How One Shelter Is Helping Mexico’s Homeless Dogs

A puppy with shelter manager Sabrina Leyva.

A puppy with shelter manager Sabrina Leyva.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Away from beach sports and tourist hustle and bustle, barking dogs greet visitors to the SPCA Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.

Dogs and cats are rescued from the streets and sometimes out of abusive conditions. Some are ill and require serous veterinary intervention.

At SPCA Puerto Vallarta animals with special needs may require a longer stay, but staying here isn’t so bad. All residents receive any medical care they need – somehow resources are found – even if it means seeing a veterinary specialist. “We do what it takes,’ says founder and President Janice Chatterton.

There’s even whirlpool for aqua therapy rehabilitation on the premises. And rare in Mexico, there’s a veterinarian who has a special interest in shelter medicine.

Though, more than a shelter – the SPCA Puerto Vallarta truly is a sanctuary. Dogs are kept in spacious indoor/outdoor runs, and and almost always housed with one more canine companions. Volunteers, ranging from local residents to tourists, walk the dogs daily.

Cats live in a colony, and can catnap inside or outdoors (in a covered and enclosed area).

A surround-sound system provides calming music throughout. Some employees’ job title is “cuddler,” merely keeping animals company and providing comfort.

The idea isn’t for animals to merely survive here, the goal is for them to thrive and one day get adopted. And that’s what mostly happens. However, a pawful of special needs animals may potentially not find that forever family. If hospice care is required, animals receive it before being humanely euthanized.

Most adopters are from the U.S. or Canada. Chatterton explains that there’s already an over-abundance of animals seeking local Puerto Vallarta homes. And she is discerning about those deserving of adopting either directly from the facility or from a small but organized foster network.

Jim Watt and Brenda Rose Drolet of Edmonton, Alberta Canada say they were at first rejected for an adoption because of their busy schedules. “I cried, but then re-applied when I thought the dog can go into daycare,” says Drolet. “I was so happy to be accepted, and appreciate how particular they are.”

Watt adds, “Luna changed my life. I had never before lived with a dog. It’s a void in my life that I didn’t know I was missing.”

A dog available for adoption with my wife, Robin.

A dog available for adoption with my wife, Robin.

Watt travels frequently for his job as an environmental sight superintendent, and Drolet works at a bank. Drolet says, “It’s true what they say about a man and his dog. Watching them play together brings a tear to my eye. There’s a special bond between them.”

Also, from Edmonton Bruce and Carole Thom, a retired couple with grown children, decided to adopt from SPCA Puerto Vallarta, and were so impressed they did it again with a dog named Nina. It turns out that Nina had a bad habit; she bit people.

The Thoms didn’t give up on the dog. In fact, quite the opposite. Carole says that she realized her pup was simply fearful. She found qualified help, and today they manage Nina. “I’m so glad,” she says. “Sometimes things happen for a reason. Nina taught me so much about dogs. And that’s allowed me to help other dogs.”

Today, the couple help to organize adoptions and foster families in Edmonton and Alberta, Canada.

When asked why the couple doesn’t offer the same commitment to their local shelter, Bruce says, “Compassion should have no boundaries.”

He adds, “Of course, I am for saving animals anywhere – but we’re connected here (in Puerto Vallarta). After all, we’re so impressed with the commitment to save animals, and provide for the best possible quality of life. Most certainly, this is a sanctuary, far more than a shelter.”

It’s likely that in 2016, SPCA Puerto Vallarta will adopt their 1,000th animal. But it’s not only a numbers game for Chatterton, “Numbers are important because we want to save as many as we can and we are happy when at the end of the year we total the ones saved and adopted and it is a nice figure; otherwise we do not think about numbers when we are making critical decisions.”

Chatterton also operates two of Puerto Vallarta’s most elegant boutique hotels: Hacienda San Angel (where Richard Burton once resided) and Casa Kimberly (where Elizabeth Taylor lived). In 2007, Chatterton, who is form San Francisco, began to help animals in Puerto Vallarta. She opened SPCA Puerto Vallarta in 2012. Today, construction has begun on an addition to expand the sanctuary.

Chatterton has not been without her detractors. In Mexico, she’s an outsider who’s pushed for change to happen at her pace. “I don’t believe she’s ever accepted ‘no’ for an answer,” says Bruce.

Well past retirement age, Chatterton keeps going, and at the pace of an energizer bunny. Chatterton says, “I suppose I’ve made a difference. I know I’ve saved lives – that’s my passion.”

©Steve Dale Pet World, LLC; Tribune Content Agency

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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is


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