For the Love of All Creatures

For the Love of All Creatures

The BVI Humane Society cares for the islands’ dogs, cats and even a monkey

Story by Leslie Cramer

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.“
-- Charles Darwin

This quote is what drives our local Animal Shelter, and the folks that run this most worthy facility. The building, grounds and animal care are entrusted to Vijay Bissoondutt, who has been taking care of business there for 18 years. The Shelter itself opened its doors in 1975, with its mission statement, “To promote animal welfare and preservation of wildlife in the Territory.”
Vijay began working there as a young man, learning not just the care of the animals he was charged with, but the business end of how things worked too. Coming from a farming background, his love for animals was (and still is) his driving force. His mentor was Tessa Gunter, a founder of the BVI Humane Society and its first director. Tessa, who passed away in 2013, showed him the ropes, and was his full-on coach of all things relating to animal care.


The BVI Humane Society (the shelter’s “official” name) is located presently in Johnson’s Ghut in Road Town. The services provided there are high quality, things like boarding (of which they do a stellar job. My cat Cosmo and I can attest to this personally), vaccinations, deworming, grooming and bathing. Vijay’s able assistant, Vishaal Paltooram, also tends to all facility issues and is another animal lover, along with student volunteer Ryhel Kelly, who walks the dogs, cleans their bowls and dishes, feeds the animals, and exhibits the same love for all the Shelter’s residents. This is a full time gig for him in the summer months, and a part time one during the school year. His future goal is to become a vet, and the hands-on experience he is receiving at the Shelter as a volunteer is, and will, become invaluable.


Spaying and neutering are always large and looming issues for a small island with many animal inhabitants. The Shelter works closely with West End Veterinarian Dr. Laura, who provides them with these services to aid in animal population control on Thursdays.
The array of creatures calling the Shelter home, whether part or full time, is wide and varied. Living in residence are dogs, cats, iguanas, rabbits, ducks, pelicans and other birds, a sheep, a goat, an occasional snake, and a monkey named Benny, the Shelter’s most exotic and asked-about creature. Miniature ponies have called the Shelter home, too. Five or six were brought in some time ago, for a supposed short stint of “a few months,” and five or six years later, they were still inhabitants.


Benny the monkey came to the Shelter likely as someone’s escaped pet, as monkeys are illegal in the Territory; they are potential rabies carriers. As the animal had to have been smuggled in illegally, no one ever stepped up to claim this poor guy, and he had been wreaking havoc on peoples’ yards, and doing pretty extensive damage to local farmers’ crops. The Department of Agriculture was called in, the police were called, and it was decided that the best possible solution to this problem, was to “take him down.”

 

To promote animal welfare and preservation of wildlife in the Territory...

Enter Vijay. His thoughts ran along the lines of, "Hey, it’s not the monkey’s fault, and there has got to be a better solution than that." He scoured the area of where Benny had last been seen, and set out a dog crate-trap contraption, filled it with local fruits, and within 24 hours, he had been captured safely and humanely.
Next, the future problem was presented, as in what do we do with him, now that he is in our hands? Do we send him back to St. Kitts (where they presumed he had probably hailed)? Is this solution cost prohibitive? Will he then be a threat to farmers and their crops there, too? Would he survive, back in nature, in the wild?


The best case scenario seemed to be to keep him right here. A larger and stronger reinforced cage was built (he was the Shelter’s third monkey) and Vijay and Vishaal have both warmed to him, though that sentiment did not come overnight. I witnessed this fellow on many occasions, and found him extremely nervous, constantly pacing and darting back and forth. Now, a couple years later, he is much calmer and has mellowed. He is eating meat twice a day, a staple in his diet.


The good news is, the Shelter has a bright future. Board member Nancy Pascoe explains how the new grounds at a site in Josiah’s Bay are the focus of the efforts at present. One full acre (purchased, not donated), the new site will be much larger and provide more outdoor running room, more kennel space and room for a petting zoo. There will also be an information sharing space for educational purposes including animal care and welfare, responsibility of taking on a pet, health care, and reasons for spay/neuter programs. School groups, camps, facilities for the elderly, among others, will be invited to come out and see what’s going on and observe hands-on care.


The BVI Humane Society is a legally registered non-profit organization. The society is not membership-based, nor government funded. Funds had been accumulated over the years for the purchase of the land, and they are currently waiting for government approvals so the land may be developed for the site and facility. Looking forward, plans are in place, to make the “new and improved” facilitiy as green as is possible. The new space will provide distance from neighbors, so the noise level won’t be an issue. And being environmentally conscious of the close-by fragile salt pond environment, Dr. Shannon Gore (a local marine biologist and environmental consultant) is helping oversee the project.


The shelter holds various events throughout the year, and these events are always well attended, by a cross-section of the island’s population. One of their biggest is Gaming Night, held once a year in or around the month of November, where Peg Legs Restaurant at Nanny Cay is transformed for the night, into a casino. Available to those inclined are black jack, roulette, craps, poker, and just-for-fun (though carrying high stakes) crab races. One hundred percent of all proceeds go to the Shelter, and now directly toward the building fund. Cash itself doesn’t change hands, but donated prizes from island merchants and businesses are the booty you may win, prizes like weekend getaways, day sails, dinners, jewellery, artwork, and the like.


Other events that you can attend to support the Shelter and its good works are the Dog Show, held once a year in the summer, an auction held at Government House (called aptly “Paws for a Cause”) and the first Saturday of every month is the “One Man’s Junk is another Man’s Treasure,” a yard sale-type of event, where donated goods (other than day to day usable items) are sold.


The Shelter is in constant need of basic care donations, things like pet foods, cleaning supplies, sheets/towels/blankets, and medical equipment, like syringes, peroxide and alcohol, cotton balls and swabs, etc. And, when you need to shop for your own four (or two, or zero) legged friend, Vijay has for retail sale collars, leads/leashes, flea and tick preventative supplies, heartworm medication, vaccinations and registration tags, etc.


The current space took on a major clean-up and overhaul as of late; visible as you approach the facility is the new paint job and freshly-spread gravel. Volunteers are always welcome for walking and feeding the animals and basic up-keep of the grounds. The facility is clean, both inside and out, and you are greeted at the front door by a helpful staff member, and Jigger, the parrot, who may if you are lucky, squawk you a tune. For more information log on to www.bvihumanesociety.org