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“We have seen that going to a vet really changes the dynamic between animal and owner, between owner and vet, and between vet and community,” says Crawford. “It happens as people

meet a vet for the first time during the course of this procedure, and then as they begin to see the impact that the procedure has on their animal — the change in her behavior, the improvement in her coat, and the fact that they no longer have to figure out what to do with multiple litters. It’s a complete cultural shift.”

Of course, in most of these communities, there are stray dog and cat populations. Even in this case, the low sterilization cost makes it much more likely that local animal nonprofits or even municipal authorities will underwrite the costs. And most of the McKee-trained vets make a habit of conducting at least one low-cost clinic per month targeted to this population.

Orchestrating and conducting these training sessions, as well as meeting with diverse community members, raising awareness, conducting outreach to new areas and providing follow-up, falls to a remarkably small crew of dedicated staffers. Yet, with each training session, the number of supporters and advocates grows. “McKee is a collaborative effort, and it’s much like a table — without one leg, it tips over,” says Crawford. “McKee truly comprises hundreds, if not thousands, of selfless and committed community veterinarians, community leaders and animal lovers.” One thing the McKee program does not endorse is the creation and maintenance of traditional animal shelters.

Without the cultural predisposition toward adoption, such shelters fill up immediately with unwanted cats and dogs who have virtually no hope of ever finding homes. Living in cramped conditions, the animals suffer terribly, and most are euthanized. Euthanasia rates of 99 percent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are not uncommon.

In fact, shelters in these areas may actually perpetuate the problem of animal overpopulation by removing the incentive for spay or neuter. If someone has a place to dump successive litters of unwanted puppies, why bother to get the mother fixed?

“The thing is, if you have a shelter, people will treat it like a dumpster and they won’t fix the problem in the long term,” says Wilson. “If you take the limited resources that these countries have and invest them in more strategic areas like spay/neuter and education, then you won’t fill up shelters in the first place.”

As a “McKee witness,” Wilson probably has a pretty good idea where he would like to see those limited resources directed.

 

CYCLE 4 STRAYS

For the past three winters, Davide Ulivieri has spent a few weeks living like a stray dog. Starting and/or finishing in Costa Rica, he rode his bicycle thousands of kilometers in all types of weather, climbing mountain passes, crossing hot deserts and wading through swollen rivers. Traveling without a support vehicle, he aims to be a pedaling example of the hardships faced by homeless dogs in the developing world, and his quest is to raise awareness about responsible ownership and the need for compassion.

He also hopes to raise financial support for the McKee Project, the National Association for the Protection of Animals of Costa Rica and Spay Panama. His 2010 ride, launching from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, where he’d been a Dogtown caretaker, started in the snow. He rode 5,000 kilometers in 70 days through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

While Ulivieri usually rides alone, this year, he is launching an additional series of less-demanding cycle tours (called Ciclo-Turismo Animalero) so more riders can join him. The seven-day tours in Costa Rica will include plenty of cycling plus stops at a spay/neuter clinic, a shelter and a wildlife refuge. All profits, after costs, will be donated to the McKee Project.

Cycle4strays.com

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 68: Jan/Feb 2012
Twig Mowatt covered the drug war in Colombia for the New York Times and the Associated Press and now writes about animal issues. She works closely with dog rescue organizations in Puerto Rico and with GREY2K USA. grey2kusa.org
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