Hundreds of abandoned dogs are finding new homes thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers in La Paz, the US and Canada. Here’s how you can help.
Note: This article was originally published in the Baja Citizen.
Spend any time at all in La Paz and you see them: trotting alongside the highway, roaming the streets of the city, even waiting patiently for a traffic light to change before crossing a busy intersection. They are the street dogs of La Paz, what locals refer to as “Baja dogs.”
Of course, the first thing to understand about these dogs is that “Not all who wander are lost.” Many of La Paz’s “street” dogs actually belong to someone, but are allowed to roam free. A well-meaning visitor who scoops a dog up without trying to find its owner could be “rescuing” that dog from its familiar home. Understanding the culture and how animals live here is a key component in helping Baja dogs.
That said, there are still far too many dogs that are obviously abandoned, starved and barely surviving on their own in and around La Paz. Some are injured or sick. Many are pregnant females, or nursing mothers trying to teach their young puppies the ways of the street, if they should be lucky enough to survive. While it may be obvious that these dogs need help, many of us simply don’t know what to do. Others assume that if they rescue a dog from the street, they can just bring it to a local shelter and it will be fine. Sadly, that is almost never the case.
“One of the biggest misconceptions we deal with is that there is some magic place for these dogs to go where someone will take care of them,” says Charlene Angelo, a volunteer at Baja Dogs La Paz, Inc., a U.S. based non-profit charity with a network of dedicated volunteers and foster families here in Baja, and throughout the U.S. and Canada. “The hard truth is that there is no magic place. There are very few shelters, and the moment someone does open a shelter here, it’s full.”
However, Angelo says, there is good news. “If you are willing to foster the dog temporarily in your home, or can find someone who is willing to foster it, that’s where we can really step in to help get it adopted.”
The organization operates on a 100% foster model, meaning all dogs are rescued by local individuals, called “rescatistas,” who live or have vacation homes in and around La Paz. Many are local Mexican families who take in multiple dogs to foster. Baja Dogs La Paz then works tirelessly with the foster to find the dogs their perfect “forever” homes, some here in southern Baja, others in the U.S. or in Canada.
The foster model is working. Since January of this year alone, over 150 dogs have been adopted through BDLP’s efforts, including Maui, the puppy who was born without the use of his front legs. He was recently adopted by a family in Seattle, Washington, and now happily wheels himself around in his shiny new cart, playing and snuggling with the family’s other dogs, also adopted from La Paz.
“We have learned that the foster model works so much better, because the dogs are living in homes where they are socialized and loved,” says Linda DiMeglio, a volunteer with Baja Dogs La Paz. “In a home, the dogs are able to learn the things they need to learn to become more adoptable, like how to walk on a leash, play with other dogs, and behave around people.”
For those who are able to foster, BDLP has intake forms on its web site (available in both English and Spanish), that the foster can fill out to list a dog for adoption. It’s important to note that the organization does not have “foster volunteers” waiting to take in dogs. You must either be willing to foster the dog yourself or find a foster home in order to list it for adoption.
Baja Dogs then engages with the foster and helps with vaccinations and food. Dogs that are being fostered, and have been sterilized and vaccinated, are evaluated and photographed by a volunteer, and listed on the Baja Dogs web site (www.bajadogslapaz.org/adoptions) for adoption. Interested adopters can view a dog’s profile on the web site, complete with pictures and video. When an interested adopter fills out an application, a volunteer matches them with a dog that fits their needs, while another interviews the family and makes sure the home is suitable for the dog.
Baja Dogs La Paz then reaches out to find volunteers who are traveling north and can act as “pet escorts” to take the dog to its new home city. Volunteers meet these pet escorts at the airport with the dog to help with check-in and getting the dog boarded for flight, at no cost to the pet escorts. More volunteers, and/or the adopting family, then meet the dog and pet escort at the destination airport to receive the dog.
Of course, every now and then, the organization experiences what is affectionately called a “foster fail.” We personally have fostered more than 10 dogs in the nearly two years we have lived full time here in La Paz. All were adopted, except for two, who we decided to adopt and remain in our pack. Becoming a “foster fail” seems to be a rite of passage for all of us foster volunteers, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Want to get involved? Here are a few ways you can help:
- Foster a dog: If you decide to rescue a dog, make sure you have a plan. Are you able to foster the dog temporarily until it gets adopted, or know someone who can? Baja Dogs La Paz averages 63 days to adopt. If you can’t foster the dog yourself, use social media and your network to find someone who can.
- Volunteer as a Pet Escort: If you are traveling north to the U.S. or Canada, you can volunteer to bring a dog to its adopters up north. Baja Dogs La Paz will handle all the arrangements to get the dog on your flight, at no cost to you.
- Donate: Baja Dogs La Paz is an all volunteer organization. 100% of donations go to help rescued dogs, and your donation is tax deductible.
- Volunteer at Home: BDLP has volunteers in the U.S. and Canada who help find homes, interview potential adopters, and do home checks in their home cities.
- Spread the word: You never know when someone in your network might want to adopt!