Which of these things is not like the others? Sun, surf, sand, fruit drinks, stray dogs. While on the surface, the last is the odd-dog out, the truth is that in many tropical vacation paradises, emaciated, mange-afflicted and lonely canines (and felines) roam the beaches, alleys and streets in heartbreaking numbers.
Among the humane groups that have sprung up to address this situation is Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), whose mission is “to save the lives of stray cats and dogs in Mexico and the Caribbean through spay, neuter, adoption and educational programs, supported and funded by the tourism industry, travelers and pet lovers.”
CANDi was founded by Canadian Darci Galati, an avid traveler and natural-born entrepreneur, who was inspired by her daughters’ concern for the strays they saw while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. The girls would do what they could for the animals they saw wandering the streets and beaches, but knew that when they left, these dogs and cats would once again be on their own. Galati made her daughters a promise that she would do something to make the animals’ situations better, and CANDi was born.
The group has no brick-and-mortar shelters of its own, but rather, enlists what it calls “humane partners,” local rescue groups that have charitable status, a substantial and active volunteer base, and a focus on spay/neuter and other prevention work, as well as documented recordkeeping and administrative capacities.
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At first, CANDi sponsored free spay/neuter clinics, which became wildly popular with local dog and cat owners, who would line up early on clinic days to have their pets altered. Galati then decided to kick it up a notch—to find a way to address the larger systemic problems by involving those who benefit financially from the tourist trade: hotels, resorts and airlines.
This was an area Galati knew well. Founder of an interline travel company that went on to become one of the largest in the UK and North America, she knew how the tourism industry worked, and how much it depended on the good will of those who enjoyed it. She was determined to parlay that knowledge into a model that would benefit animals in need.
For example, with the group’s “Make a Difference” program, participating hotels invite guests to add the equivalent of $1 per night to their bill at checkout, with the money going to help CANDi provide clinics and educational programs in the local community. While guests are under no obligation to sign up, CANDi’s research indicates that about 75 percent of them elect to take part in this fund-raising activity.
Finding adoptive homes for animals in need locally is another primary activity, but the group also reaches out to the international community, both as adopters and as travel partners to transport dogs and cats to new homes in Canada and the U.S. Currently, ACTA (the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies), Air Transat, CEO Mexico and RIU Hotels and Resorts are actively working with CANDi in support of its mission.
In her work with CANDi, photographer, volunteer and board member Tracey Buyce has had numerous experiences with local communities, and understands the struggle many have just to feed and house their families. According to Buyce, people tend to be judgmental about the animal situation in, for example, Mexico, assuming that the local people are just neglectful. “The reality is, as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means to care for them.” This is the gap that CANDi helps fill.
Buyce’s introduction to the issue also came during a Cancun sojourn. As she and her husband were taking a moonlit stroll on the beach, they encountered a starving stray and her equally malnourished puppy. Not knowing what else to do, Buyce shared her dessert with the dogs, but the encounter shook her. Once she returned home, she began an online search for animal rescue groups working in the area, and found CANDi.
When asked what individual travelers can do to assist, Buyce had several straightforward suggestions: “As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home. There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico, and it’s very easy to do. Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life. And, of course, volunteer.”
Read more about Tracey Buyce’s experiences in our interview.