This week I began the Final Fix Project’s second annual census on St. Croix. Last year, I kicked off my move to St. Croix by counting the number of dogs and cats that I could see in 5 randomly chosen areas of the island. Well, time flies! I have been on St. Croix for a year now and it is that time again.
It’s still early, but I am already noticing an absence of many of the dogs that I came to expect from just one year ago. Many people here keep their dogs outside on a chain as a means of protection. The validity of that practice is a (predictable) discussion for another time, but what that behavior should do is allow me to see the same dogs over and over. Surprisingly, that is not what I have been finding.
This makes me think of an experience that I had at AT&T, of all places. While buying a cell phone for our project, I had an interesting conversation with the salesperson that helped me. I was excited to hear her describe how she adopted her dog from the animal shelter and how he is such a great dog. The ball dropped when she complained about the shelter’s requirement for buying and implanting a microchip. Her rational was that dogs here don’t last long enough to make it worth the cost. Of course, my heart sunk by this turn in the conversation and was even more disturbed to think that it could be true.
Now, as I drive around looking at the empty doghouses in the familiar neighborhoods, I find myself reflecting on that conversation at AT&T. Again I am saddened to think of the harsh reality that dogs face on St. Croix living outside in an environment of extremes: hot, humid, and down-pouring rain. The thought of their shortened lives with limited socialization is heartbreaking. I have met many of these pitiful dogs in the spay/neuter clinic, which would most likely be their only experience off the chain and certainly their only visit to a vet.
Fortunately, there are people on island who are dedicated to educating school children about how to properly care for dogs and cats, including how to keep then safe, healthy, and the importance of spay and neuter. Let’s hope that we can break this cycle and give the animals here the long and happy lives they deserve!