Millions of travelers from the United States, Canada, and other nations travel to warm weather destinations to escape the long cold months of freezing temperatures and snow storms. Nicknamed “snowbirds” these travelers, usually retired, come for extended periods of time and spend their days enjoying long walks on the beach, relaxing in a hammock, and trying out local restaurants. Some spend their time learning about the areas they visit—culture, history, and language. Some come and never leave, morphing from a “snowbird” to an “ex-pat.” Whether temporary or permanent, their visits greatly impact local economies in resort destinations.
As past readers know, I write about travel and animal welfare so you’re probably wondering why the focus on snowbirds. Well, snowbirds usually come from a culture where animals are considered part of the family—pets (dog, cat, turtle, and even betta fish!) are well-cared for and loved. Here’s the good news–in their adventures as a snowbird, many of these animal lovers run into a special dog or cat that they care for during their stay. This is a very natural and humane-driven reaction that I bet any snowbird reading this will likely immediately identify with. Considering that many of the locales where snowbirds stay have different cultural perceptions about caring for animals, there are a lot of stray and starving dogs and cats to keep these caring visitors busy. But what happens to that special dog or cat when the snowbirds pack their Hawaiian shirts, walking shorts, and swimsuits and head back up North? Here’s the bad news, these loving dogs or cats remain on the streets to starve, die of thirst, or be inhumanely killed.
For example, let me share with you the story of King, a street dog in a Mexican village, who was fed and cared for by a couple of kind snowbirds during their six month stay in this lovely destination. When they first came, King thought he won the lottery!! They fed him regular dinners, gave him the love and attention he deserved and even let him sleep inside their villa. Life was good for King during that beautiful winter. Then spring came and one day, the snowbird couple King had come to know and love didn’t show up with his dinner. He waited for days and days but they were gone, headed back to their other home. King’s heart was broken but he had no choice but to go back to his daily battle for survival, fighting for scraps of garbage, looking for water in scorching heat, and avoiding being beaten or killed.
On the way home, the snowbird woman thought of King and asked her husband, “Will King be all right?” “Well, sure, honey! He’s a street dog and can take care of himself. He was fine before we got there, right?” Her husband said. “Besides, what were we supposed to do with him? Bring him home?” The woman thought her husband was probably right so she didn’t answer but then remembered how King looked when they first found him–so skinny his ribs stuck out and his coat so rough and nearly half-gone in some places and so very grateful for the attention. She sighed and wished there was more she could do.
Well, Mrs. Snowbird, here’s the part where Ms. Humane Advisor comes in with the answers on how you can help!
First, let’s get back to King. Back on the streets after his snowbird family left, he started to lose hope that he would ever live in safety and comfort, with plenty of food and water, and began to succumb to the ravages of the street. He took to lying on the beach, hidden among the rocks where it was cool and barely left this spot to find food after a while, slowly losing his strength. Then one day, he thought he heard his name called over and over, “King? Here, boy!” Was he dreaming? He struggled to stand up and had just enough energy to walk out from the rocks. He saw a woman coming. Could it be? Was it my family? He mustered enough energy to wag his tail. It wasn’t his snowbird family but another woman who gently picked him up and carried him off the beach over to a bowl of fresh water and some kibbles. He was so happy he almost couldn’t eat or drink. The woman talked to him so kindly and after he ate and drank she took him to her house where she had a bed for him right near the kitchen! He cried with joy when she washed his sores and cleaned the ticks from his ears. She held him tight and said, “You’re safe now, King. You’re going to a new home where you’ll never be hungry or scared again.” As soon as he got his shots and was healthy enough to travel, King went to a loving family in Canada where he still lives, happily ever after.
Okay, take a minute to wipe away your tears. Now, get busy and start taking notes.
Here’s what King and CANDi-Cats and Dogs International’s Snowbird Program (http://www.candiinternational.org/candis-programs/snowbird-program) says to do to help:
1. If you can – adopt and bring your special dog or cat home with you. It is easier than you think. All s/he needs is to be vaccinated and healthy enough to travel. If you are not sure, contact CANDi or a local animal group. Google the city you are in and “animal rescue”—most of these groups have websites.
2. If you can’t adopt the dog, then promote him to your network of friends and family. CANDi also may have suggestions to help you help your snowbird dog.
3. If you don’t want to keep the stray, then spay, neuter and vaccinate – or make arrangements for one of the local animal organizations to put you in contact for details – it cost so little. You would be helping because no puppies/kittens would be born in to a life of suffering.
4. Your travel dollars have clout. Raise awareness with hotels, resorts, timeshares, airlines and any travel providers that you use. Also, share this information with fellow snowbirds. By educating the travel industry and fellow travelers, you can make a difference one life at a time.
5. Be kind and notice if there is a fresh water source on those hot days – if not, put some out and keep it clean. It is OK to put food out as well.
6. Donate your old towels and blankets to the local animal shelters. Ask for a list of needed items and bring them with you from home—medicines, used collars & leashes, old kennels, bags of food.
7. Contact someone immediately if you see an animal in distress or being abused. If you can, take him to a local vet or call a local animal group. Be prepared. Post a local vet phone number with your other emergency numbers.
8. Volunteer with shelters and/or spay and neuter programs.
9. Promote spay/neuter programs and ensure that dogs or cats you see around your villa are sterilized – there are low cost and even free options available – you will ensure that these animals have a healthier life.
10. Contact your local rescue group to see if they need a dog escort to your destination. It won’t cost you anything – it is easier than sending a dog by cargo and it will make a difference in that one dog’s life.
11. Do not assume that if you leave money and/or food with a caretaker that it will get to the animal. It probably won’t. And please don’t tie your snowbird animal to the fence or the gate of an animal shelter when you leave in the hopes that it will be taken care of.
12. Please share this blog with your fellow snowbirds and share your snowbird dog or cat story here at the Humane Advisor. Your kindness and caring efforts deserve a shout-out!
Not so hard, right? Helping that special dog or cat will not only change their lives but also yours.