We spoke to Gemma Handy from PAAWS Antigua to find out what life is like as a rescue dog on this Caribbean island.
Hi Gemma. Can you tell us a little bit about PAAWS Antigua. When was the shelter set up?
PAAWS was founded by Jenny Meston in 1996 as a friendly society and grew organically out of a foster care programme for dogs in need. The shelter in its current form has been open for more than a decade.
What are the main reasons that dogs in Antigua coming in to your care?
With so many dogs on the streets, and many of them with owners despite appearances to the contrary sometimes, we give priority to the orphaned, the abandoned, the abused and the sick. Often dog owners find that caring for a pet is a bigger responsibility than they had
envisaged and they end up homeless or in our care. Sometimes people simply cannot afford to keep them, particularly when an expensive medical emergency arises. Sadly, we get far too many that are thrown over the shelter fence at night; we go to great lengths to discourage people from doing this as they may have a contagious disease or, as is often the case, PAAWS is at maximum capacity and physically has no space to put them.
Having visited the island I was amazed at the number of strays wandering the streets and sadly we passed many dogs who had been killed on the road. Why are there so many strays on the island?
Many dogs, even owned ones, roam the streets freely due to both our benevolent climate and a different approach towards pet ownership than people in the US or UK might be used to. PAAWS is on a constant mission, in conjunction with the non-profit Spay & Neuter Clinic, to encourage people to spay and neuter their pets. We inform them about the health and financial advantages of doing this but also remind them that without such measures, the stray population will continue to increase exponentially which results in more suffering and also has a very negative impact on tourism, our country’s economic mainstay.
What are the main issues that dogs in the Caribbean face?
Heartworm is a big problem here and a common cause of death. Dogs in the tropics also suffer a lot from ticks and fleas too, of course. Tragically, many of them, particularly stray puppies, get hit by vehicles and are often left to die in the street. Another big problem is fatal poisoning – often deliberately by farmers fed up of stray dogs attacking young goats and sheep.
How many dogs do you currently have in your care?
PAAWS generally has around 60 adult dogs and puppies and about 20 cats.
You must have re-homed hundreds of dogs. Is there any one dog story that particularly stands out for you and if so could you tell us about it?
‘Hopalong’ was the sole survivor of a mass deliberate poisoning of about 12 stray dogs living at the tarmac plant near the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium. I turned up one day to feed them, expecting them all to come running as they usually did. There was just a deathly silence and I feared the worst. The security guards (who had been feeding them scraps too) told me they had arrived at work that day to find them all dead. I found Hopalong foaming at the mouth in a corner and rushed her to the vet. Thankfully she was fine and was taken in by PAAWS. She earned her name on account of an old injury that causes her to walk on three legs. She is such a character, not least because of her huge toothy smile! We didn’t hold out much hope for her being adopted due to her age; she was estimated to be around 14 which is an incredible age for a stray. A few months ago she finally went home with one of our long-term supporters who now makes us all smile by sending us photos of Hopalong living out her days living in a comfortable home, probably the first she has ever had, with regular trips to the beach.
Do you re-home your dogs to the UK and if so what’s involved?
Yes, we rehome many dogs in North America and the UK too. There is obviously a cost implication for necessary paperwork, vaccinations and flights. It is a fairly straightforward process to Canada and costs around US$800. It is slightly more complicated for the UK and a little pricier too but can be done and we are happy to assist with the shots and paperwork for anyone who has fallen in love with a ‘Dadli Dog’ as they’re affectionately dubbed here!
Running a charity is obviously expensive. If I don’t have any spare money to donate what other ways can I help PAAWS?
Yes, our average monthly costs of US$10,000 are met entirely from donations. Vet bills, staff wages and utility bills are our biggest expenses. But PAAWS also welcomes your time too. Volunteers are always made welcome at the shelter from 10am-4pm Monday to Saturday. Our dogs are always grateful for an extra walk, while one-on-one time spent with humans helps socialise them, improving their chances of finding a forever home. On top of that, we also appreciate any help anyone can offer fundraising – perhaps by organising a bake sale, raffle or other event to help us with the ongoing battle of meeting our running costs.
If you'd like to keep in touch with PAAWS Antigua or perhaps you're planning a trip to the island, you can get in touch with them though their website
Or follow them on their Facebook page
To make a donation to PAAWS to help save the lives of strays like Hopalong click on the link below