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Animal Welfare Foundation

Activist Pam Sims – in it for the long haul

As we count down the days to World Animal Day, WEEKender is focusing on individuals in our community that have the best interest of animals at heart. This week, we look at Animal Welfare Foundation's long-time supporter, Pamela Sims.

Since the mid-90s, Sims has clocked perhaps more hours of volunteer time than almost anyone on the island – all for the benefit of stray dogs and cats needing medical care and attention.

"I came to the island originally to help a friend open a boutique and I met my husband here. He was on the Animal Welfare Foundation board. He was what you call a chartered accountant and he was the treasurer, but he thought it would be a good idea for him to step aside so that someone outside always kept track of the accounts so anyone who donated would always know exactly how their money was used. So in 1994, I started with that, I have been on the board since then and in 1996, we started the animal ambulance program. Through the kind offices of a group called SBA Stichting Buitenlandse Asielen (Foundation for Foreign Animal Shelters). Their idea was to provide a shelter on St. Maarten but we had no land in those days so we accepted a van instead. And we found that we were more useful going into the neighbourhoods with a van than we would have been had we had a shelter. So since 1996, our drivers have been going around the neighbourhoods, transporting animals to the clinics for people who have no transport, finding people who need animals to be spayed. We also help with fleas and ticks and offer advice. We also treat mange for free because a tourist brings us medicine for mange; she does this in honour of her deceased husband. And so this is what we do."

Sims shared that she has been either a driver or on standby since 1996, and she has been driving consistently since 2007. The van goes out regularly on Wednesday and Thursday mornings and is on call for emergencies at any time of the day or night. The number to call is 520-8887.

"Unfortunately, we are down now to just two drivers, myself and Sue Wathey. Some of our drivers have retired over the years; others have moved off island. So that is something we would like to ask the community for, if there is anyone who would like to join us. Although it's not an easy job, it can be physically demanding and there is an emotional component to it, because very often we see some sad things. So not everyone is able to do it, plus the van is like driving a bus, it's a manual shift. Sometimes we have to crawl under containers after puppies; sometimes we have to go over fences if an owner is not home to treat a sick dog."

She emphasized that if they go over a fence, they have been invited by the owner to do so. But through all that, she insists that the job is extremely rewarding, particularly the mange program, to see the progress the animals make so quickly.

"When we find an animal with mange, we visit it at least four times every week, but many of them need more. The volunteers do this, not for strays usually, but for people's pets, because it's hard to do the follow-up visits with stray dogs that don't stay in one place."

Sims explained that pet owners may not be to blame for their dog having mange.

"We have learned over the years that it's not necessarily because of neglect. There is a genetic component, when an animal is under stress, for example, having just had a litter or an injury of some kind, they can have an immune system crash, and that's when the mange will take over. But it's very easy to cure; the medicine that we give them is basically like a miracle drug. So the dog is very quickly relieved and, of course, the owner is relieved as well."

Sims wanted to emphasize that the solution to most of the animal problems we face as a community is population control.

"What we really, really would like is to have more people contact us about spaying. That solves not only the stray animal problem but in the long run, the care problem. Because people who are not serious about taking care of an animal, you know a puppy is being pushed on them by a friend or a relative, but they don't really want it and they don't bond. In such a case the family might keep the dog for a while but may not treat it for worms, tick fever, heart worms, etc. Then when problems arise, or they go on vacation, they may let it go wild. Strays are very difficult to catch, too, if they are not tame, if they haven't learned to trust people. And this climate is not humane for animals, there is no running water or ground water, and it's hot; the animals unvaccinated are subject to distemper, parvo, leptospirosis, ticks."

There are several misconceptions about Animal Welfare Foundation.

"Some people think we are vets, and other people think we have the authority to pick up dogs. It's also a misconception that all loose dogs are strays, and that is not the case. A lot of people let their dogs run around, they may not have tags, but they do have a home. But if we think a dog really is a stray, we can pick it up and take it to the vets and have them try to find the dog a home. All of the vet clinics do a great deal of support offering cage space to us, but that opportunity is limited and so we can't just go around and pick up all the dogs and dump them at the vets, that's not fair to them."

Sims noted that the island's native dog breed, what she calls "Coconut retrievers," is extremely sturdy and very friendly.

"St. Maarten people are really good to their animals. In all the years I have done this, I have never seen any intentional cruelty. There may be some neglect, due to ignorance or lack of funds, but never truly cruel treatment of any animals. If we can get more animals spayed, it would be a really effective solution."

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