first week of arriving at the new shelter.

El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, works closely with several Puerto Rico animal welfare groups, including Save a Sato, Amigos de los Animales and Island Dog. The resort supports these organizations in a number of ways, including: distributing flyers about Puerto Rico animal welfare groups to employees and guests as a way to encourage donations or animal adoptions, providing free or reduced-cost accommodations to animal rescue groups, erecting a collection box on resort property that raises funds for the homeless dogs of nearby Los Machos Beach, donating hotel accommodations to be used in a raffle to benefit Puerto Rico animals and saving old towels to give to rescue groups and shelters.

Puerto Rican officials launched a campaign to improve the treatment of animals after allegations of inhumane killings of cats and dogs drew international condemnation and led to millions of dollars in lost tourism.

The Cayman Islands Humane Society was featured in an issue of Destination Cayman, a free magazine distributed on American Airlines flights to the Caribbean and through other companies that provide services to tourists. The story focused on a local dog trainer who not only works with owned dogs but who also trains dogs at the Cayman Islands Humane Society to improve their chances of adoption.

Since 2001, the St. Lucia Animal Protection Society (SLAPS) and International Veterinary Assistance (IVA) have joined forces to provide free spay/neuter and animal wellness clinics on the island of St. Lucia in the southern Caribbean. Local hotels contribute lodging for visiting veterinary volunteers. Local restaurants and concerned citizens provide free meals to the vet teams. More than a dozen spay/neuter clinics have resulted in well over 1,000 sterilizations of cats and dogs. The value of the in-kind donation from tourism and local volunteers exceeds US$10,000 per clinic. SLAPS and IVA hope to revitalize and leverage the relationship with tourism sector and visitors to St. Lucia and help brand St. Lucia as a responsible and animal friendly Caribbean island.

The Humane Society of St. Thomas' Cat Café program addresses the feral cat overpopulation on St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The program was originally adapted from the Cat Café program of the McKee Project in Costa Rica. Designed for tourist locations and resort properties, the Cat Café program provides spaying or neutering, feeding and veterinary care for small colonies of cats. Hotels, resorts, restaurants and other tourism properties participating in the St. Thomas Cat Café program include: Bluebeards Beach Properties, Magen's Bay Beach, Island View Guest House, Magen's Point Resort, Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, Emerald Beach Resort, Sapphire Beach Resort, and the Old Mill Nightclub.

The Bonaire Donkey Sanctuary attracts 18,000 visitors a year and derives 75 percent of its support from travelers.

The Tourism Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (TDC) and the Tobago House of Assembly Division of Tourism support Project SPOTT (Spaying Prevents Overpopulation in Trinidad & Tobago). Project SPOTT is a collaborative effort of many organizations, including the TDC, the Tobago House of Assembly, Trinidad and Tobago SPCA- Northern Branch, Trinidad and Tobago SPCA - Tobago Branch, Animal Welfare Network, Humane Society International, and the University of the West Indies Veterinary School. Project SPOTT will  include spay/neuter clinics in targeted communities in Trinidad and Tobago as well as humane education and other public awareness efforts.

TripAdvisor.com has a special section in its Causes forum for animal charities. The forums allow members to ask for and share opinions and advice. While most forums focus on geographic regions, the Causes forum highlights charities at vacation destinations. Trip Advisor is the largest travel community in the world, with almost 30 million monthly visitors. To visit the postings about animal charities, go to www.tripadvisor.com, click on Forums, then select TripAdvisor Causes. Under the list of Topics, select Animal Charities.

The Turks and Caicos SPCA publishes yearly calendars with photos of the islands' animals. Each page of the calendars are sponsored by a local company, including Turtle Cove Marina, Somerset Resort, and Ports of Call Shopping Village. The printing of the calendars are financed completely through sponsorships so the SPCA is able to use the profits from calendar sales to fund its animal welfare work. The calendars are available for purchase at hotels and other locations where tourists can be found. 

Save a Gato ("gato" means "cat" in Spanish) works closely with the National Park Service of the United States through a unique partnership to manage a feral cat colony at the San Juan National Historic site in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. While the park service provides no direct funding to Save a Gato, it does provide many services, including a sign announcing the partnership between the park service and Save a Gato, and use of a small building in which Save a Gato can store supplies and temporarily house cats needing veterinary care. The park service also cooperates fully in giving Save a Gato the necessary access to the park for the feeding program. In three years, Save a Gato has successfully reduced the feral cat population on park service property from 250 cats to fewer than 100.

The Vieques Humane Society and Animal Rescue (VHSAR), located on the island of Vieques (part of Puerto Rico), works with local tourism and other businesses to organize their bi-annual Benefit Art Auction. The auctions draw many of Vieques' seasonal tourists. The auctions  have included items such as art by local artists, a sail boat ride, a tour of a local bio-luminescent bay, and gift certificates for local airlines, restaurants, hotels, inns, and clothing stores. Funds raised from the auction will support the work of the VHSAR, which operates an animal shelter on the island. The VHSAR strives to improve animal welfare on Vieques through spay/neuter services, adoption of homeless animals, and education programs.

The Cayman Activity Guide editor publicly states his opposition to captive dolphin facilities in the forum section of the Guide's website. The Cayman Activity Guide, which is available as a printed publication and online, reaches 70 percent of the Cayman Islands' overnight visitors and 20 percent of cruise visitors prior to their arrival.

"Voluntourism" is becoming an increasingly popular trend that combines vacationing and volunteerting. There are now a wider variety of volunteer opportunities available in almost every travel destination, including the Caribbean. The Grenada SPCA in Grenada has an apartment available for long-term veterinary volunteers who assist in running the SPCA's veterinary clinic and animal shelter. Other organizations, like the Vieques Humane Society in Puerto Rico and the Bonaire Donkey Sanctuary, offer housing for volunteers who are willing to provide animal care, including feeding, cleaning, and a variety of other tasks.

Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA) representatives have publicly asked the Cayman Islands government that no more dolphins be imported to the island for use in captive dolphin facilities. CITA has stated that the capture, import, export or keeping in captivity of all cetacean species, including dolphins, should be banned in the Cayman Islands. CITA membership has been described as a diverse cross-section of businesses and stakeholders from the tourism sector.

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