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IFAW shows how a simple dog house can have big impact

IFAW shows how a simple dog house can have big impact

Protecting dogs; bringing communities together

Always looking for ways to protect animals and people, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has integrated a simple program in Mexico to protect the area’s dogs, people and its wildlife. It all begins with a simple dog house.

Playa del Carmen is one of Mexico’s favorite beach destinations, but now has to deal with the growing pains all tourist locales have to deal with; increase in population and visitors and an increase in habitat destruction. Located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Playa del Carmen is a part of the Riviera Maya. The city is located between the beaches of the Caribbean Sea and the jungles filled with ancient Mayan Ruins, places like Chichen Itza, Tulum and Uxmal. Indigenous Maya descendants still make up a sizable portion of the peninsula’s population. The city is also located between the tourist locale of Cancun and the beach enclave of Tulum making it a central location for visitors to the area.

As the area grows in people, hotels and homes make their way into the nearby jungle and loom over the beaches. Also with people come companion animals, dogs, cats and horses, to areas where sea turtles and birds once reigned. This clash of domestic and wild animals can be dangerous, but IFAW has come up with a simple plan that is making a huge difference in this area.

The project is Casitas Azules, or Little Blue Houses. The project provides small dog houses to locals along with education and medical care. In return, the houses are protecting local wild life. It may seem surprising that a simple dog shelter can do so much, but IFAW isn’t surprised at all.

“We ran some successful programs in Cozumel for years and Playa del Carmen reached out to us to roll similar programs out in their community,” says Tracy Weeks, Supporter Relations Specialist. “The community has been super engaged and we run all kinds of programs – like feeding stations for stray cats and now Blue Casitas for dogs.”

The dog shelters are small, but painted a bright blue, just like the Caribbean waters along Playa’s coastline. While the protection to dogs is obvious, shelter from the elements and hot sun and a safe place to stay at night, what may not be obvious is how these shelters help local wildlife.

Res Krebs, Communications Specialist for the Community Animals Program, says IFAW rolled out this program just this summer. Casitas Azules is the first project IFAW has created with reducing wildlife conflicts as the primary goal. The program came about because of requests and reports on conflicts from the local community.

According to reports the IFAW received, roaming dogs often scavenge along the beaches and may eat marine turtle eggs and hatchlings or attack adult turtles, animals already endangered in some areas. In the jungle, where jaguars are known to live, dogs wondering at night can be attacked and killed by the big cats, which results in scared and angry dog owners and other residents who might retaliate against the jaguars. Worse, the jaguars may chase the dogs into populated areas making it dangerous for people. Keeping a dog inside a shelter will protect both dogs and jaguars.

“From what I understand,” says Krebs, “the reports come from both villagers and the Mexican wildlife service. IFAW was not part of the scientific studies related to dog predation on sea turtle eggs. However, because IFAW is so well-connected to these two communities, we learned of these conflicts first hand. Our regional representative Joaquin De La Torre-Ponce and the program manger Erika Flores then came up with the idea to distribute these dog houses, which signal that a household is a kind of “animal welfare ambassador.” Those dogs are sterilized and vaccinated, and their owners are education about what a dog really needs.”

Everything about the program is locally handled, from the building of the houses to the distribution. A local carpenter donates his time to construct the houses and Torre-Ponce and Flores distribute them.

“The wood itself was donated by the Convention on Biological Diversity and is certified to be from sustainable sources,” says Krebs. Krebs also says they distribute solar powered outside lights, which works as a deterrent to jaguars roaming through communities.

Krebs says IFAW’s plan is to distribute 100 dog houses to the local community and so far 15 houses have been constructed. Each dog house costs $40 to build and the public is being asked to donate to help IFAW achieve their 100 house goal. Donations to this and many other IFAW programs can be found on the organization’s website.

“When we give out a free dog house,” says Weeks, “it affords us the opportunity to speak to the owner about proper care, feeding, shelter and even spay/neuter and vaccinations. We always bring treatments with us. We also find the bright colors attract attention from friends and neighbors who ask about them and starts even more conversations and results in more dog houses and more educated owners.”

IFAW runs a similar program in northern Canada providing insulated dog house kits to First Nation communities in northern Ontario. The communities come together to assemble the houses and distribute them throughout the area. Amazing how a simple dog house can make a big difference anywhere.

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian IFAW is already on the ground in the Bahamas helping animals and taking donations for disaster relief. Visit the website for more details. Donate to IFAW here.

Photos by Scott Anger

Photos by Scott Anger

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