Ontario Veterinarian, Others, Helps Caribbean Dogs and Cats
An Ontario veterinarian’s canceled conference in the Caribbean nation of Turks and Caicos has led to the start of a non-profit organization that has helped hundreds of homeless dogs and cats roaming the islands, hungry and in bad health.
Dr. Sue Burkhart of the Animal Medical Center of Ontario said she decided to make the trip in the fall of 2020 despite the cancellation of a continuing education meeting, and volunteered to help a veterinarian during the week.
While there, she learned about the nonprofit Turks and Caicos Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is dedicated to preventing animal abuse in the Caribbean island nation.
Burkhart spayed and neutered dogs on the tropical island.
“While I was there during the week I realized what a problem they have with overcrowding and stray animals and so I thought, I’m not comfortable with this. At the time the world was falling apart (COVID-19) and I thought this was a problem I could actually help. It’s something I can do to give back. I know what to do about this problem and I could do my part,” Burkhart said Monday.
Her week-long stay inspired further trips to help animals in the Caribbean islands and to establish 4 Leaf Rovers in January this year.
Burkhart continued to return to the Turks and Caicos Islands to volunteer. She enlisted the help of photographer Bertha Bishop and Jennifer Weitzel, who is regional manager of VetCor, the company Burkhart works for, and other animal lovers to learn more about the issue and volunteer.
“Like nothing I’ve ever seen”
On the last trip in April, she and a team of nine volunteers from the association returned to Grand Turk, one of the seven islands that make up the Turks and Caicos Islands, to help the animals.
“The problem was unlike anything I had ever seen. There were dogs everywhere. They were sleeping on the beaches at night, they were begging for food, they were hurt, they were breeding, there were puppies running around on the road. It was so bad my vacation wasn’t even enjoyable,” Burkhart said. “I just rode the golf cart all day putting food and treats and fresh water and trying to take care of these animals.”
She said that on this island a brindle male dog stole her heart and she promised him she would return.
“I cried when I left,” Burkhart said. “I came home and decided to start this organization, 4 Leaf Rover, whose nickname is ‘changing the bad luck of good dogs’.”
On the April trip, she surrounded herself with good people including two other Texas vets, three veterinary nurses and three others including Bishop who captured the animals and helped them before returning them to where they were found.
Starting in January, the 501(C)3 nonprofit organization raised $22,000 in four months, with 70% of the funds donated by Mansfield residents, Burkhart said. The money allowed the group to sterilize 300 dogs and cats.
“We just told people (in the Caribbean) that if you have a sick animal, bring it here and we’ll take care of it,” Burkhart said.
Dog care included removal of fleas and ticks, intestinal parasites and more.
“We treated wounds, infections. We saw several animals on the island, unfortunately we had to euthanize them,” she said.
Islanders’ pets are treated differently than in the United States
Burkhart said the island’s economy was very bad. They don’t really have any commodities. The island is seven miles long.
“They depend on tourism but there was no tourism,” she said, referring to the COVID pandemic.
“Our services were so needed. We did it for animals, not people,” she said. “Animals are kind of victims of the circumstances there. They have no say in what kind of homes they were born into and to be honest most of the animals we treated had no homes. “, said Burkart.
“The animals there don’t live in people’s homes and most people, even if they claim to own an animal, don’t feed them,” she said.
“It’s a very different thought process they have about pet ownership and the value of pets,” she said.
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While there, volunteers taught the islanders, especially the children, how to take care of the animals. The children did not understand why the volunteers were crying.
“We tried to help them understand that animals have feelings too. They feel pain, they feel hunger,” she said. “It was a lot of education. We thought the way to change views on the island was to start with kids and try to explain to kids and teach kids that animals have value,” Burkhart said.
Bishop, the marketing director of 4 Leaf Rover, went on a mission to photograph everything.
“A little boy looked at us and said you get so emotional about animals,” Bishop said. An accompanying veterinarian told the little boy that in America animals are treated like family.
Caribbean dogs living in Mansfield now
Bishop adopted three of the island’s dogs, Turk, Isla and Rum who the islanders call “potcakes” because they eat the burnt rice and peas left at the bottom of a pot used to cook the family meals.
The group of volunteers rescued a total of 15 dogs, all of whom now live in Mansfield, Texas, and Cincinnati. Each dog cost $200 to bring back, placing their crate under their airplane seat.
Burkhart plans to return to the Caribbean in March 2023 and take on an additional vet to knock out another 400 surgeries.
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Burkhart said the Cayman Islands government has allowed the poisoning of animals at feeding stations to control overcrowding, so she will be traveling there in September to meet with rescue organizations and the government to offer them a more option. human.
Cats are the main animal problem in Grand Cayman, while dogs are the concern of Grand Turks.
4 Leaf Rover also plans to explore places in the United States where they might be useful.
For more information, visit the non-profit group’s Facebook page, facebook.com/4leafrover or Instagram at 4leaf_rover.