Not many of us can claim we're helping to make the world a better place with each trip to the glorious Bahamas. Yet, this is precisely what Nancy Kluisza and Judy Marshall have set about doing, with their Royal Potcake Rescue effort, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to rescue, spay and neuter Potcakes from the Great Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. RPR is also actively involved in pet rescue, fostering, and adoption efforts in Tucker and the metro Atlanta area. They have funded this great effort out of their own pocketbooks – no government funding or grants aids either their Bahamas Islands or local efforts.
"I will do my best to help every homeless animal that crosses my path, no matter where my path leads... It just so happens that my path is often in Abaco. Every puppy deserves a good home, including potcakes." says Marshall, Executive Director of RPR. A Potcake, though now a recognized canine breed of the Bahamas, at first served as a generic name for the indigenous dog that freely roamed the Islands.
"People ask us why we go through all this trouble to help animals in a faraway place when there exist so many problems here at home," Kluisza added, "but the way we see it, there exist many resources in the Atlanta area, whereas in Abaco they have nothing. We are really needed there."
Of the roughly 16,000 people who inhabit Abaco, only one is a full-time veterinarian. He must spend much of his time climbing on boats to attend to animals on the 20+ islands that make up Abaco since more convenient methods of transportation from island to island do not exist. Resources to spay and neuter animals are greatly wanting, and the quantity of homeless animals far exceeds the capacity of those concerned residents seeking to help these animals. "One woman has 12 dogs in her home" Nancy tells me. "People show up with more animals and she has to turn them down."
Scope of the Problem
For those who have never visited a place with a rampant animal overpopulation problem, imagining what the Abacos island faces can take an enormous effort. Stray dogs run loose, sometimes in packs, often suffering diseases. Many are emaciated, or wander around injured due to cars or any of the inevitable dangers of life on the streets. Residents dump litters of puppies in parking lots, behind restaurants, or otherwise leave them to their own devices. One puppy was found inside a vehicle abandoned in the woods. Cats are as big, or an even bigger problem than stray dogs. Cats' rapid reproduction cycle guarantees an unmanageable feline population, and they quickly become feral.
The cruel neglect these animals suffer provides enough of an incentive for Royal Potcake Rescue and other organizations to do what they can. Beyond this, equally compelling reasons galvanize their efforts. Strays pose serious health consequences for animals and humans alike. Rabies, roundworm, and Lyme disease are just a small sampling of the health risks associated with strays and their wastes. And - not a trivial matter in an island with a tourism-based economy, the woeful sight of strays mars the perfection of these paradisiacal surroundings and can therefore negatively affect the economic health of the islands. As Jeff McIntire-Strasburg from sustainablog states:
"…(An) awful lot of residents depend on the tourist trade for their livelihoods… and the presence of stray dogs and cats can affect tourists' experiences, and their willingness to return to a community that really needs their business…"
Royal Potcake Rescue to the Rescue
The founders of Royal Potcake Rescue effort were involved in animal rescue efforts in the Atlanta area, as well as loyal vacationers in the Bahamas Islands, long before RPR came into being. The beauty of the Green Turtle Cay island brought them back again and again, even though the plight of stray animals did not go unnoticed.
A chance encounter with a woebegone, charming green-eyed stray named Treasure on a delayed trip back home from Green Turtle Cay first allowed Marshall's mutual interest in rescuing animals and the Bahamas Islands to coalesce. The story is charming and amazing, and I recommend everyone to read it here. After this first providential rescue effort, the nascent Royal Potcake Rescue team gathered all the resources and experience they'd gained from over a decade volunteering in animal shelters in order to launch Royal Potcake Rescue in 2007.
Rescue efforts involve funding and organizing free spay/neuter clinics in the Bahamas, facilitating transport for dogs from the Bahamas Islands to Tucker/Smokerise (the headquarters of RPR), and finding foster parents and permanent adoptees for the Bahamian dogs. Follow-ups to this article will go into length to describe these rescue efforts, as well as provide end-of-year statistics on animals saved.
Rescue Efforts Closer to Home
Animal rescue truly is a vocation for these women. In addition to working full-time, they run the organization, their week nights are filled with caring for fosters, and almost every Saturday is spent at Northlake Pet Smart to facilitate pet adoptions. The next Northlake PetSmart animal adoption is set for January 8th. "Animals are our link to the spiritual world and we must do what we can to take care of them, one at a time" says Nancy, who has also demonstrated her vocation by working as a Wildlife Rehabilitator and at a vet's office as an Emergency Vet technician in the past.
As stated in their mission statement and elsewhere, a big part of RPR's effort involves rescuing local animals. On the day I went to visit Nancy to find out about her rescuing efforts, an adorable white puppy named Ruff sat there, waiting for a neutering operation that would make him eligible for adoption.
"They found this one wandering up and down I-20," she said, "(and) that night it dipped below the 20's". Among the animals awaiting a better life in Nancy's Tucker home was an adorable long-haired tabby, which someone had found behind Variety Playhouse.
Foster Families Wanted!
Marshall stresses the dire need for foster families in the Tucker area. "Good foster homes provide quality pets, and help them develop socially." These foster situations are always short term, and RPR will provide the willing family with food, litter, medicine, and any attendant resources.
What should a family keep in mind if it wishes to foster a dog or cat? Aside from a true caring desire to help animals, having five hours a day to dedicate to the animal's wellbeing is an important consideration. This also allows the foster parent to explain the animal's character to potential adopters. A separate area or room for the animal, especially if the potential foster family has other pets, is important as well. In general, though, she encourages anyone contemplating fostering or adopting animals to contact RPR at email@example.com.
As for the adorable shown in the photos, he's already taken. A family came down on Christmas Eve to give him a happy home. His new name is Sherlock.