Shelter pups get new chance

Early Tuesday morning there were 45 adorable puppies at the Cayman Islands Humane Society shelter; just hours later, and more than half were across the sea with a brand new start ahead of their little wet noses.

Melanie Hulse

From left, Cayman Islands Humane Society Director Lesley Agostinelli with CAL’s John Wrightington and Melanie Hulse hold three pups outside their new home in Broward County. Thanks to an ongoing initiative by CIHS, Cayman Airways and the Humane Society of Broward County, Fort Lauderdale, 25 pups were delivered to the state-of-the-art facility run by the latter organisation on Tuesday.
Photo: Cliodhna McGowan

Thanks to an ongoing initiative by the CIHS, Cayman Airways and the Humane Society of Broward County, Fort Lauderdale, 25 pups were delivered to the state-of-the-art facility run by the latter organisation on Tuesday.

It was the eighth such puppy transfer that has taken place since October 2006 thanks to the partnership.

This reporter went along for the ride, along with puppy escort CIHS Director Lesely Agostinelli and Cayman Airways representatives John Wrightington and Melanie Hulse.

A new start

The pups, which range in age from eight to 24 weeks, should soon be snapped up by owners in the Fort Lauderdale area, as has happened with previous lucky Cayman puppies.

Explained the Humane Society of Broward County’s Medical Director Mary Steffan, with the last batch of 16 pups they received from Cayman earlier in August, the very next day after they arrived 10 of them had secured homes.

And, with 200 people passing through the facility each day, as the only small puppies currently in the shelter one can see why those adorable little faces and waggy tails would indeed attract homes.

Even on their passage through Miami airport, the pups managed to turn heads despite being barely visible through their travel crates. One enthused customs officer even requested the phone number of the shelter as he was interested in getting one.

Having dropped them off at the shelter in Fort Lauderdale, Ms Agostinelli, breathing a sigh of relief, said, ‘It’s extremely rewarding because you’re on a high for the whole morning making sure that everything works out logistically, but once you see them in those huge cages (at the Broward County facility) you just think what would their life be if we hadn’t done that.’

Indeed, if the option for them to go to Broward had not arisen, many quite possibly would not have gotten homes and eventually have to be put down because of overcrowding at the local shelter. Ms Agostinelli noted that possibly they may not have gotten much older than a year.

But, despite the wonderful satisfaction she felt in delivering them to safety, the solution of passing off Cayman’s over-population to a shelter that has great success in homing pups is really not getting to the root of the problem.

A ‘band-aid’ solution

‘It is a band-aid solution until the community accepts or takes on responsibility for the over-population,’ Ms Agostinelli noted. Although Broward works wonderfully, it is only a temporary solution, she said.

‘There is a negative attitude that can be found on island that we are dumping our problem on someone else,’ she said.

And what is to say that Broward will be able to keep taking Cayman’s pups into the future?

The pups that should be snapped up in days in Fort Lauderdale had been at the Cayman shelter from three weeks to two months, the youngest ones having been born there.

And since the Broward shelter will only take pups from Cayman up to 24 weeks, the older pups need to go before they reach that age.

The other 20 pups currently at the CIHS shelter may also go to Broward if homes are not forthcoming in Cayman, but Broward will not take on too many pups at one time.


With regard to the overpopulation of animals in Cayman, Ms Agostinelli said, ‘I think it’s always been bad. I don’t think anyone realises how serious it is. I mean we’ve just taken 25 puppies and there’s another 20 puppies at the shelter ready to go.’

But she also is hopeful that things can improve.

‘It should be getting better. We did start the spay and neuter clinic in August 2006 and to date we’re just about to reach our 1,000th spay/neuter.’

The spay/neuter programme is financially assisted. ‘If you can’t afford it then we’d rather pay for it, through the Humane Society, through donations, rather than not do it at all, but we do ask that if you want to give a donation then a donation would be appreciated.’

It costs the CIHS $50 to spay a female, and less to neuter a male.

With dogs having an average of eight pups in a litter, and going into heat a few times a year it’s easy to see how the numbers get out of control when people don’t spay/neuter.

Besides the 20 pups, there are 65 adult dogs currently in the CIHS animal shelter, where the number of adoptions average only one to two a week.

The partnership

The puppy transfer initiative started in October 2006 with six puppies that someone was fostering, and there was no room for them at the shelter.

A CIHS volunteer at the time, Jennifer Panton, who took a sabbatical from her work in New York and offered her time at the shelter for two months, made connections with Broward, and they offered to take the six pups.

As a known animal lover, and having helped with animal transportation in the past, Melanie Hulse, Advertising and Promotions Manager with Cayman Airways, was approached on the issue. The airline flew the pups to their new start, and the partnership began.

Connections were sustained between Broward and the CIHS and they offered to take more puppies under the age of six months, and Cayman Airways also obliged.

The initiative would not have been possible without the national airline, said Ms Agostinelli. It had also helped cut through so much of the red tape involved in flying the pups over.

Indeed, Cayman Airways’ staff both in Cayman and Miami went out of their way to ensure the process ran smoothly on Tuesday.

Cayman Airways

Basically, the airline permits the puppies to be flown on off-peak days, and this way it doesn’t cost Cayman Airways anything.

‘We didn’t displace any revenue because there was an empty seat and cargo capacity,’ said VP Commercial Mr. Wrightington.

Had the CIHS had to pay, Tuesday’s trip alone would have cost around US$1,000: US$350 for the escort’s return fare to Miami and US$640 for the pups, at US$50 per crate.

Mr. Wrightington explained that instead of the CIHS paying for the puppies and escort to fly, they can use that money to do the spay and neuter programme more effectively.

‘It’s pretty darn easy for us (Cayman Airways) to do this,’ he said. ‘When it comes to an entity when we know we’re not spending much time or effort or money to activate it, let’s just do it.’

The company decided to help out this way rather than instigate a programme where air miles could be donated to non-profit organisations such as the Humane Society, because doing it that way administration would have been a hurdle.

It has also been a help for company morale within the airline. ‘We’ve been beaten down in the last few weeks, and when you do something like this it changes your whole perspective,’ he said. ‘People talk about this (the puppy run) a lot in the company; it’s a big deal for them,’ he said.

The early morning 7.40am flight was also made easier for the humans by being able to avail of Cayman Airways’ new check-in service, available the evening before travel, leaving more time in the morning for an extra snooze.

Settling in

Following their airplane journey, some of the pups had looked slightly shell shocked as they emerged through the oversized baggage door in the baggage collection hall in Miami, but spirits picked up once they saw their human companions, and little tails could soon be seen wagging again through the wire of their containers.

The van ride to the shelter in Fort Lauderdale was certainly a smelly affair for the humans, thanks to the pups’ unsettled bellies from their travels, but it was all worth it, seeing them take up their new fancy residence in Broward.

Two to a large kennel area, with separate eating and sleeping quarters, they got busy exploring and playing.

When a family is interested in taking a pup it will be taken into an interaction room with them where it can meet its prospective owners and a counsellor will give advice on how well matched the two parties might be.

If adoption is approved the pup will be spayed or neutered and ID tattooed along with any needed vaccinations.

The cost for a family to adopt a pup will be US$125.

The shelter can house about 180 dogs at one time (under normal circumstances) and a maximum of 200 cats during kitten season. It operates 100 per cent based on donations and fundraising. It has 100 staff and nearly 500 volunteers.

The shelter’s spay and neuter programme is at the hub of what it does, and they get 400 calls a week from the public interested in getting their animals spayed/neutered at the low cost rate.

The shelter is 33,000 square-feet and completely air-conditioned. It placed 9,518 animals into new homes in fiscal year 2005; no other source in South Florida placed so many dogs and cats, according to its website


The Cayman Islands Humane Society Spay & Neuter Clinic provides spay and neuter surgery for all island pets. Spay/neuter is a vital procedure that improves health and helps combat pet overpopulation. Call 949-1461 to arrange an appointment and for further details.

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