Last November, my husband and I went to Turks and Caicos for our annual “winter trip.” We heard about the tiny island group after one of our clients came back from TCI (Turks and Caicos Islands) with two small rescued puppies called “Potcakes.” We were intrigued! He told us that the islands had a very large stray dog population and rescues were set up to find forever homes for them, both on the islands and internationally. “Potcake” is the name given to the dogs of The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. The name originated because the locals (AKA “belongers”) fed the caked remains at the bottom of the cooking pot to the stray dogs. (They’re really just SUPER cute island mutts when it comes down to it!)
When we boarded the plane to TCI, we were happily surprised to see a two-page article in the airline welcome magazine all about Potcake rescue, adoption and fostering for various Potcake rescue groups. Soon after we landed we visited the TCSPCA to get the scoop on what was going on rescue-wise on TCI. We learned that government funding had largely been cut to next-to-nothing for spay and neuter programs, so international groups were flying in to volunteer for (and fund) TNR (trap neuter release) programs. TNR is badly needed to help keep the stray dog population in check and prevent euthanasia as a population control (which isn’t effective). The TCSPCA is very active in responsible pet ownership educational programs, free spay/neuter services and rescue for animals in distress.
The stray dogs were heartbreaking. And prolific. They were everywhere we turned. And that’s a problem on an island with lots of commerce, cars and tourists. Potcakes are at a VERY high risk of getting hit by cars (we slammed on the brakes more than a few times each day), parvo spreads rapidly around the islands, and many of them simply succumb to starvation/exposure. There are ongoing reports of brutal attacks (poisoning, machetes attacks, etc.) on the stray dogs, because unfortunately people view them as “pests.”
The Potcake Place, one of the rescues at the forefront of local and international Potcake adoptions, makes it VERY easy to get involved, even if you’re only on the islands for a few days. And when I say easy it looks like this:
1. Go to the popular tourist shopping mall on Provo (Salt Mills Plaza), find the Potcake Place Adoption Center and Vet Clinic.
2. Say, “I want a dog for the afternoon!”
3. They take some contact information, then hand you a bag full of goodies (poop bags, treats, toys, water bowl, adoption brochures) and send you on your way with an adoptable dog.
4. Go to beach with a dog on the leash! Dogs are allowed on the beaches at TCI, so we “volunteered” while spending an afternoon on the beach. It was too good to be true!
The second we hit the beach with Lexi (our companion for the afternoon) tourists started to stop us and say, “Oh is that a Potcake?” or “Are you going to adopt her? Someone we met at dinner last night is going to bring one home!” We couldn’t walk more than 50 feet without being stopped by someone. And that’s where the brochures came in handy. People were thrilled to learn that they could also “jailbreak” a dog for the afternoon. We said to tons of people, “Just head over to the Potcake Place and grab a dog!” (Lexi was adopted a few days after we left Provo.)
This is insanely creative rescue. At first, I thought about all of the liability and logistical concerns. But then again, things are always a bit more laid-back on islands, right? The trade-off was that these dogs were getting a TON of exposure that they wouldn’t get otherwise. Rather than being an object in the shadows that tourists felt bad for, they became tangible, possible pets. (And I’d love to know the stats on how many day-volunteers end up adopting the dogs they hang out with!)
One crucial aspect of the Potcake rescue on the islands was international adoptions. Why? Because there are SO many stray dogs on the islands. And I have to be honest, at first I thought, “There are thousands dogs in need of homes in our own cities. Why on earth bring more in?” My views on that changed after I saw just how many stray dogs there are overseas (we also witnessed this in Thailand). I heard that there were a lot – I had no idea just how many. It was not uncommon to have seven or eight stray dogs in your line of view. Just hanging out. Waiting for their next meal. Dodging cars. Sleeping in parking lots. Drinking out of puddles.
The reality is that international adoptions fund the spay / neuter & educational programs that are so badly needed on the islands. (Especially when the local government cuts funding.) And to me, that is what makes it all worthwhile. We volunteered to “courier” a dog back to Philadelphia for a family who was waiting for a Potcake. At any given time, there are families all over the United States that are approved for adoption from one of the TCI rescues, and are just waiting for someone to physically bring the dogs into the country. (Dogs need a human “courier” to get through customs.) All we had to do was simply say, “We’re headed to Philly on December 30th on the American Airlines 8:30AM flight. Is there a family match?” Within 15 minutes it was set up through the Potcake Place. All we had to do was meet a Potcake Place volunteer at the Provo airport and be willing to hang out with a dog for the trip. It’s like fostering a dog, for an international trip. (And dogs make layovers fun!)
Many of these overseas adopters are people who visited TCI and couldn’t stop thinking about the Potcakes. Many end up going back to adopt. Others are friends or family of people who have adopted one. The international adoptions also bring awareness. I heard of TCI because of a client of ours who came home with two Potcakes. It’s working. It’s creative. It’s effective.
Now – couldn’t these families just go to their local shelters? Sure. But I tend to think rescue is rescue. It’s all about adoption awareness. The more that people know that you can “adopt” a dog, the better. I don’t care if the dog is mutt from Philly, a Potcake from TCI, a “Soi” dog from Thailand (also has very strong rescue orgs and so badly needed), or from a Great Dane from a Great Dane Rescue in upstate New York. Rescuing a dog saves a life period. And I applaud every single family who welcomes a rescued animal into their home.
Check out our Photo Diary of couriering “Buddy” to a family in Pennsylvania.
Couriering a dog is remarkably easier than we ever imagined. A Potcake Place volunteer met us at the TCI airport with Buddy and his bag of goodies shortly before our flight, the rescue had all of the paperwork ready for customs, we breezed though international customs (much easier than you’d think), and the adoptive family met us at baggage claim at the Philadelphia Airport while we waited for our luggage to hit the baggage carousel, and then they left with Buddy in their arms. Bam! Adoption. (There were THREE Potcake puppies leaving on our flight out…)
We kept in touch with the family through the Potcake Place Facebook Group to see how Buddy is doing. They said this: “He is absolutely amazing. He is a very loving dog. He is awesome with our kids and they love playing with him. He is learning new things all the time.”
Volunteering while on vacation is easier than you think. Just do a quick web search before you leave and reach out to the local rescue community ahead of time. Many of the rescues that are in “tourist” destinations rely on tourism to fund their programs and they welcome short-term volunteers.
What can we learn from the Potcake Rescues?
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