Making a difference for unwanted animals one pet at a time

Sue McDonald takes time with a young puppy that was treated and adopted. - Photo submitted
Sue McDonald takes time with a young puppy that was treated and adopted.
— image credit: Photo submitted


While Mexico’s reputation continues to crumble – thanks to widespread reports of gangs, corruption, drugs and violence – one  group, including a handful of Cranbrook residents living there, are working to make life better in the sometimes beleaguered country.

And they’re starting at ground level – literally – with hundreds of furry four-legged friends.

In short, good things are happening.

This is the story of a former Cranbrook cop and a teacher (The McDonalds,a retired banker and a realtor, (Vic and Debbie Ritchie)  snowbirds, living in the town of Progreso, Province of Yucutan, Mexico

I was greeted by five barking dogs from an obvious variety of parenthoods. All had been street dogs, rescued and adopted by Dan and Cindy, two of the many Canadians living permanently in the beautiful seaside fishing village called Progreso. All but the smallest dog stopped barking and started wagging their tails as soon as they heard me say hello in English. The little guy settled down quickly after Dan walked to the gate to greet me.

We all trooped back to the tastefully refurbished beach house that Dan, Cindy and the dogs call home and all five dogs sat quietly in a circle waiting their turn to gently eat creame cheese from Cindy‘s fingers She said they have to learn to be gentle before they can be adopted. I wanted to learn more about how and why two Canadians have become such a driving force in the dog rescue - spay and neuter program in only three-and-a-half short years.

Dan said when they first came down from Toronto they noticed the large dog and cat population being fed quite well by the holidaying Mexican people living in their beach front summer homes, but after they left in the fall and before the ‘Winter Snow Birds’ descended from the USA and Canada, those cats and dogs were forced to compete for food in the garbage they were able to find and claim as their own. Many turned to skinny shadows of their previous selves, many others just were not able to survive. Cindy said “The average lifespan of a dog in the street is two years. Most die in puppy-hood.”

Cindy got involved with the spay neuter clinics put on by Planned Pethood organization which was founded by a Veterinarian, Dr. Jeff Young from Colorado. Dr. Jeff , as he is known by everyone, established a franchised Planned Pethood in Merida led by Dr. Tony., Dr. Nelson & Dr. Liliana. His goal is to use his network to transfer knowledge and expertise in low cost Spay and Neutering techniques to other groups which, I am told, he funds, with the expectation that they will pay him back and then give back to their communities through free spay and neutering clinics. “ One unsterilized female dog and her off springs will produce 4 000 dogs over a seven year span. One unsterilized female cat and her off springs will produce 20,000 cats in 4 years.”

Cindy hooked up with two other local advocates, Maura Garcia Lezama, a Mexican teacher and passionate animal rescue believer and with Lydia Saleh, President’s of AFAD Progreso and Merida respectively. Through these two amazing women, Cindy became involved on the planning committee of the large clinics with Planned Pethood. AFAD is a non profit animal shelter that has been in existence for over 15 years and one of the two main partners to Planned Pethood - the other is Sanctuario Evolucion. Cindy’s background included several years in Canada in the non profit sector with organizations such as the Girl Guides of Canada, the United Way and several hospital Foundations. Events organizing are part of her past.

Cindy also became part of a five person steering committee to create YAPA, (Yucatan Auyda para Animales - Yucatan Help For Animals) an English speaking voice for volunteerism and communication for the animal rescue world here in the Yucatan. They formed and co-ordinated the English speaking contingent for the Progreso campaign consisting of about 100 volunteers, half Canadian from New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan to Alberta and British Columbia, and half American from Tennessee, S. Carolina, Colorado, California, Florida. There were also over 100 volunteer Mexicans from the local High School, the University and the Merida Veterinary School. The Progreso clinic has the largest partnership of Mexican and English speaking volunteers of any other clinic.

The 16 to 20 Veterinarians and their assistants came from Mexicalle, San Miguel de Allande, Mexico City, Cancun, California, Slovakia, Colorado (via Chad, South Africa), and Dr. Jeff and his crew from Colorado. All Vets and their assistants volunteered their time and paid their own air fare. Local volunteers and donations provided food, shelter and transportation for the vets. ( Last year Cindy and Dan paid for a bus to transport the Vets from Merida to Progreso.) Many of the Canadians also offer their homes to the Vets and Techs to stay in while in Progreso and donated all the meals and refreshments for them.

One volunteer, Leslie Beare and her group called Team Leslie brought in over 100 street dogs in a catch and release program in which she personally fed the animals for two months to gain their confidence allowing her team to touch and care for them, eventually leading to their capture, sterilization and release back to their neighbourhood.

Over a four day period in Merida the Vets performed 1,200 sterilizations and in two days in Progreso, they did another 750 bringing a new total of procedures performed to 1975 over six days. Over 32 puppies were adopted in the first day of the Progreso clinic. On the very last day of the clinic after six days standing on their feet - this Veterinarian team performed surgeries on a record 415 animals. Not one registered animal was turned away.

Proof positive that there are good things happening in Mexico.

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