Aruba’s Animal Rescue Roundup
Text by Debbie Kunder
The World Society for the Protection of Animals claims that roughly 75% of the dogs in the world are strays. If you’re someone who has a dog, loves and respects it, and provides for its every need, a statistic like this can be heart-wrenching, for the life of a stray is often characterized by malnutrition or starvation, disease, injury, and the lack of love from the very humans that bred them to crave our love.
Aruba is by no means immune to the problem of strays, including both dogs and cats. According to one source, the number of stray and semi-stray dogs and cats in Aruba is estimated to be between 30,000 and 40,000. Compared to a human population of about 105,000, this estimate is concerning. But the intention here is not to judge; the intention is to figure out how to solve the problem, how to ensure that Aruba is not only “One Happy Island” for its people and visitors, but for animals as well.
Fortunately, there are an ever-increasing number of animal welfare and rescue organizations on the island devoted to reining in the problem. Each group has its unique way of approaching the problem, but all the organizations agree that spaying and neutering, along with education and the promotion of responsible pet ownership, is the key to solving the problem.
The following is a roundup of Aruba’s various animal welfare and rescue groups. We invite you to get acquainted with them, maybe lend a helping hand, and of course, donate! (Contact each group individually for donation information.)
In 2017, the Aruba Animal Shelter celebrated 30 years, making it the oldest animal welfare organization on the island. Running solely on private donations and the dedicated work of volunteers, the organization provides shelter and finds new homes for hundreds of Aruba’s abandoned dogs and cats each year. It’s a welcoming, brightly painted shelter, with enough space to house (on average) 16 adult dogs, 18 pups, five adult cats, and ten kittens. All the animals have access to spacious areas for playing and socializing with one another, as well as with potential adopters and visitors just stopping by for a cuddle or two. Eva Herry, who has been with the shelter for a whopping 21 years, points out, “Most of the families adopting from the shelter are local, but tourists adopt from the shelter as well. We even have a few tourists who come and volunteer for us each time they visit the island.”
Founded in 1999, ARA is an animal welfare organization that serves as Aruba’s unofficial humane society. While all types of animals are included in its scope, ARA focuses on Aruba’s dog and cat populations. The group champions local laws regarding animal welfare and promotes responsible pet ownership, placing much emphasis on the importance of spaying and neutering. ARA board member Inge van Roon explains, “ARA’s biggest success over the years has been in the area of awareness. Although there is a long way to go, we feel we have made great strides. Social media has certainly helped with this. I’m also really pleased that the island’s various animal rescue groups are all working together more. On our own, we’re all so small, so we have to work together.”
In 2010, a few Americans who had made Aruba their home way from home began operating ARF-Aruba as a non-profit organization. Since then, the organization has rescued countless dogs and cats from neglect and placed them in loving homes. ARF was the first foundation on the island to start placing rescued animals in the U.S. for adoption, and today, ARF is a powerhouse when it comes to sending pups, kittens, and the occasional adult dog to the States with the support of its network of fosters and transporters. ARF member Kathy Andreottola explains, “Puppies are simply not available for adoption in the American Northeast, and pups from Aruba fill this demand perfectly.” Besides rescuing, ARF is heavily involved in spaying and neutering, and has also helped to support sterilization campaigns on the island.
Realizing how social media could serve as an engine of change in the world of animal rescue on the island of Aruba, Instagram yoga celebrity Rachel Brathen opened an Instagram account called Sgt. Pepper’s Friends, named after her own dog that had recently died. In no time at all—and with a few dedicated volunteers added into the mix—Sgt. Pepper’s Friends blossomed into a proper foundation. Through the hard work of its volunteers and fosters, paired with the support of its Instagram followers (now numbering over 80,000), Sgt. Pepper’s Friends has rescued and found new homes for countless neglected dogs and cats on the island, with most of them adopted by families in the U.S. and Canada. Spaying and neutering is also a huge priority of Sgt. Pepper’s Friends, with team member Dayenne Holwerda Munk pointing out, “If you’re only rescuing, it’s like cleaning up a puddle with the hose still running.” The organization has recently secured funds to construct Sgt. Pepper’s Home, its own home-like shelter that will enable the group to help more adult dogs, which are difficult to find fosters for.
New Life for Paws
New Life for Paws, founded in July 2015 by Russian-American Natalya Yermak, splits its time and resources between rescuing and rehoming dogs and cats and sterilizing street dogs to help break the cycle of overpopulation. Natalya is the tireless “rescue lady” of the operation, assisted by a handful of other volunteers, as well as a network of local and U.S.-based fosters. Like ARF and Sgt. Pepper’s Friends, New Life for Paws specializes in saving pups from the streets of Aruba and rehoming them abroad. When pups are rescued, they are fostered locally until they are between eight and ten weeks old, then sent to the U.S. with the help of an organization called Aruba Flight Volunteers, which finds chaperones to transport the pups. The pups either go directly to their new home or stay with a U.S.-based foster until a new home is found.
Nisi Canis Heart of Gold Foundation
Nisi Canis (Latin for “Save a Pet”) was founded in October 2015 out of the overwhelming frustration with Aruba’s pet overpopulation problem. Nisi has three projects on the burners at this moment: Operation Flame of Hope (see Crijojo Trappers Aruba), the Nisi Canis hotel, and a minivan service. Nisi uses its projects in ways that help generate funds, which are deposited back into the Nisi pot. For example, with space for 20 dogs plus a quarantine, Nisi’s animal hotel serves as a sanctuary for the animals Nisi saves and aims to rehome, but it also serves as a boarding facility for owned pets, thereby generating income that can be used to power Nisi’s projects. Likewise, Nisi’s donated van generates funds by serving as a taxi to transport owned dogs to the vet while also being used for transporting the organization’s own rescues.
Crijojo Trappers Aruba
In May 2016, Operation Flame of Hope was founded as a project under Nisi Canis Heart of Gold Foundation to serve as a local TNR (trap-neuter-release) program to control and manage the stray population on Aruba. The group of individuals behind the project formed Crijojo Trappers Aruba, which now functions as a daughter foundation of Nisi Canis. Crijojo Trappers Aruba completely separates TNR from rescue. The trappers use humane traps to catch roaming dogs and cats so they can be spayed/neutered, treated for parasites, vaccinated, and microchipped. The animals are then released back where they were trapped. The trappers have addressed most of the well-known dog packs on the island, resulting in more peaceful packs. They also do a lot of TNR in the hotel area, which is incredibly positive for tourism. In May 2017, they played an instrumental role in the MASH event launched by United Dogs Aruba Foundation in San Nicolas, helping to trap and release the 328 dogs and cats that were sterilized during the campaign.
Although not a foundation like the others in this roundup, Stimami Sterilisami (Love Me, Sterilize Me) definitely deserves recognition. The spay/neuter program was launched in January 2016 by Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, owned by Ewald Biemans, a longtime advocate for Aruba’s animals. The program’s main goal is to reduce the population of homeless dogs and cats by subsidizing spaying/neutering for rescue groups and low-income families. To date, over 5,300 dogs and cats have been spayed/neutered (and microchipped) through Stimami Sterilisami, which also receives funding from the Aruba Tourism Authority and the Tourism Product Enhancement Fund. Tisa LaSorte, spokesperson for the program, explains that in addition to the surgeries, the program has achieved two other goals: “All entities related to homeless dogs/cats and the government now all agree that sterilization is the core solution to the problem we have. The program has also significantly raised awareness among the public about the importance of sterilization.”
In May 2017, United’s first big project took place—a MASH (Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital) event geared towards the stray dogs and cats of San Nicolas and Savaneta. Local volunteers were joined by visiting high-speed spay/neuter veterinary surgeons and other international volunteers to carry out the campaign. The MASH camp was erected at the Carnaval Village complex in San Nicolas, and for four days, the various teams of the TNR operation carried out the tasks of trapping dogs and cats, performing surgery, giving vaccinations, providing aftercare, and finally, releasing the animals back where they were initially picked up. In those four days, the United MASH unit sterilized 328 dogs and cats. Mercedes de Bruyn, founder of United, shares, “Our intention is to coordinate a MASH campaign each year for the next four years in order to help manage the stray population on the island.”