Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Dog Man of Loreto

This week I had the opportunity to meet a low key local hero – Patrick (who I call) “The Dog Man of Loreto” - when a friend took me to visit him at his animal shelter, which he has created on a side street in the town of Loreto.  Inside this compound there are about 20 or so dogs, most housed in open air kennels and the rest free to roam the open areas where there are improvised shade structures and storage containers.  

Patrick’s story in Loreto began about 10 years ago when he built his home here in Nopolo and later, when he retired from a law career in the US, he and his wife Monica came to live here fulltime.  As a dog lover, he soon had 4 or 5 rescued animals living with him and over time this led to friends and neighbors bringing him other injured or abandoned dogs they had found.

For Patrick, caring for these animals went beyond any first aid they might require and included spay or neutering them as well as vaccinations against the risks and hazards common to dogs in this environment.  When the dogs had received these treatments and had been restored to a healthy condition through good nutrition and care, the next challenge was to find good homes for them where they could continue to live in safe and caring surroundings. 

Over the years, many of these dogs have found homes in Loreto and a growing number with Homeowners in Loreto Bay, who have adopted a local dog that they take back and forth with them as they travel between their southern and northern homes.  When the supply of rehabilitated dogs exceeded the local demand for pets, Patrick would transport several of them north to the US where they would be “fostered” by other dog lovers until permanent homes could be found for them there.

Before I continue with Patrick’s story, for those of you not familiar with the realities of a “dog’s life” here in Mexico, some background may help put this into perspective.  Typically, many dogs in Mexico must fend for themselves, as part of an unwanted litter or after being abandoned by their original owner for any number of reasons.  The root of much of this problem is the widespread lack of spay and neutering - procedures that may be unaffordable to many average Mexicans, even when available.  This in turn leads to the uncontrolled population growth of stray animals, and in turn, more disease, injury and ultimately more uncared for animals.

This sad situation was also the case here in Loreto in the past, before the Loreto Bay Development began almost 10 years ago, with malnourished and/or injured animals not an uncommon sight in town and along the highway connecting the town with this Development.  With the increasing numbers of ex-pats choosing to make a home here (among whom were a significant number of dog lovers), one result was the creation of an organization called Animalandia, which conducts local spay and neuter clinics, made possible by volunteer vets (mainly from the US) and supported by local fundraising and volunteer support.  Over the years this has resulted in over 2,000 animals being “fixed” here, which has prevented who knows how many thousands of their prevented offspring from continuing the miserable cycle of suffering that would have been the case before.

Patrick’s approach has been different, as a private individual he chose to take on a personal responsibility to do what he could to rescue and rehabilitate many of the animals that he came upon, or were brought to him, that were trying to survive in desperate circumstances.  Typically, this commitment often first involved treating injuries or diseases, many sustained from being hit by cars or from attacks by other animals, then restoring their strength and vitality with good nutrition and vaccinations against disease and parasites, before eventually the animals were healthy enough to have the surgery that ended the downward reproductive cycle they had been rescued from.

This comprehensive approach towards the rehabilitation and eventual adoption of the dogs into safe homes where they would live healthy lives, would often involve months (and in some cases years) of care and hundreds of dollars of expenses for surgery, medications and food for each rescued animal – all of which Patrick quietly went about doing out of his own pocket.  Over time however, word of his good works spread among the growing numbers of dog loving ex-pats who were moving into the community and he began to get assistance from them in caring for the animals, often by just spending time walking the dogs and helping to socialize them to positive human contact.

Before too long, the demands of this private shelter activity overwhelmed the capacity of his home property in Nopolo and Patrick decided to move the whole operation into town, where he owned several undeveloped lots.  Starting with a simple perimeter fence, over time he added wire kennels and now the ongoing project includes several storage container boxes salvaged from trucks and even a small corral where a small burro and a blind pony are currently kept.  With this increased capacity, there is now the space for a couple of dozen animals to be cared for at a time, with a slow but steady turnover as the dogs regain health and new homes are found.

When there were not sufficient safe and healthy homes locally for the “graduates” of the shelter Patrick has slowly developed further options north of the border.  Most often this has involved putting together a group of 4 – 6 dogs, who have all been “fixed” and have been certified in good health by a vet, and then Patrick (or occasionally a volunteer) would make the long drive north with them to the border where they would import the dogs legally into the US. 

In addition to placing the dogs with individual foster homes, recently a relationship has been developed with a shelter in Portland OR (with the assistance of Kristen Winn) that will accept animals for adoption with a donation of $100 US per dog to support their placement work.  In the past, this has involved either driving the animals over 1,000 miles further north to Portland or arranging for them to travel by air direct from LA or San Diego to Portland - both of which options require considerable logistical and financial organization and support - which is now increasingly coming from a small but growing local network of volunteers and supporters. 

As our visit came to an end, Patrick made an emphatic point of acknowledging the support of the people in this community and elsewhere who are contributing their time and money to help him extend his good works to benefit the seemingly unlimited numbers of animals in distress.  One of the most important members in this network is Dr. Gabriel Meza Leon of La Paz, who is a gifted and generous veterinarian that does all of the work on Patrick’s rescue animals. 

He went on to mention by name more than half a dozen volunteers and supporters who assist regularly with the considerable daily care requirements of the sheltered dogs.  Others have transported animals either by car or by accompanying them on flights north, not to mention a growing number of adoptive owners here and further afield that provide loving and caring homes for these – the luckiest dogs in the Baja! 

Recently, these volunteers have also done some private fundraising to cover the donations to the Portland shelter, but Patrick continues to self-finance the rest of the operation, which over the years has provided a new lease on life for over 200 animals that would inevitably met a cruel end, had it not been for this canine’s Good Samaritan. 

For those of you who are in Loreto Bay and want to assist with this good cause by volunteering some time to walk dogs you can get in touch with Dee in FN 63 or Rich in FN105.  Rich will also accept cash donations, 100% of which will go towards the placement charges by the Portland shelter.  If any other readers are interested in contributing to this good cause checks made payable to TMRE with a note on the memo line “Segunda Chansa” (to direct the funds to assist with Patrick’s project) can be mailed to TMRE,  665 Tabor Lane, Santa Barbara, CA. 93108, US donors can get a charitable tax receipt.  There is also a website with more information.   

Learning about how the generosity and dedication of one man has saved the very lives of so many threatened animals – and touched those of so many more humans, whose lives in turn have been enriched through these adoptions – this has indeed been an important lesson for me in “Living Loreto”!