Last weekend a disastrous situation took place where 14 animals were transported from Aruba to Canada to be denied at the border. The animals were crammed into crates together, trampling each other, sick (with anemia, coccideosis, worms, ehrlichia, ringworm and mange to name a few), and ridden with fleas and ticks. The “organization” transporting them is called Save a Puppy (if you have been following the recent developments you may have heard of them). They were denied at the border as they didn’t have proper paperwork and because the animals were in such poor condition. A few news stations picked up the story and seeing as the animals came from Aruba, we have been left with the aftermath.
There are a lot of rumors out there and we have been getting an increasing amount of questions about our animal rescue foundation and whether or not we are associated with the incident or if we work with them. To clear up any confusion: Sgt Pepper’s Friends is NOT in any way associated with the “organization” called Save a Puppy. I write “organization” in quotation marks because Save a Puppy is not a legal foundation, does not have permits to operate and is run by individuals temporarily residing on the island that clearly lack experience and knowledge to handle the matters involved in animal rescue. We have been getting some negative, hateful comments through social media from people asking why we do not support Save a Puppy. It got to a point where people were starting so much drama that we had to begin blocking people from our accounts to ensure the calm and keep drama at bay. People have been getting very involved as Save a Puppy have been posting photos and videos of dead dogs from Aruba’s kill bin, saying that “Aruba’s government and Prime Minister are murdering animals every day like savages”. This is not true.
Let me give you some background information: yes, there is a kill bin on the island. It’s awful. I have never been there and couldn’t in a million years make myself walk in there and see the poor animals that have been left to die. However, this kill cage is not an abnormity or something that Aruba is alone in having in the world – there is a kill cage in every major city in North America! 7,400 pets are euthanized in North America every single day. That is an astonishing number. 7,400. This is something the government implements to keep an out-of-control animal population at bay. Aruba has a kill cage that functions the same way; as you all know we have a huge problem with the overpopulation of cats and dogs (this is the reason Sgt Pepper’s Friends even has to exist in the first place) and implementing a kill bin is an awful, but unfortunately necessary step taken by the government. Every day, around 15 animals are killed in the kill bin. Note that 7,400 animals are killed daily in the US – by comparison, Aruba is not bad at all. Of course we wish the kill bin didn’t have to exist and we are doing everything in our power to help every animal we come across that needs our help. We believe in the power of positive influence, and I personally think that sharing videos of dead dogs and telling people to boycott Aruba is a horrible way to draw attention to a cause.
The stray dogs that populate the island and the kill bin that’s been implemented for years are only symptoms of an underlying issue: the mentality of some people here on the island. Most people living here are animal lovers just like you and me. All of our friends here have dogs and cats they have taken in from the street and are responsible pet owners that take proper care of their animals. However, a part of the population hasn’t gotten there yet. Aruba is a small speck floating in a big sea, and for centuries the population was very isolated. It takes a longer time for movements and trends to reach the islands, and treating your dogs like family, a very natural, engrained instinct for most of us in the west, hasn’t been engrained in the minds of some of the people here yet. This does not mean that old-school locals aren’t friendly or loving. It doesn’t mean that they are heartless. It simply means they have been raised by generations and generations of people struggling to survive. When you are worrying about putting food on the table or paying your bills, chances are you are not going to prioritize bringing your dog to the vet to get neutered. Also, people learn by example so many people who do have the means to get their animals fixed simply don’t because they don’t understand why it’s important. Note that this is true only for a part of the population. There are several animal foundations here, founded by locals and people living abroad working together, as well as a team of great veterinarians that work hard every day to care for the animals that inhabit this island. There are new laws implemented against animal cruelty, and a law from January 1 of this year states it is illegal to let your dog roam freely. This is a HUGE step for a country in the Latin American region. Huge! As everyone knows, passing a new law is different from seeing it in practice, and we are yet to see a big change in the streets. But the effort is there and the first steps have been taken – things are happening and moving in the right direction.
When I first moved here, driving down the street I was shocked to see animals loose on the road everywhere and small puppies running in the bushes. It baffled me. My husband, who grew up in one of the poorer areas of the island and was used to dogs always living in the street, said something that stuck with me:
“Growing up, there were always dogs around, everywhere. They didn’t belong to anyone but people would feed them so that they wouldn’t starve. Sometimes one would have puppies. Me and my friends would all try to help them, give them food, play with them… But one day we’d come home from school and they were run over by a car. Or they just disappeared. My family had dogs, they weren’t neutered. We didn’t have money for it and it’s not something I ever thought of until I grew up and realized what a problem it creates. It was just how life was. It’s not like in Sweden. Living here is different”.
His words stuck with me, because it gave me some perspective when it comes to the situation here, or in any country that has similar problems. It’s easy to show up as a foreigner and say “what a horrible situation! The people here must be so ignorant. Where I’m from we would never have these issues”. My husband is the kindest person in the world. He adores animals. Living here, he grew up seeing dead puppies in the middle of the road. That was a normal thing! That means, as an adult, he is now slightly desensitized. When I brought our first puppy home, a small, two-week old puppy that was so week he could barely stand up, his first response was “no”. No way. We don’t have the money, we live in a house that doesn’t allow pets, we have only been together for a month (thinking of it now, I may have been slightly nuts)… But for me, the idea to put this poor baby back in the street or take him to the shelter where his destiny would be unsure, was an absolute impossibility. So we kept him. It took about 30 minutes for Dennis to fall head over heals in love. We named him Sgt Pepper after our favorite Beatles album. And now it’s five years later and we run an animal rescue foundation dedicated to his name.
What I’m saying is, the part of the population that are responsible for the issues this island is facing are not in any way mean-spirited or consciously treating their animals poorly – it’s just not part of everyones culture to treat your dog as a member of the family yet. This means they most likely will let their dog sleep outside (very, very common here). It means people don’t make an effort to spay or neuter their animals (people consider it expensive and many people simply don’t understand why it’s necessary or feel neutering will make a male less worthy). It means families will worry about feeding themselves first, and their dogs later. The mentality is so very different from we are used to in other parts of the world and this makes it very difficult for outsiders to understand. Many think that letting their dog roam the streets makes them happy and that mating – and having puppies – is something their dogs need. They believe stray dogs are strong and healthy and that they don’t need to be vaccinated.
Coming from an animal lover who was born and raised in Sweden, this was all incredibly difficult to understand when I first moved to Aruba. I was outraged. Why are there so many dogs and cats roaming the streets? A woman in my street keeps her dog tied to a tree. Every day. These people should get fined! Or put in jail! Or get tied to a tree for weeks on end and see how that makes them feel! I’ve realized after years of living here that it is impossible, and of no use, to be upset with the old-school people on the island. To them, this is not bad. It’s not wrong. They took the dog in from the street! They are feeding him their leftovers! Maybe even bathing him once in a blue moon! Why should they pay $100 to give him expensive surgery? Some of them actually think they are doing them a favor by tying them to a tree. It’s awful, but it’s very, very hard to change. Rescuing animals off the street is one thing. Changing the mentality of a population is another. What I am trying to make clear with all of this is this: passing judgment does not help change the situation.
This is why I will never condone phrases like “boycott Aruba” or “the people of Aruba are horrible” like Save a Puppy plasters all over their site, because none of this is true. And it doesn’t help. Aruba is a beautiful island with a friendly population. We are facing a huge issue when it comes to animal control, yes, but it’s also an issue that has improved dramatically over the years. 30 years ago, over 100 dogs were put in the kill bin every day. Now we are down to about 15. That’s a big improvement! Hopefully in a few years we have gotten that number down to zero. Personally, I believe we have a chance to make a big difference, and that is why I founded Sgt Pepper’s Friends. Up until now, our work has constituted rescuing animals and finding them homes through social media. We are only addressing the symptoms of the real issue, that we know, but it’s a beginning. We are making a difference for every dog we save. The process for rescuing an animal is not as easy as it sounds. You cannot just pick dogs up off the street, put them together in a box and ship them to Canada.
So how should it all work, you may ask? Let me use one of our first rescues, Sammy, as an example. I found Sammy, an abandoned puppy, hiding beneath a rock in the desert. He was severely underweight, full of wounds and absolutely terrified. The first step is to take him to the vet – immediately. There is no telling what sort of disease he may be carrying, so mixing him with other dogs would be very irresponsible and put the healthy dogs at risk. It turns out Sammy was anemic (almost all strays are) and had mange. Before he can get any vaccines or get neutered (all of our rescues who have reached the proper age will be spayed or neutered before they go to their new home) he needs to get well. This means two weeks, if not more, of antibiotics and medicine and care. In that time we were treating his skin until he was well, feeding him plenty to get him to a solid weight and giving him lots of love. Luckily Sammy adjusted very well to domestic life – not all stray dogs do! After a few weeks we could start getting him the vaccinations he needed, and get him neutered. In the meantime we started looking for his new forever home. We like to match the temperament of our animals with the right owners and lifestyle, for which we have developed an adoption application form with detailed questions. A active dog would need an owner that is ready to go for tons of walks and runs, for instance. A shy dog may do better in a home without children, etc etc. We found Jeanine, a sweet girl living with her husband in Buffalo, NY. Sammy is very affectionate and loves to play so her husband’s home-office work schedule and the playful dog they already had in the family fit him perfectly. It took three months for Sammy to be healthy, vaccinated and ready to fly to his new home. We needed to find someone to transport him, get him a crate appropriate for his size (the dog needs to be able to stand up and turn around in the crate), get all the papers needed for transportation and then, first then, could we get Sammy on his way. As you can tell – rescuing an animal and finding them a home is a big process, and it needs to be approached responsibly!
A number of diseases and parasites are very common in Aruba. We do our very best to avoid Parvo – a viral infection that attack the lining of the intestines in dogs- by not mixing our litters, avoiding contact with other puppies and vaccinating them as soon as they’re healthy enough (otherwise it can trigger the disease). If we suspect Parvo, we do a snap test and they will be boarded at the vet and are treated in quarantine. Fosters are not allowed to take new puppies until a few months after Parvo has healed.
Ehrlichia is a disease spread by ticks that causes anemia. We have a blood test done with all our dogs, and if necessary they will be treated with antibiotics. We repeat the blood test to make sure they’re healthy enough to travel. Since Ehrlichia is found in almost every dog in Aruba and it can reoccur, we advise a yearly 4DX test to our adopters.
We deworm our dogs – for example Drontal (tapeworms and others) and Panacur (also for Giardia) and treat them preventively with Baycox for coccidiosis. We treat them for fleas and ticks. Adult cats are tested for Feline Aids (FIV) and Feline Leukemia.
If any skin issues occur they will be treated for it right away and the adopter will be informed. We discuss any health issues with the adopters and we make sure the animal is healthy enough to travel. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve finished all of our their treatment, but their condition is good enough (according to the vet, after doing treatment, blood test etc.) to go to their new families.
There are no guarantees when it comes to their health. We can’t test or preventively treat for everything and the stress of traveling can trigger several diseases as well. That’s why we ask our adopters to take their puppies to the vet soon after arrival for a thorough examination, blood test and stool test.
As of now, this is what we do with multiple cats, dogs, kittens and puppies, every day of the week. We have five people on the team working full time for Sgt Pepper’s Friends, and multiple people acting as fosters across the island. However, our long term goal is to do much more than this. For example, the island is in a huge need of a spay and neuter campaign and thanks to the Animal Relief Foundation of Aruba a big one will take place next year. We will definitely contribute in the best way possible to help them make the campaign a success. We personally do believe this needs to happen without the local veterinarians suffering financially. Also, when we get enough funding we would love to open a shelter.
Now, as you can tell, taking a dog out of the kill bin and putting it in a crate to be shipped to another country is not helping the dog if it dies on the way there, and it is not helping if it ruins the efforts of the real animal rescues that are active on this island. This is why I am addressing this situation publicly now – this needs to stop. The girls who run Save a Puppy probably have good intentions but are young, naïve aggressive and inexperienced. From the outside it may look as if they are doing something good, but fact of the matter is that they are making it extremely difficult for the rest of the official animal organizations on the island to function. There are many instances in the world where unknowledgeable people rush to try to help a situation they know very little about, and end up making matters worse. This seems to be exactly what is happening now. Throwing as many sick puppies as you can into a crate and flying them to another country does NOT help the magnitude of this situation (they were very lucky none of them died this time). It puts the animals through a tremendous amount of stress and puts the entire system at risk. Because of what happened to those poor 14 animals, they might even close the border between Aruba and North America. Because of this, if we are very unlucky – no other dogs will be able to be adopted abroad from Aruba, ever again. Do you understand how big this risk is? Because of the actions of two immature people putting their fingers in a foreign pie, the accumulated efforts of organizations in Aruba (some have been operating successfully and in an organized manner for years and years) can become completely ruined. Yes, they may have “rescued” 14 animals this time (I honestly don’t think spending 24 hours in a crate going up and down the entire country of the United States multiple times should be constituted as rescued. Sounds more like torture to me) but if they start refusing animals from Aruba? That means thousands of future animals are unable to find loving homes.
Save a Puppy has a very aggressive, negative way of promoting their efforts; sharing photos and videos of dead dogs, spamming social media accounts with comments every hour, aggressively addressing other organizations here without knowing the facts. This is not how I want the situation on the island to be portrayed, and it’s not how anyone should be treated. And worst of all – they keep putting puppies together in a big pen, mixing litters and putting multiple young dogs together at a time. Mixing litters is a widely known NO-NO, as the risk of deadly diseases as Parvo is so extremely high. If one puppy has it (it is very common in Aruba), every puppy might get it. We, as every proper animal organization on the island and every vet, would never mix litters or put different puppies together. It is a huge risk for the animal and surely a reason to why some of Save a Puppy’s dogs have died in their care. They bypass the rules and regulations of animal transportation and put several animals together in small crates flying long distances, and more than once there has been a dead dog in the crate upon arrival to it’s destination. Of course, none of this is mentioned on their site. Because of all of this they are now making it extremely difficult for us at Sgt Pepper’s Friends to transport our dogs, even though we do everything by the rules and make sure our animals are safe. Save a Puppy have repeatedly had issues with their transportations as the animals so often are severely ill and papers have not been in order, that the airport authorities have been forced to make their rules much stricter. This is making our work so much harder.
As they post such aggressive things online, many people feel connected to them, start supporting them and also become very aggressive online. Some days, I have people commenting 10+ times on each of our accounts (even Ringo’s!). People are upset about the kill bin in Aruba, blaming the government and even me personally for not supporting Save a Puppy. Like I wrote – we even had to start blocking people from accounts, something I’ve very rarely had to do in my 3+ years of being on Instagram. I don’t want to have people spamming our accounts or diminishing our efforts because we don’t share videos of dead dogs. I don’t want negativity or aggression surrounding this important matter because it gets us nowhere. I am writing this public blog to make it very clear why we do not support them and never will, and so that people can form their own unbiased opinion on weather or not they want to continue supporting them. Because of this most recent incident I simply cannot stay silent any longer.
Oh, and before you ask, members of our team as well as members from other official organizations, have reached out to Save a Puppy asking if they want our help many times. All offers of well-meant help have been declined. We feel absolutely awful because in the end, it is not them or us that suffer – it’s the animals.
It is very clear that their organization is not sustainable or in any way safe. We understand their efforts to save animals in need and that their intentions may be good, but I cannot sit idly by and watch this situation get worse by the minute. I truly believe we can and will make a big change by doing things the right way, by working with the veterinarians and the government, by making sure each animal we rescue is safe and well, and by approaching this issue with love. We are all doing this for the love of animals!
Let’s make sure we can continue saving them in the future as well.
Love and light,