Opinion: Make real change for animal welfare and don't be a slacktivist

Nov 10 2022, 4:14 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Kim Bowie, freelance publicist & animal rights advocate based in Vancouver, BC, and San Jose del Cabo/Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

As Canadians, we love to show our love for animals on social media. #AdoptDontShop is a hashtag used for the adopt vs. pet buying movement, and it does have some really pawsitive effects in terms of social sharing and reaching organizations — and possibly homes — for animals in need.

But a hashtag or a “like” on social media is not enough to make meaningful changes for those sweet faces you see on Instagram. There are ways to help, and I promise that they’ll be more meaningful for you than your “like” count. 

Mexico isn’t a paradise for animals 

Fun fact: my first word was “dog.” Less fun fact: an estimated 70% of Mexico’s 18 to 20 million dog population are street dogs. That’s roughly 12.6 million stray dogs. Living in Mexico for the past two and a half years, I’ve gone from loudly encouraging rescuing and spaying/neutering pets to recently taking in a brother and sister duo living next door, who were not “fixed,” and their owner clearly didn’t plan to. I feared they’d lead to another set (or sets) of puppies who would never have homes or steady veterinary care, and become some of the all-too-familiar bodies scattered on the sides of highways.

We stepped in and found a free sterilization group through social media. We had the male and female safely neutered and spayed, and we nursed them back to health.

Our rescue pit bull mix, Rígo, was so patient and loving with them, even as they invaded his space, took his bed, and chewed on his face and ears. Yet, people think pit bulls are vicious!

When it came time to give them back to their owner, he rejected and abandoned them. Thus began my first-hand journey in understanding how dire the situation is for stray animals in Mexico, and how hugely overcrowded animal rescue organizations are in dire need of support.


Cabra, Rígo and Queso, 3 street dogs who are now furever family members (Kim Bowie)

The stray dog cycle will repeat itself without education and accessibility

Mexico has one of the highest rates of street dogs in the world, and is home to the largest stray dog population in Latin America. With about 500,000 dogs abandoned per year, it’s an ongoing crisis. Without education, accessibility, and a change in the attitudes and behaviours of pet owners, it will keep snowballing. According to the reproductive pyramid found in the Guide to Companion Animals for Responsible Owners — which was created by The National Autonomous University of Mexico — non-sterilized females can produce 67,000 dogs or 420,000 cats in six years, with a huge (70%) proportion of these animals becoming street dogs and cats.    

Help is there — but you have to have the luxury of time to find it

There are free sterilization clinics operated by donors and sponsorship of animal-loving vets and private companies. The Puerto Vallarta SPCA does not even have a phone number listed, and when I managed to reach a person at another organization, Las Animas Animal Rescue, they were shocked I’d been able to find a phone number. She told me that the situation at shelters is so bad that most are avoiding direct contact, lest animals are dropped off to already overcrowded, struggling shelters. 


Kim Bowie

Most shelters are organized haphazardly through Facebook and WhatsApp, and it was through contacting a fellow animal lover in Vancouver that I managed to get directly to Loved At Last Dog Rescue. They were incredibly helpful, but could only assist in getting the dogs to Vancouver, and only if I already had found homes for them. We would have loved to have kept both rescues, but we knew we could not responsibly give them the lives they deserved, and my husband’s sudden relocation made time extremely tight.

The need is high, and the desire to help is there – the logistics and resources are not. 

How COVID-19 made the problem so much worse

Rates of abandoned animals have skyrocketed as many “COVID pets” taken in for company have been surrendered. The waitlist at every organization I spoke to was massive, due in large part to abandoned COVID pets with the return to the office.

The crisis in Canada has worsened due to Canada’s new laws banning dogs imported from countries deemed at high risk for rabies. Housing those pets lucky enough to escape the streets is another challenge, with few buildings in Vancouver permitting pets in rentals. I hope Vancouver City Council’s long-promised change to prohibit landlords from discriminating against pet-owning renters will happen with Vancouver’s new mayor, but time will tell.

#AdoptDontShop IS part of the solution

Adopting, instead of purchasing pets, is hugely important, though the original movement was not intended to attack responsible breeders, of which there are many. The hashtag #AdoptDontShop just happens to be effective at engaging with wide audiences who may be able to help.

I tagged #AdoptDontShop in every single post I made in my quest to find homes for the dogs we’d rescued, complete with a link to a Google folder I’d made with their tragic origin stories, and many heartwarming pictures. Social media definitely helped, but it was not the ultimate — or only — solution.

There are many reputable, huge-hearted, action- and solution-oriented organizations like BC-based Loved At Last Dog Rescue; Fur Baes, which rescues dogs from countries like Qatar and emphasizes flying buddies to get dogs into safe countries; registered charity P.E.A.C.E. (People Ensuring Animal Care Exists); K9 Advocates in Manitoba; Furever Freed; and many others doing what they can to get animals out of unsafe places and circumstances and into loving homes. They are in desperate need of volunteers, donations, foster homes, and flight buddies.


Kim Bowie

What’s a “flight buddy”?

A “flight buddy” is someone who volunteers to fly a pet either as part of their checked luggage (depending on the size of the dog) or with them as a carry-on. Organizations like L.A.P.D. and Fur Baes advertise — on social media and their website — the importance of this program, and it is an essential, rewarding addition to meaningful travel memories. 

According to Loved at Last, who flies to Vancouver and Seattle, “There are no extra costs and no organizing involved as the shelter’s local airport coordinator does all the planning and pays all extra fees associated with adding a piece of extra luggage (the dog crate) to your ticket.”

Now that flying, particularly to tropical destinations, like Mexico, is more frequent, the more people are aware of flight buddies, the more animals can be flown to new, loving homes. For more on how to volunteer, please visit Loved At Last Dog Rescue or Fur Baes. 

Ways to make a pawsitive change in animal welfare

  • Donate to help provide free or cheap sterilization opportunities, and mass-communicate them.
  • Volunteer to be a flight buddy. If you are visiting somewhere sunny, consider volunteering to be a flight buddy and help get an animal into Vancouver, Seattle, or elsewhere. You don’t *need* those tourist trinkets, save a suitcase spot for an animal’s chance at a new life.
  • Be vocal about changing the laws for animal owners needing affordable homes for themselves and their pets. For many, having an animal is more than just a fondness for pets, it can be a safety consideration or a mental or physical health aid.
  • Stop buying purebred, designer dogs — they are often prone to breed-genetic health issues, and they perpetuate the cycle of too many dogs, too few homes.
  • Take the time to raise your pet to be a welcome member of society; if people see pets behaving well, their attitudes can change.
  • Do NOT give pets as gifts, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, a birthday — any holiday. Pets live for a long time and are a lifetime commitment. A pet is not a gift, even if it’s a “free” rescue, it will still require time, patience, and steady, expensive medical care, not unlike a human dependent.

A pet is a lifetime gift and a commitment 

With the winter holidays around the corner, this last point is essential to drive home: having a pet is a joy, but it’s also an enormous responsibility. A well-behaved animal needs attention, ongoing medical care, exercise, love, and planning.

If you truly are committed to adding an animal to your life, choose those in need of adoption. You will never find a more loyal, appreciative, and loving companion. And keep using the hashtag #AdoptDontShop — it’s a movement, and a meaningful one, just make sure there is action behind those social posts.

And if you’re wondering, Queso and Cabra — the two puppies we adopted — are thriving, happy, and healthy, and their new owner is as in love with them as they are with him and his family.

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