There is a beautiful beach on the north coast of the DR called Playa Grande. Some even say it is THE most beautiful beach in the DR and I for one agree! The dogs were dumped there and they were having a tough time. The beach vendors saw them as an irritant and didn’t want them to put off their beach going customers. The folks on holiday didn’t want to see skinny, ‘ugly’ dogs while they lay out in the sun and played on the beach. The dogs were considered a nuisance by all. Sound familiar? Happens everywhere?
In 2007, AB had a beach MASH clinic there, under the palm trees on a very windy day and sterilized all the beach dogs. We set up tents to recover the animals and used dog crates as surgery tables. Everyone started to crowd around and watch and ask us why we were doing this. The vendors came over and watched for a while and then brought over food for us. We chatted to everyone and anyone who wanted to help was invited to hold puppies and such. We asked the vendors if the dogs could stay in their beach huts over night to totally recover and that we would be back in the early morning to check on them. Everyone cooperated. We show up the next day and the dogs of course had escaped and were already playing on the beach. We called them over and checked everyone. The vendors arrived and helped to check the dogs too and everyone examined the tattoos and incision sites. Phone numbers were exchanged and the AB-beach vendor relationship began.
Over the years the beach vendors would let us know of injuries, or if new dogs were dumped so we could help. Occasionally they would get frustrated with the dogs (if a beach customer was upset at the dogs as that would affect their income) and they would round up some and dump them somewhere else. Then, new ones would be dumped and the cycle would continue. It took many years, but eventually the vendors realized that it was much easier all round if the dogs were sterilized and vaccinated and just stayed there. The dogs were tame and the beach goers seemed to enjoy them now they were healthier. They kept the leftover food and put out bowls for the dogs at night time. AB put up signs in different languages letting people know that the dogs were being cared for and to keep their scraps for the dogs. We all managed to keep a somewhat consistent and healthy population at the beach.
Recently the beach area where the dogs lived and the vendors worked was purchased by a company in order to build a resort. We were very worried for the dogs as generally resorts don’t tend to like beach dogs. An agreement was worked out so that the dogs would be allowed to stay. The vendors moved up the beach and the resort built them new beach huts to sell from; of course the dogs followed the vendors.
The oldest of these dogs is about 7 years. Some are now even getting a little thick around the middle. They have multiple names depending on who you ask. If people think about adopting them, they soon change their mind as these dogs have the best life ever. They are free, living on a beach and people – for the most part – enjoy them and pet them. They do beg, but they are pretty polite about it, tending to dig a sand hole near you and watching you. They put on quite the show, chasing coconuts, each other and one even body surfs! They are not perfect, but they are quite extraordinary dogs and are pretty good at accepting day visitor dogs – new toys to play with! The beach is peaceful, the vendors are happy, the beach goers are happy; the resort has created a foundation and have been a great help with our work. Playa Grande beach is a wonderful model.
I was on the beach a few weeks ago. We had just finished a big MASH campaign in Cabrera and the team was having some well-deserved time off on the beach with a few beers and of course we were surrounded by ALL the beach dogs. Everyone had a hole, they were begging – this crew of humans was a total push over in that respect! We ate, they ate, we swam, they jumped the waves and watched over us. It was a big ridiculous ‘love fest’ really.
Then Sandro, one of the beach vendors who has helped save many animals lives over the years, came over. Sandro would buy dog food on days when there were no beach goers which meant no dog scraps and carry the big bag of kibble on his motorbike from his home town, Rio San Juan, which is a good 15 minutes away. He would make sure all the dogs had food and water. Sandro is the main vendor who has taken care of the dogs over the years and advocated for them when they were threatened. He is a dedicated dog protector.
He picked up a stick and started to draw in the sand. He was very serious in his tone and asked me for help. It took me a moment to catch up, but he was drawing a dog bowl design in the sand for me. He asked me if there was any way we could help him get permission to build a concrete dog bowl at the beach because the dogs keep knocking over the plastic one and he is so worried that they won’t have any water. With tears in my eyes I said absolutely we would and I thanked him profusely for letting me know. He then said that he did not want money, only permission from the Playa Grande Foundation and company so that he could do this for the dogs. He was asking me to ask them for permission so that he could do this as a volunteer. It was a beautiful moment. For 7 years we had been working towards this point.
I asked him if he would mind stating that on video for the foundation as it might help gain permission. He did. Then they gave their permission. There is a concrete dog bowl being built on Playa Grande beach right now!
Of course this story is not about a concrete dog bowl, it is about how with time and perseverance and plenty of outreach, you can change what is normally an adversarial situation into a peaceful one for all beings. Then the icing on the cake is when people come up with their own ideas to make it even better!
Cheers to all the vendors at Playa Grande and the Playa Grande Foundation and to all the dogs who live on that beach and are the happiest dogs on planet earth. It can be done!