SOS... Save Our ScruffsSunday, March 21, 2021
It's been a whirlwind couple of months for Montego Bay Animal Haven founder Tammy Browne. Not quite the one that the Royal Family had a week prior, but manic enough to possibly have her question her decision to save and rehome in Canada 144 'Haven Hooligans' (as the dogs are affectionately called). Block time for the private charter is 11:00 am with wheels up at 2:00 pm. The dogs are in their crates and ready for new beginnings. By Sunday morning the buzz around the country is palpable, come Monday morning, the Hooligans are trending and, too, the memes. One such meme suggests that a Hooligan is sending greetings to his grandma and touting the wonders of Canada, while hailing up his 'Matches Lane' peeps. Another shows a Hooligan by a swimming pool with the caption “from gullyside to poolside”, and yet another speaking to the blustery weather conditions.
While much humour abounds it has been a herculean humanitarian effort accomplished by an unwavering team of vets and staff from the Montego Bay Animal Haven and Save our Scruffs, and achieved only with the help and generosity of organisations like the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), Chukka, AJAS and SuperValu.
There's the back story, too, shared with the Style Observer (SO) by Mandeville native Browne, who's always had a love for animals.
“I rescued an ailing dog in 2008 and named her Daisy,” Browne informs. Not long after she found herself rescuing more and more dogs. It did not take long for the penny to drop! Rescue was her passion. She left Chukka, her place of employ, and founded the Montego Bay Animal Haven. The haven has, since officially opening its doors in 2009, rescued thousands of dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, pigs, goats and birds. Its mission is to rescue animals from tragic circumstances, rehabilitate them and seek suitable, loving homes for them all.
“Sadly, not all,” SO is told, “are or can be adopted, but the rest get to settle at The Oasis, a large farm in the hills of Montego Bay, purchased by Doggy Oasis International (which also financed and built the shed and serves on the board) with ample facilities for these dogs to live happily for the remainder of their lives.
The Montego Bay Animal Haven conducts regular spay and neuter clinics to help curb the growth of an unwanted population of dogs and cats. They also work with TEF to sterilise and maintain stray animals in Jamaica's resort areas in a humane manner. There are, too, alliances with local and international rescues like Battersea in the UK, Boston Baypath in the USA and Save Our Scruffs in Canada.
The haven relies on the donations and generosity of concerned animal lovers. Current COVID-19 restrictions, according to Browne, have had a negative impact on the bottom line and with over 300 animals, and funds scarce, it was getting increasingly difficult to feed and care for all the animals, and being a no-kill shelter, euthanasia was a very last, very desperate, option.
Enter Save Our Scruffs!
With the approval of the board, Browne reached out last September to a number of overseas shelters for help. Save Our Scruffs responded.
“Planning went into immediate effect with a commitment to save, and rehome in Canada, at least 150 dogs. “If there is any bright side to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are a few, it is that millions of people are now homebound more than ever before, and they want company to ease boredom.
The Haven Hooligans make great house companions and this has opened up a wonderful opportunity to find new homes for them,” she shares.
Few, like us at SO know that Canada albeit with a stray animal problem, like every country in the world, has, too, a large number of people ready to adopt, and what better animal to adopt than a Jamaican dog from the land of Marley and reggae, Bolt and Cool Runnings! Indeed!
Like Bolt and the Cool Runnings team, however, acclaim came as a result of dogged determination. There was no looking back for Browne and her team. First off, there was transportation to secure for 150 dogs in crates. This would require a relatively large plane with the requisite cargo hold. While the Hooligans would not require visas, they would need to be free and clear of afflictions, of which stray dogs tend to have one, or a few, like ticks, fleas, mange, tick fever and heartworm. Fortunately, new animals at the haven are treated for these as soon as they are rescued and treated and healed before they can join the other animals. Of note is that a disability like a missing limb or blindness is not considered disqualifying criteria.
Canadian authorities also required that they be microchipped, the process of inserting a very small device under the dog's skin that can be scanned for information like name, owner, address, age, health records, etc. The implanting project is the first of its kind on this scale in Jamaica.
“Working with Save Our Scruffs, 160 Hooligans were initially selected,” continues Browne. “As injuries would disqualify them, even after they were approved, a vigilant watch had to be kept over them to ensure they didn't romp too hard or even get into fights and injure themselves.”
In late November, a date was set for March 13, 2021.
At the beginning of March, local government vets visited to conduct their own evaluations on the selected Hooligans. Most passed with flying colours, but a few were rejected and some just needed a little extra TLC in order to make the next cut.
The Haven team worked around the clock to ensure that at least 150 were ready to fly.
It's now Thursday, March 12, 2021 and Tammy Browne is on a Zoom meeting with Save Our Scruffs and all the adoptive and foster parents confirmed to take in the Hooligans. Over half the Hooligans have been adopted and every parent-to-be is brimming with excitement at getting their new companion.
Last-minute checks and preparations are made at the Oasis on Friday.
The Hooligans have had their last Jamaican meal as they can't travel on a full stomach. One hundred and fifty crates have to be cleaned and sanitised, no easy feat since it is raining and the hills are alive with mud! The Government and Haven vets are doing their last checks and are throwing in dental cleaning, just for good measure. Sadly, only 146 have made the cut and these chosen Hooligans get put away for the night to rest up for their big trip tomorrow.
It's now 3:30 am Saturday, March 13. The staff are up and loading the Hooligans into their crates. Because the roads are wet and narrow, the crates have to be transported up the hill in small 4 x 4s, four at a time, to the awaiting trucks, provided courtesy of Chukka. By 6:30 am, 144 dogs have been loaded into their crates and into the trucks, and are heading to the airport. Another two have been disqualified.
At the airport, the crates are unloaded at the AJAS warehouse, where the Hooligans are rescanned for identification and assigned their 'passports'. While they all have names, and the Haven staff know each one, it is imperative that they have proper identification and records for the officials at both Montego Bay and Toronto airports. They are also provided with pads in their crates to make their trip a little more comfortable.
The aircraft is in place and the AJAS and Haven staff, and volunteers are doing their final preparations. The Hooligans have to be loaded before it gets too hot, as dehydration can be fatal. It's all systems go to get the Hooligans on the plane as soon as possible.
The plane engines are revving up and taxiing down the ramp. Browne and the Haven team, along with a few friends and volunteers are gripped to the chain link fence, waving, laughing and crying. There are tears, lots of tears: tears of sadness at seeing their beloved Hooligans for the last time, tears of joy knowing that the future for the Hooligans is going to be amazing, and tears of relief that months of preparation and hard work have finally come to an incredible and resounding triumphant finale.
Later that evening, while some celebrate and others get some much-needed rest, word comes that they have all arrived in Toronto, safe and sound. And by the next morning, all 144 dogs have been picked up and are settled into their new homes, some permanent, others temporary, but all good for the time being.
That evening pictures, videos and memes are coming in from all over the place. Most pictures are a far cry from the first pictures Browne took of them, largely filthy, starving, injured animals in gullies or on the sides of roads. Now there are pictures of their new humans with hugging and pictures of them on lounges by the pool or on rugs in front of the fireplace. A few of them even have custom-made outfits.
Additionally, the word has got out in Jamaica about this incredible, yet surreal feat. Hold the applause and memes, however, and consider this:
The haven still has over 150 animals and there will likely be more to come. The organisation relies on the support of animal-loving people from all over the world. So! Let's keep the vibes positive and help! Go to www.montegobayanimalhaven.com or visit them on Facebook , Instagram or Twitter .
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