Although summer may mean vacation time for many, it is an especially challenging time for the Cayman Islands Humane Society. From the threat of storms to a shortage of volunteers, there are many factors that conspire to make the task of the organisation even more challenging than usual.
Earlier this year a heavy downpour flooded the lower floor of the Humane Society shelter on North Sound Road. The shelter had to be evacuated with the animals going to short term foster homes while the shelter was dried out and sanitised.
Although no animals were injured, the shelter did suffer some losses from the flooding, with a fridge full of vaccines lost as well as documents and office equipment. Generous donations and the help of volunteers meant that the animals could return to the shelter again quickly, but the flooding did highlight the vulnerability of the shelter to weather.
“We have always had flooding in the shelter a problem. Our property is the lowest lying property around and as a result, all runoff goes straight to the shelter,” said Carolyn Parker, president of the Cayman Islands Humane Society.
The shelter was already in a low lying position when it was first taken into use, but in the intervening years much of the area around it has been built up, resulting in the facility acting as a sink for the water from the surrounding area.
“It has always been bad and we are making every effort to ensure that the flood boards on the doors are properly placed every evening to prevent flooding. We are also trying to see if we can retain the water away from the property,” said Parker.
However, solutions to the problem would come at a cost, not only financially but also in terms of the usability of the shelter.
“It was suggested years ago a retaining wall be put up to close off the North Sound Road entrance but that would make getting to the property and the flow impossible. We just keep trying to cope with the problem and do what we can to keep the water out. The shelter flooded just last week,” said Parker
Being an older building, the shelter is also very vulnerable to damage from passing storms, not merely from flooding but also wind damage. The shelter is certainly not a safe haven for the animals during a storm, so all the residents of the shelter have to be evacuated when a storm is approaching. The organisation used to have an arrangement with a local law firm for the animals to be evacuated to their location, but due to the company’s expansion that is no longer possible. Fortunately a local businessman has come forward to allow the animals to be evacuated to the company’s warehouse in case of a bad storm approaching.
There is a definite need for a new shelter building in a new location, but there are numerous stumbling blocks that face the project. One of the challenges is the zoning of the land.
“The land that a new shelter can occupy must be Zoned Industrial/Agricultural for us to be able to acquire it and build,” said Parker.
In addition to a shortage of available land with the right zoning, the location would also be very important. If the location was too far from George Town, it might discourage people from driving out there to volunteer with the animals or adopt an animal. The Book Loft and Thrift Shop also play a very important role in raising funds for the Humane Society and need to be located close to the public in order to draw enough business. Then there is the issue of finances. The current economic climate means that the organisation is struggling just to meet its operating expenses, with the veterinary care and feeding of the animals representing the lion’s share of expenses.
“Money to find [a new location for the shelter] does not exist for land or a building, so we are just doing what we can with what we have,” said Parker.
If the shelter is to be fit for purpose, it would have to be constructed to hurricane standard as it should serve as a safe haven for pets during a storm, not necessitate them to be evacuated to another location.
The current shelter is far from a purpose built facility, having served as a residence prior to the Humane Society purchasing it.
“That building was a house, in all likelihood built with beach sand. Although it is primarily block construction, it is decomposing as we exchange emails. That is our biggest nightmare at the moment and with any possible bad storms, we would possibly get even worse damage. We are currently dealing with architects to see what can be done to ensure everyone’s safety,” said Parker.
She said that the building is in constant need of repair, adding yet another drain to the organisation’s finances.
“Let’s hope we can make sure that the building can withstand a hit of really bad weather. It managed to hold together for Ivan, but it is being looked at very carefully.”
If the Humane Society were to lose the shelter building due to storm damage, Cayman’s homeless animals would be in a much worse position than they currently are.
Even when the weather does not threaten the shelter it can still have a major impact on the animals.
With thunderstorms being very prevalent this time of year, dogs panicked by the noise will instinctively look for somewhere to hide.
“Even my own dogs hate thunder and lightning and get very upset,” said Parker.
According to her, the Humane Society already had a report of a dog that went missing after a thunderstorm earlier this year, but fortunately it was located.
“Even fireworks are a problem and we always try to get the message out when there are events with such displays,” she said.
According to Parker, the only way to ensure that animals do not run away when fireworks or thunder scares them is to keep them inside during thunderstorms or events that are traditionally marked by fireworks, such as Guy Fawkes and New Year.
However, when the owners are off on vacation, the dogs may be unable to get inside and may instead choose to run away.
These animals usually end up at the Humane Society shelter, where the first step when a dog comes in is to check whether the animal has any identification that will allow it to be reunited with its owner. If is therefore every important to see that all animals have identification on them, with microchip identification being more secure as it cannot get lost or be removed easily.
However, if it does not, and the owners are not on Island to realise that the dog is missing and go looking for it at the shelter, the dog may be in for an extended stay there.
Summer also sees an alarming increase in the number of animals that make their way into the care of the Humane Society. At least some of these animals are abandoned when their owners leave Cayman permanently and decide that their pets cannot accompany them. This is often motivated by financial considerations, as relocating a pet to another country can be quite expensive. However, according to Parker, this is something people should take into account before adopting an animal from the shelter.
“Adoption should be for life,” she said.