A few times a month, a plea for help for a homeless cat or dog arrives in my email or Facebook inbox. Most of the people who get in touch with me are traveling in Africa, Central or South America, the Caribbean, the Balkans, or the Caucasus. Travelers find my organization, Animal-Kind International, online when they search for dog and cat rescues in those regions. Sometimes I can help. Often, sadly, there’s too little time to get the animal to a good shelter or foster home or to arrange transport to take the cat or dog home.
“I’ve been here for 2 months during which time I befriended a homeless dog who I’ve been feeding. I’m leaving in 2 days and I was wondering if you could help me find a home or a shelter for this sweet, loving dog.”
I know, it may seem strange that someone would wait until the last minute to get help for an animal friend, and I’ve wondered a lot about that. I don’t have an answer beyond human nature-we all want to avoid difficult situations and decisions, and that may be especially true when we’re traveling and feeling carefree without the daily commitment of job, home, and expectations.
Even if you didn’t think you’d meet a dog or cat during your travels and fall in love, you never know when that special someone will cross your path. Rather than waiting until the last minute and then panicking because you’ve made no arrangements for your animal friend with your departure date looming, it really does make sense to plan ahead.
Here’s what to do
If you can’t take the dog or cat home with you—you’re not living in a place that’s suitable, your landlord won’t allow an animal, you don’t have a steady job, you intend to set off on travels again soon, your roommate is allergic, you’re not really looking for a commitment now–here are some things that can help you do the best by your animal friend.
- If you have a soft heart for animals and you’re traveling to a region that isn’t necessarily known as a haven for cats and dogs, check World Animal Net’s (WAN) directory before you go, http://worldanimal.net/directory. Alternatively, you can always do a Google search for a shelter or rescue, but it’s often difficult to find local rescues. Not all organizations on the WAN directory are active, but then not all organizations on Google are either. Now that you’ve done some basic research, you can begin your travels prepared with a list of shelters and rescues, email addresses, websites, street addresses, and phone contacts.
- You may think it’s only a short-term relationship, but your new cat or dog friend may have other ideas. When you make a connection with a cat or dog, start thinking about what you’re going to do when you leave (more importantly, what is the cat or dog going to do without you?) Check with local people to find out if the shelters on your WAN list are legitimate and have good reputations. Ask about them at pet supply shops and vet clinics. Get input from a range of people and places.
Photo: In 2010, I met this puppy in Port au Prince, Haiti, living in a vacant lot across from the pension where I was staying. I brought food to her morning and night, put out a bowl of water that I refreshed daily. I made half-hearted attempts to find a home and to locate a mobile spay/neuter clinic that I had heard about. But I was unable to locate either, and I had to leave without making safe arrangements for her. The pension owner knew I had befriended this puppy and I asked her to watch out for the pup after I left.
- Contact the recommended shelters and rescues as soon as possible to make sure they have space and to find out if you’ll need to arrange transport. And then, if necessary, plan ahead for transport. In many countries, animal shelters and rescue groups aren’t set up to pick up cats and dogs and will request that you provide transport. Finding a willing friend or taxi (including Uber and Lyft) to transport the animal may not be easy. My experience is that most taxi drivers refuse to carry dogs and cats even in a carrier. Sometimes it helps to offer a little extra for transport of a cat or dog.
Photo: These teenagers are relaxed and happy at the Uganda Society for the Protection & Care of Animals’ shelter, The Haven (July 19, 2018). If you’re not used to visiting shelters in Africa, you may be surprised by the number of brown dogs and the apparently crowded conditions. But spend a little time there and you may see that the dogs enjoy their lives together, get regular meals, exercised, and go to sleep with full bellies—almost everything a dog could want.
- Visit the shelter or rescue beforehand and make sure it’s acceptable. And notch down your expectations. If you’re expecting the shelter to look like an American-style shelter, which are often nicer than most homes, you’ll be disappointed. Spend some time at the shelter, watch the dogs, cats, staff, and volunteers interact. Things may be very different than they appear at first glance. The dogs and cats may be very happy even though they don’t lounge on couches and watch TV shows (like they do in some US shelters).
Photo: When you arrive at the Save the Animals-Armenia shelter, the first thing you may notice is that the pens look run down. But stick around for a while and you’ll see that the SAA shelter dogs aren’t bothered by that. They get plenty of exercise outside their kennels every day, relax in shade, catch up with their friends. The SAA shelter provides a pretty nice life for a dog!
- You may also need to ratchet your expectations about a forever home down a few notches. Sleeping with a dog or cat or even keeping a dog or cat inside a house may be unheard of. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad home. Chaining (in some places, even cats may be chained), keeping dogs in small boxes all day only to be let out at night to guard—these are deal breakers. Talk with the shelter workers about these practices: Do they do home checks prior to and after adoption? Do they adopt pets to homes where dogs are chained and boxed? Do they adopt dogs to homes where their primary purpose is guarding, cats where their primary role is mousing? Deal breakers.
- Especially if you’re not 100% comfortable with the shelters you’ve visited, post “Good Home Needed” notices with pictures of the cat or dog. Target places where Embassy and other expat staff hang out. Check at embassies if they have an information board or newsletter where cats and dogs in need of homes can be posted. (This is why you need to start early, it can take a while to get your animal friend to a really good home!)
- Consider that in some places, dogs and cats live on the street and do just fine. It may not be ideal, but it may be common….and it may be ok. Kingston, Jamaica is a good example, where many street dogs survive perfectly well (check out Kingston Community Animal Welfare for more information on Kingston’s street animals.) Of course, some don’t do so well—the weak, the sick, the submissive. And even the strong and healthy do get hit by cars and do run into cruel, violent people.
What to keep in mind
Although we so rarely see cats and dogs on the street in the US any longer, when I was growing up, our neighbors let Claude the dog out every day before they left for work and school and Claude came home every evening for dinner. That’s still the drill in many parts of the world. Don’t automatically assume a dog or cat needs to be removed from the street, rescued, and brought to a shelter.
Photo: I fell in love with this dog in Tbilisi, Georgia. She seemed to live on the street-I found her hanging out in the same location every day. I was convinced I would have to take her home, I couldn’t leave her behind. When I started to ask around about her, I found out she had a home and actually, a very loving home.
In many countries, there are street dog spay/neuter programs-you may see street dogs with tags on their ears, the most common marking for dogs that have been sterilized. These dogs may be watched over by a community group or by rescue group volunteers. In countries where groups are helping street cats and dogs, consider donating to the group. Most groups that focus on street animals would gladly accept a donation to sterilize a particular cat or dog, and that could be the perfect parting gift for your animal friend.
Photo: Street dogs in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, where yellow tags are placed in one ear to distinguish spayed or neutered street dogs from dogs that haven’t yet been sterilized. The street dogs are fed, vaccinated, and watched over and in general, they can live long, happy lives on the street.
By Karen Menczer, Founder & Director of Animal-Kind International