Bahamas Humane Society - A century of helping island animals
Nassau is the capital and commercial heart of a collection of islands known as The Bahamas. Located east of the US state of Florida, this island nation is geographically in the Atlantic Ocean, however, vacationers consider part of the Caribbean and it has that island vibe. Palm trees, sandy beaches and a little pirate history make this part of the world worth visiting.
As a big city, Nassau takes up most of the main island of New Providence and its smaller sister landmass Paradise Island, home to the Atlantis mega-resort. Nassau has its share of city issues, traffic jams, drugs, and old infrastructure. What makes Nassau unique is the city’s port handles the world’s largest Caribbean cruise ships. When docked at Prince George Wharf, these ships can add 25,000 to the city’s population of 274,000 in a single afternoon. So how does a large metropolitan area on an island handle animal welfare? The Bahamas Humane Society has been doing that for almost a century.
Bahamas Humane Society (BHS), founded as the Dumb Friends’ League in 1924, is one of the Caribbean’s oldest animal shelters, founded 30 years before the Humane Society of the United States. The original focus was to help the plight of the city’s pack animals, including donkeys, mules and horses. In 1947, the shelter opened in its current location and changed the name to Bahamas Humane Society. It is the oldest charity organization in Nassau and today helps all animals. Percy Grant, BHS Shelter Manager, has been running the shelter for over 30 years.
“When I came [to work] here in ’86, we [Nassau] were an old fishing village, farming, and all that kind of thing. Animals were more of a nuisance in a sense because they would kill sheep or cause damage and people did all sorts of hideous things to them because it was more about survival. We’ve come a long way.”
Today the Surrey Horse industry in Nassau is still an issue. Surreys are door-less carriages pulled by horses to take tourists sight-seeing. However, last year, several viral videos surfaced showing horses collapsed in the street, possibly dying. According to Grant, the industry has a horrible welfare track record. The horses have a reputation of being underfed, under-watered, and forced to work during the hottest parts of the day. Regulations are in place to help the horses, but they are not enforced. For example, only two adults and up to two children can be in a surrey at one time, but often the surreys are overloaded with as many adult tourists as will fit.
“We have the horse surrey industry that we fight with every year, every month, trying to regulate,” says Grant. “We have the surreys on Bay Street (downtown Nassau) and that is the biggest attraction, but we have issues with it.”
When it comes to dogs and cats, Nassau is much like other cities, hundreds of strays on the streets and disease occurs. Pitbulls and Cane Corsos are banned throughout the Bahamas, but it’s difficult to enforce for unique reasons. The country has 70 ports of entry with boats of all sizes coming and going. Often these boats are privately owned with pets on board. When a wealthy foreigner brings his Cane Corso (or any dog) on his mega-yacht to Nassau, all he or she has to do is bribe the local police to disembark with the animal.
Distemper outbreaks have happened, however, the last one was several decades years ago. Today the shelter is able to combat outbreaks before they happen with vaccines. However, Grant developed a special remedy for the animals that were already sick during the 1980s outbreak. Grant used Cerasee, a locally growing vine-like plant used for a variety of human ailments from skin conditions to fever. He boiled Cerasee leaves into a tea and gave it to the sick dogs. The tea worked and all the dogs survived.
Located near historical Fort Charlotte, the shelter is made up of seven buildings covering six acres. The building that houses the shelter’s vet clinic and offices was built in 1998. The original building is now The Cattery. There are three dog kennel buildings, one for small dogs, one for large and one for puppies. The Cattery houses adoptable cats and a second cat building in the back is for those awaiting adoption. Both are cageless with indoor/outdoor areas and the cats roam around hiding in boxes and lounging on cat towers with ample food and water. There are two more buildings, one used for storage and the other for medical care and the cat infirmary. There is a fenced and shaded outdoor play area for the dogs and as Grant gives a tour, a staff member watches a group of rambunctious puppies tumble all over each other. There is also a large pen for pack animals that is currently home to a donkey and another pen filled with chickens. Grant says several years ago school children painted the buildings in bright Caribbean colors.
Grant says that the stray dogs of Nassau are considered a unique breed, Royal Bahamian Potcakes. Potcakes is a common term throughout the Caribbean for stray dogs and comes from the patties of congealed peas and rice found at the bottom of a cooking pot. These remains were often fed to dogs. Potcakes come in a variety of colors and sizes, but often share cocked ears, a long face and a smooth coat without undercoat. They are also smart and loyal and make great pets. For stray cats BHS has trap-neuter-release programs. Most importantly, BHS does not put down animals for space. There is no time limit on how long animals can stay and the shelter will only euthanize the very sick. The programs Grant is most proud of are a children’s education program that teaches animal well-being in all curriculum areas including math and science and a kids’ summer camp where they help out at the shelter while learning about animal health and care.
Something else Grant is excited about is the city government called him last fall to discuss sheltering pets during 2017’s horrible hurricane season. While the hurricanes spared The Bahamas, the fact that the government called was monumental and Grant says desperately needed. Together BHS and the government created an action plan to house Nassau pets during hurricanes. Although not needed in 2017, it will be in the future. Grant calls this progress for animals.
The shelter does allow visitors to adopt animals. The only requirement is proof of rabies vaccination and a certificate of health from a local vet or the shelter’s vet. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries need to sign the certificate and there is a small fee.
Donna Kiriaze, Shelter Accountant, says visitors are welcome anytime and can view adoptable animals. Volunteers are welcome at the shelter, however, due to safety and insurance concerns, tourist volunteers cannot handle animals. They are allowed to help set up food dishes, clean kennels maintenance work, and other tasks. Kiriaze also suggests that those who want to help the shelter simply donate money through PayPal. She says sometimes people visit the shelter with a few bags of pet food. She says the public pays retail for pet food while the shelter pays a special reduced rate.
“While you purchased three bags,” she cautions, “we could have purchased 10, if you had just donated the money instead.”
If you visit the city of Nassau on a Caribbean cruise or resort vacation, consider spending some time at Bahamas Humane Society. The shelter is only a mile walk from the port terminal and near the attractions of Fort Charlotte, the Botanical Gardens, Junkanoo Beach and the fantastic fish fry restaurants of West Bay Street. For those interested in riding a surrey, do your homework before you go. Trip Advisor has tourist reviews and check the horse’s condition before boarding. Walk away, if you’re not comfortable with what you see.