Thousands of dogs from other countries are brought to Canada each year as international adoptions. As many as one thousand dogs arrive annually from Mexico, where informal networks of nonprofit agencies, often founded by or affiliated with expat Canadians, treat stray animals and help them find homes in Western Canada. Mexico is the second most popular vacation destination for Canadians, and during those visits many Canadians have encountered malnourished, neglected street dogs.
“During vacation season people feed them and then when the season is over they starve,” says artist Laura Feeleus. Feeleus and her husband Court Fooks live in Victoria, British Columbia, and have vacationed in Mexico for 30 years. About three years ago they stayed in Casa Contenta, a guesthouse in the beachfront town of Los Ayala. They became friendly with their hostess, Linda Chimes, a former college professor who spends only part of her year in Canada.
After Feeleus and Chimes bonded over a shared enthusiasm for dogs, Chimes introduced her Jaltemba Bay Rescue (JBAR), an animal sanctuary that she established in 2013.
“Her enthusiasm for dogs and animals was infectious,” says Feeleus. Not only did Feeleus and Chimes share an affection for dogs, they had a bond closer to home that they didn’t immediately know about. The vet who cared for Feeleus’s dogs at home was Dr. Malcolm McCartney, now retired, of McKenzie Veterinary Services in Victoria. Chimes and McCartney were already working together to help street dogs. When McCartney began traveling to Mexico in 2010, he observed that spaying and neutering dogs was not a common practice there and this contributed to the overpopulation of underfed street dogs. He created the Mexi-Can Vet Project, which recruits Canadian veterinarians to help provide veterinary care and biannual spay and neuter clinics.
“In Mexico, veterinary care can be unaffordable or inaccessible to many pet owners,” says Karin Roslee, animal health technician and project coordinator for the Mexi-Can Project. “There are also many unsterilized and unowned animals which compounds the problem of stray dogs and cats on the streets. These animals can carry disease and can pose a danger to communities.”
The Mexi-Can Vet project travels to Mexico twice a year to help a local organization conduct spay and neuter clinics. During McCartney’s first clinic he spayed and neutered 144 animals. On the next visit, the total rose to 203. The clinics also treat animals for infectious and parasitic disease, as well as many other ailments. After every clinic, eight to 10 small to medium-sized dogs with medical problems or dogs in need of surgery return to Canada for treatment and to find new homes. Any adoption fees earned are returned to JBAR to keep the animal sanctuary open.
An informal network of volunteers helps with every aspect of rescue, shelter, care, and transport. Dog lovers, such as Feeleus, who notice the plight of Mexico’s homeless dogs, help in any way they can. “There hasn’t really been a formal involvement for me,” says Feeleus, whose contributions include adopting and fostering rescue dogs.
Before touring the JBAR sanctuary, she had no thought of adopting a rescue dog since her previous dogs were purebreds. Then she and her husband met a two-day-old puppy named Lucy, one of JBAR’s many rescues, and the attachment happened fast. “We were smitten,” says Feeleus. “We went home, but I flew back eight weeks later to get her.” The couple not only adopted Lucy, but also subsequently adopted a second dog from Mexico, whom they named Max. In addition to adopting two dogs, Feeleus has helped other Mexican strays to find homes. Since picking up Lucy, Feeleus has returned to the same area twice, dividing her vacations between relaxing and readying local dogs for adoption.
“One [trip] involved pickup, transport, and adoption,” says Feeleus. “One involved an actual rescue and rehabilitation and adoption, and one was to be a guardian angel.” On a 2015 trip to the Jaltemba area, Feeleus helped save a dog she called Maya, whom had recently given birth to puppies. “That involved taking them to the vet many times (often in cabs that would not allow dogs), washing them, taking off hundreds of ticks, giving medications, driving the mother dog to Puerto Vallarta for blood tests, and buying them food and leaving it out for them.” Eventually, thanks to their efforts, all the dogs were adopted.
One evening, when Feeleus returned from taking Maya to the vet, they sat on the beach together, watching the sun go down. “Maya came to sit next to me on the sand, and I swear that she thanked me with her eyes,” says Feeleus. “I felt very moved. The rescued dogs are definitely grateful, and that’s a huge part of what keeps me wanting to do it.”
Since the clinics started, Roslee has noticed a difference. There are fewer stray dogs wandering the streets. Animals coming into recent clinics have been in better shape than in the past. Many dogs who had little hope of being adopted now have a home. One of those dogs is Harvey, a Schnauzer, who arrived at the clinic in 2015 with a broken leg. Someone had given him a cast but it slipped and was acting as a weight on his already damaged leg. Vets at the clinic had no choice but to amputate. During his treatment, the dog’s friendly nature made such an impression on one of the doctors that she wound up taking him home.
“It has been a year now and Harvey has blossomed into this fluffy, joyful dog whose smile is contagious,” says Roslee. “He comes to work every day, and he brings us all so much joy.”