Animal Balance Blog

This blog tells the story of our role on the planet as Animal Balance. It is our wish that through the work that we do, the experiences we have and the stories we share, we can connect with others, open up minds and, essentially, shake things up in order to move our collective direction forward. Our goals is to increase global love and compassion for all species, everywhere. Thank you for taking the time to read it. The Animal Balance Team  

“We were laying on the floor of the living room holding onto one another as the entire house seemed to bend and shake around us. Our bodies were being pulled up by the wind, but we held on to one another. The noise was so loud, it was deafening, as it tossed around 40 feet shipping containers, like they were dice, destroying everything in their path. My cousin was still in her bedroom, we went to get her so we would all be together and within a minute, there was another loud crash and bang, we opened her bedroom door and the entire bedroom and roof was gone. Then suddenly after hours, it stopped and all you could hear was hammering throughout the town. I yelled over to my neighbors, they came out of the rubble that was once their home. All the houses were gone, but mine. They all came over and laid on the floor as we braced ourselves as we all knew, we were in the center of the eye, we still had hours of this hell to go”. Enron, Barbudan Resident April 2018.

We have put a need list together below. We are working out shipping routes to get the supplies over. We are planning to camp on Barbuda and set up the clinic in 2 large tents. We are starting to get the large pieces of equipment, such as dog traps, dog cages etc. donated or discounted, and onto shipping containers to Antigua, and then Barbuda. We need funds and some key pieces of equipment at this time.

If you are able/interested in donating any of the following items to this campaign, please email : info@animalbalance.org 

Dog collars and leashes all sizes

Collapsible PetCo style crates

Flea and Tick topical medications, all types

A free shipping company/space on a container from the East Coast to Antigua

The community is tight. It seems to me that human endurance and our ability to be kind, is amplified when humans come together after a terrible tragedy.

Barbuda is a small Caribbean island – one half of the twin-island nation Antigua and Barbuda. During the night of September 6th, 2017, this small island which covers only 62 square miles, was the first to feel the force of Hurricane Irma. When the storm made landfall, it hit Barbuda at speeds of about 185mph. Barbuda is a flat island so there was nothing to break the direct hit. Everything was destroyed, every being was affected. Antigua, just a 30-minute short plane ride away, was not hit.

Six months later, myself and Meredith, arrive on the dock of Codrington, the only town on Barbuda, to hold a feasibility visit for an Animal Balance program.

There is a USAID tent on the dock full of building materials. Behind that is utter devastation. All you can see are buildings with only some walls left and personal items strewn around the debris of twisted metal, rubble, broken glass and plastic. There are no trees. There is nothing tall. Things are in places that do not make sense, massive metal anchors in town, parts of boats in fields, containers sitting in destroyed homes and in other illogical places. We just stare in disbelief.

Local farmer, Shiraz, greets us and takes us and our hosts, who had come over from Antigua with us, from house to house so we could talk to people about their dogs and give them food and parasite prevention medications. Shiraz told us that the 1,800 who lived there, were forcibly evacuated to Antigua. The people were told to leave their animals. The horses, donkeys, goats, cows, pigs, dogs and cats etc. who had survived were left to fend for themselves. The dogs formed packs and began killing other animals, in order to survive. The Military then shot the dogs and the pigs who were reportedly killing many animals that the people need for their own survival. For a period, it was hell on earth.

Fast forward to last week. The farm animals are now contained again, and all the remaining dogs are tied up. As Shiraz said, if the dogs come after the farmers’ goats, they are going to poison the dogs, so its best people tie them up. The Humane Society, which is based on Antigua, has employed a local person to drop dog food each day for the dogs and other animals that are now confined and totally dependent on human handouts for survival.

About 400 people have moved back to Barbuda. The government of Antigua has not let the teachers go back as yet, but the children have started to come back. The local people reopened the school at a church and the children are currently being taught by retired teachers within the community. The Military, UN, Halo Foundation, USAID, Samaritan Purse and the Red Cross have provided immediate relief. Anyone who moved back has a silver USAID tent in their front garden, with their house in ruins behind it. There is a de-salination station that is providing water via 4 hoses along one road. There are about 40 generators on island. The gasoline, propane, food, and drinking water are all brought in twice a week on the barge. The NGO’s have started to replace roofs and put up animal fencing and moved a lot of the debris to the dump.

After a few hours, Shiraz handed us off to the only local taxi driver, Enron, so he could take us to the dump and other areas of Codrington. Our hosts took the boat back to Antigua. We were on our own. We didn’t have anywhere to stay as there are no hotels left, so Enron said we could stay with him as he had a spare room. This was so incredibly kind of him as he didn’t know us, yet he invited us into his home and said we would be safe with him.

It is moments like these when you remember that human kindness has no boundaries. This man had been through something so terrible that he could not talk about it sometimes, but he wanted us to know. He wanted us to understand. We simply listened to him and as he took us to nests of puppies. As he talked, he helped us find plastic containers, so we could feed, water and treat as many dogs (and pigs, goats, turtles, donkeys) as we could. I am not going to tell you about everything we saw, but suffice to say, it is the worst situation I have ever seen.

That afternoon, Easter Monday, Enron took us to the beach as the entire town was there. We were the only outsiders on that beach and everyone came up and asked us why we were there. It was perfect as we were able to speak to everyone about the idea of a temporary animal hospital. Every person was positive and very excited about the idea and said they would help.

One man, who seemed to be in charge just from his mere presence, came up, shook our hands and started telling his story. When asked, we explained what we would like to do to help and he said it was much needed. Then he asked us to take a moment and look down the beach at the children playing in the surf and all the people having fun and celebrating, he said, “This is the first time my people have come together for a happy celebration since Irma destroyed our beautiful island. Now, with God’s help, we rebuild. My people are strong and resilient. Thank you for offering to help us with our animals.” His words seem to have such larger meaning that day. When I got home I searched for him online, he is Trevor Walker, MP - Minster for Parliament for Barbuda.

After a night at Enron’s, we had been eaten by every mosquito on the island and not slept at all due to the humidity and sweltering heat. This is how everyone has to live. There is no electricity or running water in anyone’s homes. We went with Enron to fill up 20 plastic bottles from the water hoses so we could ‘flush’ the toilet. The next morning Enron provided us with coffee. He was so kind, he didn’t have any coffee filters, so he had gone to the UN house/tent the night before and borrowed some from them, just so we could have coffee.

The kindness that this man showed us, the resilience of the community and the compassionate MP, has restored my faith in humanity again.

Essentially, the dog population is just starting to rebuild so now is the best time to set up a MASH program. We are not even going to worry about sterilizing the cats at this point, their population needs to bounce back naturally for a while. The cats’ help with rodent control is very important right now on so many levels. Animal Balance assesses these situations in an integrated way. All species are woven into the web of life and so we have to be very careful to ensure that we fully understand the implications to all species when we plan to sterilize the majority of one, hence ‘Animal Balance’.

After spending a few days on Barbuda, we headed back to Antigua to meet with the Government Veterinarian, the Humane Society Director, Local Veterinarians and the local animal rescue NGOs. We needed to know what they had done already and what they thought should happen next. We also had to find out what the processes are for temporary veterinary licenses and the importation of all of our veterinary medications. In short, everyone was supportive and offered to help oil the wheels of the processes to get the permissions. As there was an election recently, we must wait for the Minister of Agriculture to appoint a new Veterinary Board and then we can submit our proposal and requests for approval. Our target month is October and the proposal was delivered yesterday.

Quite honestly, Meredith and I are working through what we witnessed. Carla Naden and I were in Haiti after the earthquake and it’s taken us years to even be able to talk about what we saw there, this is quite similar.

We are focusing on the positive and what we can do moving forward to help the small community of Barbuda. We can treat and sterilize their dogs, we can provide parasite treatments, we can vaccinate them against diseases and we can microchip them, so they are safer and healthier. We can ask our friends around the world to help. We are fortunate to have access to incredible resources. We must now use all of our skill sets and our voices to get the Barbudan community what it needs.

They showed us such kindness, we must repay in KIND. The community and animals need us to step in. Please join us in helping.


   
“You can taste the sweetness of the grass as you move your mandible from side to side…” In my life, there have been several moments where I suddenly take stock of where I am and what I’m doing. This is one of those moments. I’m in the auditorium at UNAM, the national public university in Mexico City. My shoes are off and I am on my hands and knees, imagining myself as a cow. Yeah. I’m chewing my cud, switching my tail, lounging in the grass with the rest of my “herd,” who are in actuality other human attendees of the 4th International Minding Animals Conference. We are all participating in the “Imagining Cow-Being” workshop and I’m finding that this conference is continuing to challenge me and expose me to new ideas in ways I could never have anticipated…including spending 30 minutes imagining myself as a cow. The workshop is being led by Terry Hurtado, whom we would later learn is running for office in his home country of Columbia on an animal rights platform. This session is one of the more unconventional offerings at Minding Animals, a week-long conference that aims to bring together activists and scholars to discuss new ideas, philosophies and programs dedicated to improving the rights of non-human animals around the world. Other, more traditional sessions, were held in classrooms at the University, including presentations on animals and religion, feminism in animal rights, veterinary ethics, helping wildlife, photojournalism presentations, LGBTQA issues in animal rights, and even a lively presentation on Prince and his animal rights legacy. The ideas discussed may be eccentric at times, but they are also progressive and inspiring, igniting intelligent debate and conversation around how we, as humans, can help ensure that other sentient beings are treated fairly in an environment that has been taken over, and irreversibly altered, by human animals. Many of the ideas are new to me, as this is my first animal rights conference and the first time that I have been exposed to much of this material. Each day I find myself being challenged, as philosophies that I had always taken for granted (ie: the idea that humans are naturally on top of the dominance hierarchy) were turned upside down, introducing me to a world in which exists enough room for all animals to live together, human and non-human alike. Over the course of the week, we were afforded the opportunity to hear talks from some of the leading scholars in many fields of study, and were introduced to work being done for animals across many disciplines. Our own Founder and Director, Emma Clifford, spoke on the field programs that we have established in the Galapagos and the social change that occurred as a result of Animal Balance’s work in the area. We were able to discuss ideas one-on-one with other participants over vegan lunches in the courtyard, and engage in thought-provoking debates when presented with the opportunity to share an opposing idea. The fact that the conference was held in Mexico City added another level of depth to the for of us in some way. It was the childhood home of one member of our team, and offered opportunities to explore art, culture, history and culinary delights (roasted yams and bananas with strawberry jam from a street cart!) that enhanced the experience. And, not to be ignored, with Mexico being the epicenter of a national and worldwide debate on inclusion/exclusion of humans, it was an appropriate place to carry on conversations about considering the importance of the lives of all beings as we navigate our complicated world. Animal Balance has a history of dropping me into these situations, creating these magical moments that are both so simple and life-changing at the same time. For instance, there was the time that I found myself in American Samoa, talking to a man named Samoa about his 1986 trip to the Super Bowl, playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. Incidentally, our team trapped about 20 cats on his property and successfully neutered and returned them. I have been challenged with setting up a MASH clinic in some of the most unlikely locations (carports, jungle clearings, a living room). But, we will never know our limits if we don’t continue to stretch them, right? Would I have imagined that a simple guided cow meditation would have such an impact on me? No, probably not. But in the end, it made me realize the number of ways my work in this field has helped me to grow as a human animal, to think about the world we live in in a different way…in a hundred different ways. I can step out of my comfort zone, into the body of a cow, to have a conversation with a football player, dance the merengue (poorly) in a local bar in the Dominican Republic, all while spreading the same message of compassion, kindness, and inclusion that we bring with us everywhere as representatives of Animal Balance. We are all the cow, the cat, the island dog…we are all just sentient beings trying to share space on this planet. In order for this to work, we all need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones just a little bit, become the other, to see that we’re all really just one and the same.
   
Flying through the crazy Kathmandu traffic in thick dust after two days on a plane, with no idea what time zone my brain or body is on, we come to an abrupt stop. The taxi man tells us to get out. We do, and someone runs off with our bags. We head off in the same direction, trying to keep pace. Navigating a bustling market, a kaleidoscope of color, exotic smells and lights, we try to keep up with the man with our bags. He stops, and with a big smile he says, ‘Namaste’. We have reached the Kathmandu Guest House, an oasis of quiet in the middle of the market, which we quickly dub ‘The Mall.’ Its real name is Thamel, but we don’t know at that point that is pronounced ‘T-hamel’. We have so much to learn! “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  ― Augustine of Hippo We, AB’s Director of Operations Meredith, myself, and Carla Naden of Animal Synergy, have come to the other side of the world to learn about the animal welfare work here and share stories of our work. We hope to take back ideas and information that will help save lives. After all, we all face the same challenges. We will be attending the Asia for Animals Conference in Kathmandu for the next four days, but first we have one day to explore and meet the beautiful Nepalese people and, of course, kiss every dog, pet every cow, and eat all the vegan food we can find! Kathmandu is like nowhere else! Dogs are not just family, they are the gatekeepers to heaven. The kindness and gentle nature of the Nepalese people literally stopped us in our tracks, and each of us have been changed by the experience. We have been humbled by the sheer beauty of the people. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”  ― Mark TwainThe Innocents Abroad/Roughing It In case you don’t know, the three of us all follow a vegan lifestyle and spend the majority of our time working to save animals. We are an odd little collective, but we have the same ethics and sense of adventure. We head off with Big B, a local man who sells tea that Carla met, who has kindly offered to show us around. He takes us to the Great Boudha Stupa, a breathtaking temple and world heritage site.  We meet the local mandala artist and teacher upstairs in an ancient room full of easels and artists. He takes time to explain the entire Mandala history to us, as tourists and locals bustle through the square below. Sharing the sky are hundreds of pigeons. who soar around the temple, hanging out on the rooves of orange flowers. One Monk feeds them, while another Monk plays Candy Squash on an IPhone. Hundreds of colorful prayer flags flap, the mix of the ancient and modern blending peacefully and perfectly together. There is a quiet respect and feeling of deep wisdom everywhere. We don’t talk much as we take it all in. “Travel brings power and love back into your life.”  ― Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi Next, we go to Lord Shiva’s temple and are led over a walkway bridge by two dogs and a cow. We sit by the river with a new cow friend, Carla says this is the spot, and I spread my dog Sage’s ashes, into the river. We cheer her on. We go inside the temple grounds, as far as we can go as non-Hindus, and I reach in my bag to get a fruit offering for Lord Shiva. Immediately, out of nowhere, a monkey jumps on me and takes my fruit offering from my hand and runs off with it! Big B, who is Hindu, laughs and tells me not to worry, as the monkeys work for Lord Shiva. Old dogs lay around the temple, so we spent some time kissing them all. We did not see any puppies. In fact, we had not seen any since we arrived, just older dogs. We started to wonder what was going on. The amazing local group, ManuMitra (https://www.facebook.com/ManuMitra-917204091732595/) and the KAT Center (http://www.katcentre.org.np/) have done such a fabulous job at spaying and neutering that there are no puppies, at least in the areas that we visited. The street dogs are older, and while they may have some parasites and such, they were in quite good shape. Super friendly too! I think we managed to say hello and kiss pretty much everyone. Each zone in Kathmandu has a dog guardian and he/she looks after the dogs in that zone. It is a natural, loving program that simply works.    
The AfA conference was THE best conference I have ever been to. It began and ended with beautiful local cultural performances. The signage and layout was beautifully thought out and prepared. It was as esthetically kind as it was in every other way. The staff and volunteers were so helpful and kind to us. The vegan buffet was incredible. We ate our food outside, on the grass surrounded by a beautiful garden. It was truly magical. There was even a juice table where a local culinary school tried out different recipes to offer us. The conference organizers have planted hundreds of trees to combat the carbon foot print caused by us flying in. Incredibly thoughtful and respectful to Mother Earth. This holistic thinking works! As hoped, we learned a lot about many aspects of animal protection in Asia. The local groups presented from a positive standpoint and they used mostly positive images. In fact, the majority of the conference was positive and done in a way to inspire, rather than to make you feel sad or shock you. We made contacts, talked about all aspects of our programs, had photo shoots with our new friends and drank so much tea! Following the conference, the AfA team sent us to Chitwan National Park to visit the elephant sanctuary. Three buses flew us up and around and around a scary ravine for 10 hours. We didn’t die! We arrived and were allocated a lovely local family to live with. We stayed with the teacher’s family and they were the best hosts ever. Even with no Nepalese or English, we managed to communicate our appreciation of the amazing curries and strong coffee. The trip costs are put back into the community, helping with infrastructure and schools. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  ― Marcel Proust Thanks to the elephants, we saw lots of Rhinos in the wild. The elephants are domestic rescued elephants, not wild. These beautiful crinkly mammoths who look into your soul with their piercing brown-green eyes, are all living out their retirements as walking leads in the jungle. They cannot be free, but they cannot be caged, so they live here together and are so incredibly loved. I have to say, the 3 of us were rather judgmental at the start, but we checked ourselves and reigned it in, then learned about the lives of the elephants and people here. We quickly understood how remarkable and ground-breaking this work is when creating a sustainable eco-tourism. http://www.tigertops.com/ My magic moment was when the elephants bathed at sunset. I was away from other humans and was watching two adults bathe about 15 feet away. They stuck their trunks in each other’s mouths and purred. Yep, they did elephant size purrs! I looked around to say to someone – did you hear that? – but no one was around. Then one let out a mini squeal. Sounded like a ‘hee hee’ kind of sound. Finally, a guide came over and I said rather shyly – um…. they seem to be purring – and she laughed and said yes, they are sounds of happiness, these two love one another deeply. WOW! There is a thick sense of family and belonging here. Without even knowing why, when I met Carla in Kathmandu, they first words out of my mouth were, ‘we are home’. It is like being at the mecca of love and compassion and respect for all. We were profoundly touched by Nepal and its beautiful people. The trip has given us hope, inspired us to be kinder to one another, and to never, ever give up on our missions. We are recharged, reenergized and cannot stop talking about Nepal! “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta