As excavators dig marl from the Bodden Town quarry, a small group of dogs wanders amid the mounds of rock, seeking shelter from the sun in the lengthening shadows.
These are the quarry dogs, a semi-wild pack that has made its home at the site. To the quarry workers, who provide them with food, love and attention, they are welcome visitors.
But they remain a wild population, operating as a pack and are difficult to separate or domesticate.
Animal welfare charity Cayman Animal Rescue Enthusiasts, known as CARE, was called in recently after the pack expanded, when a litter of puppies was born.
Concerned about the unchecked expansion of Cayman’s feral dog population, CARE workers opted to trap, spay and neuter, and release the animals.
Over the course of several months, the charity was able to “fix” all the dogs at the quarry, six adults and four puppies. The dogs were also vaccinated and dewormed.
Lesley Agostinelli, one of the founders of CARE, said the animals would have been difficult to socialize, having grown up in the wild. Given the already strong demand for homes for unwanted dogs in Cayman, she said a decision was taken to leave them at the quarry.
“It is a safe location for them,” she said. “There is a fresh water pond. The quarry workers feed them and are happy to have them there.”
She said studies in Italy had shown that spay, neuter, vaccinate and release was an effective way of controlling feral dog populations. She believes there are other packs around the island, particularly at the George Town landfill, where the same approach could be taken.
Observing the quarry dogs at close quarters proved an interesting case study. Some of the dogs, like the pack leader who they named Shaggy, were friendly and familiar with people, coming close to be petted and to beg for food.
Others were more wary, avoiding people altogether. One of the dogs took four months to catch.
Through their work at the quarry, Ms. Agostinelli said CARE had established connections that enabled them to spay and neuter more dogs belonging to quarry workers and their neighbors.
She said there were many people out there that wanted to do the right thing but were simply not aware of the benefits of spaying and neutering pets, and the consequences of not doing so.
The bulk of CARE’s work is aimed at community spay and neuter with the aim of finding a long-term solution to the island’s feral dog issues.