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A Voice for Those Who Cannot Speak

TCSPCA has helped animals and their owners for nearly 20 years.

By Kathi Barrington ~ Photos Courtesy TSCPCA

The Turks & Caicos Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TCSPCA) is the oldest established animal welfare organization in the country. There is no veterinary service on any of our islands except Providenciales, which is why the not-for-profit group is literally a necessity-of-life for the animals with whom we co-exist in the Turks & Caicos.
TCSPCA mobile clinics, held one to three times a year on each of the sister islands, are the only time most animals receive any medical care. The office and clinic on Providenciales have been providing services to all the animals of Providenciales since August 2008. But long before that, the TCSPCA was helping animals and their owners.

And it’s not just dogs and cats that benefit. The original SPCA was founded in Grand Turk by Tom Saunders on January 5, 1998, to address the welfare of roaming cattle, donkeys, and horses. These animals are still monitored and often helped by the TCSPCA today. In 2014 the two traditional animal-accessible wells on Grand Turk were cleaned out and the troughs rebuilt, once again providing water to roaming animals, thanks to the TCSPCA, funds from the Donkey Sanctuary, UK and help from the Department of Agriculture. The TCSPCA on Provo has rescued and treated donkeys, goats, horses, pelicans, flamingoes, snakes, and geckoes as well as countless dogs and cats, and once, a manatee.
Staffed by a handful of volunteers and funded solely through private donations and fund-raising, the TCSPCA has made a significant difference to all animals in the TCI for over 15 years. TCSPCA volunteers have earned the trust of residents, the admiration and support of tourists and off-island animal welfare organizations, and the respect of the government.

King was rescued by the TCSPCA and recovered under the professional care of Pampered Paws.

King was rescued by the TCSPCA and recovered under the professional care of Pampered Paws.

TCSPCA’s first director and co-founder Beth Vankeep remembers when the Provo group was solidified as a working team. She called it the perfect storm. A pack of wild dogs on the airport runway had prevented the new- to-Providenciales American Airlines flight from landing. Not good. Add to that the “60 Minutes” reporter who was chased down “magical” Grace Bay Beach and bitten by a feral dog, and District Commissioner for Providencales Kingsley Been receiving daily nuisance dog reports from residents and hoteliers. Something had to happen.
In September 2000, the TCSPCA was invited to the first meeting of the TCI Government’s newly formed Feral Dog Committee. Several months later, the government contracted the TCSPCA to carry out its Feral Dog Programme, with a humane trapping program designed by TCSPCA and endorsed by the Committee. With government funding behind them and Beth Veenkamp as the newly hired TCSPCA project manager, the small group got the ball rolling.
The TCSPCA, with the help of Pegasus, a not for profit animal welfare foundation, brought in professional help. Owner of Wildlife Veterinary Resources (WVR) in Montana Dr. Mark Johnson and his team flew to Providenciales in August 2001 to help convince government that the exploding wild dog problem had to be handled on many levels. Teach owners to be responsible and caring. Trap and humanely euthanize un-owned dogs. Spay or neuter pets. (A female dog comes into heat twice each year and can have a litter of up to 12 puppies. Do the math.) Draft, pass, and enforce animal control legislation. Mark’s WVR team trained TCSPCA volunteers how, where, and why to set traps and most importantly, trained local residents Oliver Ferguson and Alco Williams to carry on the program.
For three years the TCSPCA administered the Programme and succeeded in humanely euthanising over 2,000 un-owned dogs as well as spaying/neutering over 800 dogs and cats.
Weeks prior to setting traps, TCSPCA volunteers went yard to yard, handing out blue dog collars to people for their pets. They explained that any collared animal caught in a trap would be spayed or neutered and returned to its yard. Radio and newspaper ads also explained the massive project. Nobody wanted to accidentally kill an owned dog.
During the initial “Kick Start” phase of the program in 2001, Islanders rallied to this effort. Volunteers appeared as if by magic to help implement the trapping. The Graceway IGA provided meat scraps and bones to bait the traps. When volunteers quickly learned our wild dogs don’t “do” raw, Animal Control Officer Alco Williams cooked the scraps of raw meat bait. In three weeks the Johnson team and TCSPCA volunteers trapped nearly 500 dogs; 293 were humanely euthanized and 182 were spayed or neutered by Wooding Veterinary Services.
Beth ran the organization out of a rented guest apartment at Madeline and Terry Erskine’s. She told me they filled the place and the backyard with puppies and dogs during and after the trapping program. The Erskine’s two rescued horses, Hero and Cowboy, watched over this motley crew. The imported trapping team fell in love with our potcakes, and several took pups home with them to the USA. Thus began the TCPSCA’s off-island adoption programme. Today it is simple and easy to adopt a potcake or potcat. More than 200 animals start new lives in the USA or Canada each year.
Donna Doran and Susan Blehr by the "animal bus" outside TCSPCA office.

Donna Doran and Susan Blehr by the “animal bus” outside TCSPCA office.

By this time the organization had formed a Board of Directors, under the presidency of Kingsley Been, whose mandate was to ensure all animals in the TCI were cared for and free from abuse. Two of the original Board, Peggy Perkins and Barbara Young, are still active directors today.
In the height of the choreographed chaos of trapping, spaying, and neutering, Beth discovered she was pregnant. In April 2002 she returned to Canada with her husband. Before she left, she convinced volunteer Susan Blehr to take over the helm as director of the TCSPCA.
The changing of the guard was simple. Beth handed to Susan the cell phone and the computer. Susan recalls that the very next day she was fostering a litter of eight puppies on her back deck. She’d never owned a dog in her life and her cat was not amused by the intruders. Today she and her husband, Bob-the-Dog-Whisperer Blehr, have a pack. Each was once considered unadoptable.
Susan, with Bob at her back, ran the TCSPCA from home until 2003. An experienced manager and networker, she and volunteers set up foster homes for puppies and kittens. Louise Henderson was hired as the TCSPCA educational officer to go into all the schools to talk about caring, responsible pet ownership and the importance of vaccinations and spay/neuter. The TCSPCA worked with government to draft legislation to protect animals and people. They continued to encourage people to have their pets sterilized and worked tirelessly picking up animals, delivering them for free surgery, and then returning them home. The number of dog attacks and calls about nuisance dogs abated dramatically.
In 2003 the TCSPCA secured a small office upstairs in Suzie Turn Plaza, which made Susan’s home life slightly less chaotic. Then in 2004, after the government decided to take the Feral Dog Programme in-house, the TCSPCA went into fundraising mode and the Just for Fun Dog Show (the first of which was held in 2002 in the Graceway IGA parking lot,) became a vital source of revenue to continue to pay for the free spay/neuter programme.
When the feral dog population exploded again in 2004, government reached out to contract the TCSPCA again, to bring Mark Johnson’s team back to trap and euthanize or spay/neuter dogs, as temporary, stop-gap measures to control animals in areas frequented by tourists.
Dr. Meghann Vollmer Kruck regularly holds spay/neuter clinics in TCI.

Dr. Meghann Vollmer Kruck regularly holds spay/neuter clinics in TCI.

Without consistent funding, the TCSPCA was finding it difficult to subsidize their spay/neuter/vaccination program for the river of Islanders who wanted to do the right thing for their pets. Although the TCSPCA received donations from supporters and funds from resident Heather Forbes’ Potcake Foundation, they realized that they simply could not continue paying for veterinary services.
However, another perfect storm was brewing. In 2007 an outbreak of the deadly canine distemper virus swept the island. The TCSPCA reacted swiftly, obtaining thousands of donated vials of the vaccination against the terrible disease. Anyone who had ever administered a subcutaneous injection was enlisted to go door to door in the communities to administer the vaccination to pets in yards and homes. One of the volunteers was a retired veterinarian, Dr. Rich Sefcik.
Several pets did succumb to distemper, but many more did not. And Dr. Sefcik, who had bought a house on Provo in 2004 and retired to the island with his wife Jan, offered to perform spays and neuters, part-time, for the TCSPCA as a volunteer vet. However, they would need a clinic to perform the surgeries and care for the animals before and after the procedure.
Enter Annie Notley. She and her husband Simon were visiting Provo and heard of the TCSPCA. After meetings and consults with Susan, she donated $35,000 to the organization to secure a small spay/neuter clinic.Fortunately, there was a vacant room for rent at Suzie Turn Plaza so Dr. Rich designed and equipped the clinic, and in August 2008 he performed the first surgery in the new clinic.
Five mornings a week, for almost five years, Dr. Rich advised and reassured pet owners. He spayed or neutered almost 3,000 dogs and cats. His quiet confidence and wicked sense of humour made it easy for a diverse group of volunteers to happily work with him. Owners and their pets responded positively to him. In short, he was a Godsend.
With Dr. Rich in situ, the TCSPCA was able to realize one of their most important goals — to take veterinary care to all of the Turks & Caicos Islands. In 2010 the TCSPCA team packed their eight-year-old animal bus with everything they needed to perform surgeries and wellness checks, and shipped the van to Sandy Point, North Caicos. They then drove to Blue Horizon Resort on Middle Caicos, where they set up the surgery in a warehouse space there.
Since then, the TCSPCA has held clinics on all the out islands and Grand Turk. The goal is to hold two clinics a year on each island during the breeding seasons.
Another milestone was the re-launching of a Grand Turk chapter of the TCSPCA in 2011, which then held its first spay/neuter clinic that August. The Grand Turk volunteers run a shop in the cruise ship center to raise funds and they sell basic animal care supplies to pet owners.
Years of hard work, community outreach, and most importantly, education by the TCSPCA paid off in large numbers of pet owners bringing their animals to the Suzy Turn clinic for vaccinations, heart worm preventatives, and affordable spay or neuter surgeries. The word was out — being a responsible pet owner made everyone’s life easier and better. And then the axe fell again. Dr. Rich and Jan decided to return to the United States. They sold their home and said an emotional good-bye in May 2013.
Besides losing dear friends, the TCSPCA faced a crisis —no veterinary care. Would the clinic/shop survive? Once again Blehr rose to the challenge. She found veterinary groups which travel across the world to provide veterinary care to places where no care is available.
During the first clinic after Dr. Rich had gone, held on Provo in October 2013, Dr. Jessica Braun and vet tech Kristine Bucholz performed 134 spay or neuter surgeries in five days. Since then, the TCSPCA has held more than a dozen clinics, covering all the islands. During the most recent clinic in November, Dr. Meghann Vollmer Kruck, of Kindest Cut in Minnesota, and two of her vet techs performed 107 surgeries in five days. Dr. Kruck will be back for a month in late spring 2016.
For fifteen years, the TCSPCA has worked with the the TCI residents through day to day community outreach on each island, in each village, and reliable, non-judgmental, affordable services to pet owners in their yards, homes, or at the Suzie Turn clinic. They are supported by many island businesses, organizations, and resorts.
A Pampered Paws obedience class on the beach.

A Pampered Paws obedience class on the beach.

Pampered Paws, the TCI’s only boarding, grooming, and training facility has provided runs for TCSPCA pups since 2002. Each year owner Donna Doran and her wonderful staff provide “room and board,” medical care, training, and loads of TLC to hundreds of pups and older dogs, many who are in truly terrible physical and emotional condition when they arrive.
Lew Handfield Shipping and interCaribbean Airways have been providing discounted or free transportation to the organization from the early days. TCI First Insurance insures the animal bus at no charge. Heather Forbes’ Potcake Foundation raises funds each year for the TCSPCA. Provo residents John Thomas and Jessica Kyle have recently come on scene, establishing Potcake Project, a non-for-profit organization that provides funds to rescue, rehab, and re-home older potcakes. They also pay visiting vet teams’ airfare.
Long Bay homeowner Larry Costa learned that the TCSPCA urgently needed to replace their 13-year-old “animal bus.” He found, bought, and shipped a new E-250 Extended Cargo Van to Provo in January 2015. The van was inaugurated in April when it was shipped to North Caicos for a mobile clinic there.
TCSPCA fundraisers are community centered and hugely popular: The calendar, begun in 2005, features loving portraits of rescued animals from across these islands; the annual “Just for Fun” Dog Show, under the tent provided by Turtle Cove Marina; the now famous Beach Bonfire BBQ hosted by Kissing Fish Catering at Bay Bistro’s beachfront restaurant and the Christmas Fair with Santa’s Grotto. All are put on by the volunteers and local businesses. Donations from residents and tourists are their other source of funds.
Director Susan Blehr knows that the organization has made a huge difference to the lives and well being of thousands of animals and to pet owners on every island. The community outreach programmes and the affordable spay/neuter/vaccination clinics on the sister islands have achieved an obvious, quantifiable decrease in unwanted, unowned animals. The goal that every animal has a home is doable on the sister islands. Their stray dog populations and their owned animal figures, compared to Provo, are small. The target — to get 70% of the animals spayed or neutered — is realistic. That’s the magic number required to achieve decreasing populations, rather than an increasing number of animals each year.
However, that is not the case on Providenciales. Well documented research by experts in animal population control have shown that no amount of spay/neuters will affect the large, roaming dog population on Provo. The cold hard fact is that unless one ownerless dog is rendered incapable of reproducing for each pet that is spayed or neutered, animal control efforts will fail.
Without an organized, humane, compassionate, trapping/euthanization programme on this island, for at least a year, the feral dog population will continue to increase. Sadly, many of our native potcakes will die of starvation or dehydration, disease, or car accidents. But many more will survive, and they will bear more puppies.
For now, Director Blehr focuses on the many accomplishments of the TCSPCA: the spaying or neutering of more than 5,000 dogs; the adoptions, on and off-island, of more than 1,000 potcakes and potcats; the rescue and rehab of older animals, often in appalling, heart breaking condition, that have evoked the sympathy and support of residents and visitors. Unintended animal cruelty by owners, due to insufficient education about things like ear and tail cropping, are now rare. The TCSPCA has clearly seen that the majority of animal owners here want to do the right thing for their pets, and they know they can come to the TCSPCA for help, no matter what. That’s what the TCSPCA is all about.
Susan wanted the last word in this article: “Without our volunteers, there would be no TCSPCA. They are always there, always willing, and always caring. I have learned from them, as I hope they have from me, and together we try our best to live our motto: Be the voice for those who cannot speak.” a

If you support the TCSPCA, you are helping all the animals of the country, making it a better place for the animals, all residents, and visitors. Please visit www.tcspca.com or contact us at tcscpa@tciway.tc. You can also follow us on FaceBook for the latest happenings.



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