I never thought the day would come where I would be sitting here writing this blog and sharing with you my heartfelt story... But here I am. This is the moment where I am about to spill my guts and tell you exactly why Aruba has broke my heart.
I want to start off by making it clear that whatever I say next is my personal opinion, thoughts and feelings and as heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and tear-jerking it may be, my goal is for something positive to come out of this.
I have wanted to write this story for a very long time but have been too afraid and worried for the repercussions and backlash I might get but I have reached my breaking point and it is time to say, "enough is enough".
I am writing this purely from the heart, I have hardly slept a wink and my emotions are running high so please bare with me.
****WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES AND VIDEOS WHICH SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND DISTURBING AND UPSETTING****
This last week has been tough. Both emotionally and mentally.
I know there is a worldwide pandemic happening right now and we are ALL going through this together. But we have to remember that COVID19 has not replaced all our problems, it's just added to them.
For as far back as I can remember I have been rescuing abused, abandoned and neglected dogs all across Aruba. I have lost count as to how many there have been.
You see, this "dog problem" that we have on our One Happy Island is not a new thing.
It's been happening for decades.
People dumping their unwanted dogs on the side of the road or taking them to some remote part of the island and leaving them there in the hope that they will never find their way back home.
People have been allowing their un-spayed and un-neutered dogs to roam free in the neighbourhood resulting in litter after litter after litter of puppies being born on the streets.
I have even witnessed someone throw a dog out of a moving car and drive away as fast as lightning leaving the dog dazed and confused and chasing after the car wondering what the hell just happened.
I have found puppies in cactus bushes barely surviving and have spent hours crawling through the dirt just to try and safely reach them so I could scoop them up and bring them home.
I could go on and on and on with a hundred more examples like this.
It never ends.
And I don't understand why.
Aruba is a tiny island, we are a speck on the map.
But for such a small land mass why is this overpopulation of stray dogs such a HUGE problem? Why can't WE solve it?
I know we have to change our mindset and thankfully I have seen this improve and attitudes have changed a lot in the last few years.
But it's not enough.
Aruba, we must do better.
We have to try harder.
I am proud to be able to say that Aruba is my home and I am proud of my fellow islanders. Aruban's are great people, friendly, hospitable, and always there to give you a warm welcome.... But.... Sadly there are still monsters that live amongst us and we have to change that.
As many of you already know, I feed 10 stray dogs every day in my neighbourhood. These dogs do not belong to me, but they have been dumped and abandoned where I live so therefore I have to take some responsibility because if I don't do it, who will?
I cannot rely on the off chance that someone else will step up and feed them and look out for them. I have to do it myself.
But I am one person. There is only so much I can do. I can't save them all. As much as I would love to bring home every single stray dog or puppy, I have to be realistic and sensible. I already have my own three rescue dogs living at home with me and they require my time and attention too.
I do what I can for these sweet dogs surviving on the streets but it's not enough. They need a loving family and a home to call their own. They need affection as well as food and fresh water every day, a safe place to shelter and someone to truly adore them. They deserve a good life because god only knows what misery they have suffered before.
These dogs are always happy to see me and I feel so guilty for leaving them each day. Some of them chase my car, some of them try to jump in with me. It's like they don't want me to go, they want to stay with me. That really eats me up inside because this shouldn't be happening. These dogs should not be living on the street, sleeping under a car or a bush all alone. They deserve better than this.
Humans can ask for help. We can talk and tell someone if we are feeling sad, hungry, thirsty or depressed. Theses dogs cannot speak. They don't have a voice of their own.
So here's a few of their stories, told by me. I honestly don't know what I will achieve by sharing all this with you but as long as something good comes out of this then it will be worth putting myself in the firing line for.
MEET YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND
This young adult male was recently dumped in my neighbourhood. It seems that where I live is a popular place to leave unwanted dogs. I don't know why this is, my only guess is that it's the furthest location on the island so the people who do the dumping here know that their dogs will most likely never find their way back home.
I know every single stray dog in my area so I know that this guy is new here.
He has an old tatty collar on that was almost strangling him because it was too tight. He looked so confused and lost when I first saw him and he was a little cautious of me. But after a day or two of feeding him he started to trust me and now I get the best welcome cuddles and kisses from him every day. I am guessing he is only around 1 year old as he is very playful and energetic.
He desperately needs a home and family of his own and does not deserve to be living in the conditions that he has been dumped in to.
This video shows where he hangs out. I found him sleeping in the pile of trash in the garage of this empty abandoned house. Can you imagine having to sleep here? How would you feel being all alone, missing your family, wondering what you did to make them want to throw you away like a piece of garbage?
For now I will continue to feed him, give him fresh water every day and when he has a little more strength I will take him to the vets to get sterilised. After that I don't know what to do with him. So if you have any ideas or suggestions or know someone who has a kind heart and is looking for a forever friend please let me know.
GOOD BOY AND GOOD GIRL
These two sweethearts were left abandoned by their "owner" and locked in a yard at her old house. When this woman moved home she failed to take her animals with her.
I was not aware of this situation until about two months ago when another neighbour told me about them. So of course I went by this house to check out the situation for myself.
What I found was deeply disturbing. The dogs were locked inside the garden with no food or water. Completely emaciated and smelling of death.
If you have ever smelled a dead animal then you will know what I mean. They was covered in fleas and ticks, itching and scratching, starving hungry and dehydrated. Living in their own faeces and filth.
I immediately ran home and got food and water for them and that was it. I became their feeder. How could I ignore them? How could I pretend I didn't see them?
After about a week or so as I was able to get closer to them and pet them which is when I noticed a lump on the males neck. I did not know what it was but I decided to monitor him and see if it got worse or if it went away.
Within a couple of weeks it had grown from the size of a marble to the size of a tennis ball! I knew I had to take him to the vets and could not leave him like this. What if it was a tumour? What if it was inoperable? All these things flashed through my mind and then I felt sad and then angry. What a crappy life this guy has had and now it might have to be over just when he got his freedom and a regular routine of someone feeding him every day.
Due to this coronavirus and the impact it's had on my income, I knew I didn't have the funds to pay for his veterinary care so instead of me doing nothing, I did something.
I contacted Luna Foundation and asked if they could help me to help him. I explained his situation and they agreed that I could take him to the vets to check out this lump and then we would decide from there.
The day I picked him up to go to the vets was pretty emotional. He was absolutely perfect, on his best behaviour. He let me put on a harness and leash, he hopped in the car and sat on the passenger seat ready for his road trip.
I had the window down so he could look outside and it really made me smile to see him taking in the sights and sounds and smells. Enjoying the view. But then I decided to pull over by the Frenchmans Pass near the Balashi Gold Mine Ruins and let him get out for a walk.
I thought to myself, if we get bad news from the vet and they tell me he has to be put to sleep, then at least I know I gave him a little adventure on his last day on Earth.
When we got to the vets they gave him an examination but unfortunately could not operate on him to remove the lump and check what is was because his blood levels were so low he could not go under anaesthetic. They prescribed him a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pills and recommended I feed him cooked chicken mixed in with his food to help build up his strength.
Well low and behold... The medication worked! The lump has gone so thankfully it was not a tumour and he doesn't need to be operated on! Woo Hoo!
A small win for this good boy!
To this day I still call him "good boy" and I refer to his companion as "good girl".
I would love to give them both a name, I think they deserve that don't you?
I would really like it if you would help me choose a nice name for both of them.
I will share some videos of them in my Instagram stories so you can give me your suggestions.
They are special dogs, and have had such a rotten life. I would love nothing more than them to get adopted together and let them live out their pension years with a loving family, in a nice home, both with a nice comfy bed to curl up in.
They really do deserve some luck in their lives.
This little girl was found in the same house as "good boy" and "good girl".
After doing a little detective work I found out who exactly the previous owner from this house was. It turns out she is a bit of an animal hoarder and uses this old house as a dumping ground. She actually has a registered "charity" set up on the island through which she receives donations! If people knew the truth about her "rescue charity" I am sure they would be shocked and saddened. My gut instinct tells me I should publicly name and shame her to make her stop what she is doing, but my head tells me not to do it because I am afraid of what she might do to myself or my dogs or the dogs on the street. After having the displeasure of meeting her face to face two weeks ago I can see that she is not the type of person you can reason with or have a rational conversation with.
She was not happy about me feeding "her" dogs and began screaming and shouting at me. She was insisting that she comes every single day to feed and water these dogs. This is a complete lie. I asked her where she feeds them and she said she has bowls around the back of the house where no one can see. Well I checked, just to be sure... Yep, you guessed... No food or water bowls.
The dogs actually ran away and cowered behind my car when she was there. That says it all. I told her that she does not need to lock the dogs up and that I would continue to feed them.
Anyway, after that meeting I did not see her again. But then on Wednesday last week a neighbour approached me in the morning when I was feeding the two adults again.
He told me that this woman had been to the house in the night and dumped another dog in the backyard with no food or water. I didn't believe him, because I thought this makes no sense. Why would she dump another dog in a house that she does not live at no more and clearly cannot take care of?
But sure enough, there she was... This little girl locked inside with a yard covered in poo and smelling of urine. Trash all over the floor. Certainly not acceptable conditions to leave a small defenceless puppy.
So I had to do something.
I took a video of her and the environment she was being contained in and sent it to Luna Foundation. I felt awful just sending it because I knew that the foundation is already struggling to keep up with the amount of calls that they get and they never have any space.
Luck was on her side this day because they told me one dog house had just become available and I could bring her to the safe haven right away. Phew!
At first she was terrified. The fear in her eyes was something I had never seen before. She completely froze when I went her pick her up. She was cowering in the corner and squealing before I even touched her. What must of happened in this little girls short life for her to be so afraid? It really makes you wonder!
After scooping her up in my arms I took her straight to the safe haven. I sat in her pen with her for a couple of hours and let her warm up to me. By the end of the day she was climbing all over me and kissing my face. These rescued dogs need extra time, patience and tender loving care and I know that this is what she will get now she is safe with Luna Foundation.
At the end of the day when it was time for me to leave I got so sad, because I wanted to stay with her so she was not alone. I promised her that I would return in a day or two and take her for a walk and give her some cuddles.
So that's what I did. On Friday I decided to go and visit her. What a difference a few days makes. She was full of energy, jumping around like a little spring lamb. That made me really happy to see her confident and content. I know for sure she will get adopted super fast because she is just so god damn cute... That's why I named her Dushi!
Completely unoriginal I know, but the name fits her perfectly.
Hopefully it wont be long until a kind family fall in love with her and welcome her in to their home.
ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
After visiting Dushi on Friday I was feeling really positive and proud of myself that I was able to play a small part in saving another dog. Sadly that positive attitude did not last for long. On my way home driving through the back roads I decided to cut through Weg Fontein and thank god I chose that route because there on the side of the road I found yet another puppy!
I pulled over right away and jumped out of my car. What I saw broke my heart. A severely malnourished puppy, looking like skin and bones. She was actually eating a piece of dog poo when I saw her... Can you imagine being so starving hungry that all you had to eat to survive was your neighbours poo?! Gross I know! But this is the reality that little girl was facing to keep alive.
She was afraid and did not want to come to me but luckily I always carry tins of dog food and cat food in my car (just in case). I was able to make a trail of food for her to entice her to come close to me and when she was finally eating by my feet I managed to gently pick her up. She did not even make one sound. Not even a whimper. She did not even have the energy to make a noise.
I held her in my arms and fought back the tears. I could feel every rib on her tiny fragile body. She lay there in my arms looking at me and I told her, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life".
I had to quickly decide what I was going to do next so I looked around me and saw a family at the house next door. I approached them and asked if this puppy belonged to them. They told me she was not theirs but in fact she belonged to the house across the road. I looked at these people and said, "Look at her, she's dying!" and the man said to me, "Dying?!... She's DEAD!"
This made me so mad!
I responded by telling him, "Not on my watch!" and I got in my car with her and drove away.
I was not far from Luna Foundations safe haven so turned around and headed back there. I was nervous when I knocked on the gate because I knew what their reaction would be when they saw me with this new puppy.
I walked in and said, "Don't be mad at me... but I have just found another puppy!"
Zoraida replied and said, "Mad? How could I be mad at you? I would be mad if you DIDN'T rescue her!"
I felt awful taking her there because I know how many dogs they already have. In just one week they ended up with 13 new rescued puppies and dogs and I didn't want to put more stress on them but I was desperate.
Her body was limp and lifeless, she look so depressed. It was like she had lost the will to live. But I kept telling her, "No way, you HAVE to survive!".
I don't want her to be "just another street dog" I want her to have an amazing long happy life.
She was going to stay at the safe haven, but I didn't like the thought of her being there over night all alone. She needed round the clock care so I said I would bring her home.
Armed with my supplies from Luna Foundation I brought her back to my place.
My dogs were inquisitive of her but after a few seconds of sniffing they backed off. It's like they could sense that she was sick and dying.
She was covered in fleas, lice and ticks. Her skin was crawling with them. Even flies started to come to her. It was like in the movies when you see a decomposing body in a horror film with all the bugs. I knew I was in for a long night and would need to monitor her condition. I was syringe feeding her water to keep her hydrated and hand feeding her cooked chicken. The smell of the chicken was the only thing that seemed to perk her up.
Her poop was like water. Squirting out of her tiny little bottom. Dark grey in colour with worms in it as long as my finger. Disgusting and disgraceful to think that us humans allowed this to happen to her.
This little fighter made it through the night but the next morning she had a seizure in my arms. I was petrified! I had never seen this happen before. I kept telling myself not to panic and stay calm, so I held her close on my chest and let her bite down on my finger.
It lasted for less than a minute but it felt like the longest minute of my life.
I thought to myself, "This is it. This is how she is going to die."
Even writing this now I have tears in my eyes. How could we fail her? How could we let this happen to such a tiny defenceless creature?
Miraculously she came out of the seizure and was a little dazed for a few minutes and then she seemed fine. But I knew this was not over. She has a long road to recovery ahead of her and needs professional veterinary care.
Yesterday morning I took her to the vets. I knew that is where she needed to be. They are well-equipped to deal with these kind of things and know exactly what they are doing.
I told the vet her story and she said, "It's going to be ok, she is in safe hands now. You can hand her over to me"... Well the second I handed her over I just burst in to tears.
I completely broke down and sobbed with my head in my hands.
When I looked up the whole staff and waiting room was in tears too.
She is not even my dog, I have only known her for a few days but that does not mean I don't care about her. I want her to live. I don't want her to EVER have to go through that kind of pain, torture and neglect ever again for the rest of her life.
Now she is at the vets, hooked up to an IV, fighting for her life, barely hanging on by a thread. She needs all the prayers she can get right now. All those positive vibes I promised I would keep sending you during lockdown, well I need some positive vibes sending right back for this little girl.
She currently does not have a name but the vet needs one asap to put on her file, so I told them I would think about it and let them know at the end of the day. One of the volunteers from Luna Foundation wanted to name her Adele.... but she is not an Adele.
She needs something that represents the female warrior that she is. Something strong and empowering. Something that reflects her fighting spirit.
Will you help me choose a name?
How she has clung on to life for this long I have no idea but she is a survivor, a little solider who is brave and is going to beat all the odds stacked against her!
We are going to make sure of that!
Aruba, we cannot continue to just walk on by when we see an animal in distress or malnourished or that is being neglected or abused and just assume that the next person who walks along will do something. YOU have to be the one that does something. YOU have to be that person who makes a difference. YOU have to be a kind decent human being.
You might be thinking, "It's not MY dog so it's not MY responsibility".
But it is. These are OUR island dogs. OUR Aruban Cunucu Dogs. Therefore they are OUR responsibility.
Generations before us have failed them so it's up to our generation and the ones after us to do better.
I want to be proud of my island, I don't want to feel ashamed by how we treat our animals.
It's up to us, me and YOU. We have to be the change and teach our children the right way. I don't want to spend the rest of my life seeing disturbing and distressing scenes like this. I don't think my heart can take it anymore.
For the record, before anyone starts sending me hate for speaking out about this....
I do LOVE my island, but sadly I am not "IN LOVE" with Aruba right now.
HOW CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
1. Spay and Neuter. It really is as simple as that. If you own a dog please sterilise them. Aruba has a great program called Stimami Sterilisami where they offer spay and neuter for a reduced price. Of course I wish the government would fund this program and offer FREE sterilisation for every dog but that's not going to happen any time soon so this is the next best thing.
2. If you see something, do something. Call a rescue group, report animal abuse to the police, name and shame these monsters if you have to. But don't do nothing. Do something.
3. Raise awareness. Share this story with your friends, family, neighbours etc. Get this message out there so more people are aware of what is really going on.
4. Volunteer. Trust me when I tell you that volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life. Giving up your time to help a cause with no expectations of getting something in return will make you feel amazing. Luna Foundation is crying out for help right now. They run purely on the love and dedication of volunteers but they always need more. Dog walkers, foster families, street feeders... If you have a couple of hours to spare each week please get in touch with them to see how you can help to make a difference.
5. Adopt don't shop. Never a buy a dog, always rescue. They really are the ones who need a home the most. Buying a puppy from a pet shop is what keeps the puppy mills in business and by buying from them you are contributing to the demand making it possible for them to keep producing more and more puppies in horrid conditions.
6. Ask for help. Don't ever feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. I know times are tough right now and we are all struggling to get by, but if you love your pet and are finding it difficult to feed or care for them, do NOT throw them out like garbage. Do the right thing and contact a local dog rescue and explain your situation and they may be able to help you with dog food etc.
7. Life in the Doghouse. If you haven't seen this Netflix special then please go and watch it when you have time. I was fortunate enough to meet Danny & Ron when they came to visit Aruba a few years ago. Their story will warm your heart but it will also give you a great insight in to what life is like for a rescue organisation. It may also help you understand just how our abandoned island dogs feel.
SPAY AND NEUTER:
FOLLOW THE STORY: