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Operation Potcake - the Bahamas 2024

What is a Potcake?

A Potcake is a generic term for any mixed breed dog that lives in the Bahamas, lineage unknown, rescue, or a dog living on the street.


Intro

Oh My Dog, what an amazing, educational experience on so many levels. Operation Potcake 2024 was organized with the help of BAARK (Bahamas Alliance for Animal Rights and Kindness), BHS (Bahamas Humane Society) and Animal Balance. The back story to all of the volunteers and dogs was absolutely fascinating and I have only touched on those at the clinic I was working at, we were called “Punch Clinic” because we were located in the old printing facility for the Punch newspaper which closed down in 2021. There were 5 MASH clinics in total, 4 clinics doing dog spay and neuter and one doing the cats, although we would all at some time do cats and dogs.


The clinics were situated in the poorest parts of the island so the local low-income families could bring in their dogs and cats in at no cost. The Bahamas has a lot, like more than you can imagine, of street dogs. They wander the neighborhoods, and many are “community” dogs, this means they are not owned by one particular family but fed and cared for by many. The neighborhoods are densely packed with houses placed close together, the roads are in bad condition, narrow and rutted, and our collections teams would have to check under cars, behind houses and through garbage to find our canine companions. Often the local people would see the BHS and BAARK trucks trundling through the neighborhoods, along the roads and stop the vehicle to inform our team where the dogs were living. The day that I was working collections we had two local men approach and ask if we could spay their dogs. We did pickups for these families because they often had no transportation of their own, and they were so grateful for this opportunity to prevent more puppies. We had puppies coming out of our ears, no more puppies LOL.



BHS and BAARK have done a wonderful job educating local families about the project, and the East Street clinic even had some local kids helping with cleaning crates and feeding the dogs. Many of these dogs had never seen a vet before, so the recovery team in every clinic ensured each dog and cat received a rabies shot, flea and tick meds where necessary and they were all micro-chipped. We managed to spay and neuter 2,253 dogs and cats in 8 days, it was a huge undertaking that went incredibly smoothly taking into account the logistics of organizing over 100 volunteers from all over the world. It is an experience I treasure and will never forget.


In this blog I will share some of the stories of the dogs I met whilst volunteering at Potcake. My caveat is this is my story, the facts as I saw them and it is written for your enjoyment, NOT as a dissertation or any kind of factual reporting. Your feedback and questions are appreciated, go to:



There were many humans at our clinic, but I only mention the few I had direct contact with and worked alongside. I was not in surgery, I worked mainly in recovery and intake, and did my best not to get in anybody else’s way. We were all working at an intensity of 90-95% all of the time, and there was once or twice when this shot up to well over 100% but you will hear about Scrappy Dog Alice and G-Man, our Hero, later.


Piggy

I was three days late getting to the Bahamas due to an ice storm that shut down the Pacific Northwest, I had two canceled flights and one changed flight, so I was challenged before I even set foot on the islands and one of the first dogs I met was Piggy, so named by the collections team because of her snorting. She looked like a mini pit/bulldog mix, extremely emaciated, absolutely exhausted and dejected. She had such sad eyes, she would barely make eye contact because she was terrified she would get abused verbally or physically. Her eyes would slide up to mine, and then she would look away, oh my dog it would break your heart. For the vast majority of the dogs, after they had recovered from their surgery, the collections team would take them back to their families or return them to the street from whence they had been picked up, however Piggy was not to get surgery right away because of her poor condition and Alysha, the Boss Lady of BAARK, and Bridget, a frigging angel, was looking for a foster home for her because she would never survive on the streets if we took her back. Tonya and her family stepped up to the plate.


Piggy girl was so weak that when we took her out of her crate to do her business she could barely walk. Her legs had no strength and because she was so terrified, she wanted to make herself as small as possible, so she slinked along the ground. Often her carer would carry her to a shady spot and just spend time talking to her, stroking and petting her. After a couple of days her confidence and personality started to peep through, she would look up, hold your gaze and thump her tail cautiously as we passed her crate, of course everyone stopped to pet her, have a little chat, or give her a treat. I took some K9CRACK with me and the dense meaty flavor proved very popular with the street dogs!


Many of the street dogs were quite happy taking the opportunity to rest in a safe, quiet crate. The dogs that stayed overnight received a couple of good meals, they were walked and adapted to a leash better than I would have expected. I suppose they appreciated feeling safe, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safe housing, followed by food are prerequisites to happiness. Some of the family dogs were lunatics in the crates, they howled, barked or were squirly to handle because they were not used to being confined by humans. The street dogs were either great to be handled or very frightened and skittish. We handled those dogs minimally because we didn’t want to traumatize them more than necessary, or get bitten. Their crates were covered so they felt secure and, if necessary, we would put them in the print building (a large building so named because it still had the newspaper printing machines in there). It was quiet and cool and it's where we were keeping our longer-term residents such as bitches with litters of puppies. It kept them out of the way of the hubbub of the intake area and post-op/recovery.


Spotty aka Mangy Boy aka Punch

One of our most popular street dogs was Spotty aka Mangy Boy and later our mascot and therefore called Punch. He arrived dejected, ugly and covered in a disgusting mange caused by nutritional deficiencies; therefore, it wasn’t contagious. He was going to be with us for a few days because his health needed to be monitored before he could be neutered.

Mangy Boy sat in his crate scratching, his scabs bleeding, with his head slung low, his pink and brown skin scabbed up from scratching and just a few prickly brown hairs sprouting out of his skin. He was only a year or two old, he was so pitiful and ugly I can only imagine his low self-esteem and how he had


been rejected by people because of the way he looked. He felt extremely sad for himself therefore we put him in the print building so he could relax and chill. He quickly became crate trained, thoroughly enjoyed getting regular meals, taken for walks on a leash and made a fuss of. From being miserable and gross his jaunty personality started to burst through like a crocus in springtime popping through the snow. He even developed a swagger as he took his walks, with his tail swinging like a peacock’s feather. He really was a loveable pup and after his neuter Alysha was going to find him a foster because it would take time for his skin to heal, we were all excited to find out what he would eventually look like. He really was the ugly duckling who would later become the swan.


Yellow Dog

Yellow dog was owned (I use the term loosely here) by a family who brought her in with 8 puppies who were about 12 weeks old, 7 female and one male. Oh my dog she was a piece of work, she didn’t like being crated and would yowl and bark continuously. She was going to be staying a couple of nights as she, and her puppies, would be spayed/neutered in the morning, then we would monitor the puppies closely because they were so young to go under anesthetic. That night we put Yellow Dog and her puppies in a crate, in the print room, with several other crated dogs who were to be the first into surgery in the morning. Alysha and BAARK would check on them later. The next morning Martina came in to feed the dogs and found Yellow dog and her puppies loose in the print room, they had gotten out of their crate and they had partied like canine rockstars all night, Led Zeppelin had nothing on these furry performers; they were all covered in black ink and there was poop spread all over the place, thanks guys, that was my job to clean up this morning! Fortunately, the puppies were old enough to be separated from their mother and they scrubbed up nicely, then Dr. Chris and I weighed them ready for surgery. Our only concern was for the runt of the litter, the little boy, who only weighed a few pounds, and was tiny compared to his rambunctious sisters. I was on puppy duty that day, keeping tabs on both large litters of puppies that had been fixed during surgery. This little dude was struggling as he came out of anesthetic.


As the adult dogs come out of anesthetic they sway, they are kind of droopy and then they start to yowl and bark, not loud but it is kind of sad sounding but it’s a good sign, then they attempt to stand, and this is even better. The puppies, instead of yowling and barking they give puppy grunts, which is dead cute, and start wriggly around trying to stand and walk. With both the adult dogs and puppies we had to ensure that they are kept warm. The dogs we wrap in towels and cover their crate with more towels, and the puppies we wrap in towels and hold them close for body warmth. When they are ready we put them back with their litter mates so they can keep each other company, stay warm and they have familiar smells and security surrounding them. This little dude started to do the wobbly walk but he was very disorientated, it looked like he was bumping into the walls of the crate. The other puppies were climbing all over him, so I took him out to protect him and alerted Dr. Chris who checked his eyes and suspected that he had some temporary blindness due to the anesthetic.


I later found out that he had been ‘out’ for a couple of minutes whilst under anesthetic and had to be revived, therefore he may have neurological implications from this process. Because of this the whole canine family would be kept another night so the veterinarians could monitor Neuro Boy but it was generally thought that he wouldn’t last the night. Here is the kicker, no doctor wants to lose a patient on their table, and we knew this dude was tiny to be operated on but given optimal opportunities it would be better for him to be neutered now than not. However, his ‘human family’ , although dog owners, did not offer the level of care we would expect for such young canines, such as ensuring the puppies did not wander out of their yard (and who knows if it is fenced) and into the road. So little Neuro Boy could easily wander off, especially if he had limited eyesight. Furthermore, there is quite a lot of machismos in the Bahamas and the ‘man of the family’ especially wanted to keep the only male puppy even though the others were way more healthy! 


The next day I came in and Neuro Boy was all alone. I checked to make sure he wasn’t dead, after all you never know, I gave him some soft, wet food, which he started eating and wobbling around his crate but his eyesight was still questionable. Although Yellow Dog and the other seven puppies went home, Alysha wanted to keep this little dude back so she could find a foster home for the additional care he needed. We renamed him Rocky because he is a fighter, most of us hadn’t thought he would wake up in the morning.


Spay and neutering dogs (and cats) ensure they have a far healthier life, especially the females. In tropical environments like the Bahamas bitches can have up to four, yes 4, litters a year. They are often pregnant with more puppies while still feeding the present litter. It is extremely stressful for them physically and spiritually. They do not get a sustainable diet to ensure good health for either themselves or their offspring, and some bitches are getting pregnant as young as 6 months. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see the pitiful condition of these dogs. It’s weird, we saw very few old dogs ….


Blackie aka Sophia

Now if I couldn’t adopt Mangy Boy/Punch I would have adopted Blackie, later renamed Sophia by Laura and Mel. This little girl looked like a Staffordshire Bullterrier. Nicki, one of our local dog wranglers, along with Audrey and Rachel found her wandering close to an abandoned house surrounded by grazing cows, in the middle of Nassau, with a sketchy looking dude hanging out nearby. Most bizarre! She was super skinny but human friendly, so the collections team put her into a crate and went in search of her puppies. FYI the only hard and fast rule Animal Balance was adamant about was that we could not go anywhere alone, we had to go in groups of at least 2 preferable 4 because there had been an instance of carjacking at gunpoint, and no way could we leave any one person with the truck. So, the three ladies skirted the dodgy looking geezer and slipped inside the house in search of the puppies. Inside a quiet, dark closet Audrey found three, 4 week old puppies, two tiger stripped and one black. Sophia had hidden them well, so when she went out foraging for food they would not be found.


Just like Piggy, Sophia was fearful, boney and weak and would slink along on her belly trying to be as invisible as possible when we would take her for potty, so we would carry her to the shady area and then spend time chatting with her, petting her, but then she found out how good belly rubs felt and would just give it up to anyone willing to capitulate. Sophia didn’t look like any of the other Potcakes, she looked Staffy, and she didn’t have fleas, so it is unlikely she had been hanging around with other dogs. Nicki thinks she may have escaped a breeder, it’s possible. Sophia brightened quickly with a safe crate, good food and loads of love and she was just so cuddly. I have a couple of great pix of Audrey and Sophia cuddling together. She was housed next to Punch in the print room and they could be walked together, they were both so frigging adorable. Alysha was going to find a foster home for her too.


Some Info about Adopting in the Bahamas




Since I got back to the mainland several people have asked me why BAARK or BHS don’t try and find homes for all of these dogs or shouldn’t there be an animal shelter for the street dogs. Personally, I think that would be horribly unfair to these dogs. For example, this wonderful Scruffy terrier came in, adorable. I was watching over him as he was coming out of recovery, because he was having some difficulty, he just needed a little extra TLC. He was outside his crate, he was wrapped in a towel, and I spent time stroking him and rubbing his belly. I have a great pic of him smiling and enjoying the attention. However, as much as he was having a moment of pure bliss, if I brought him home, he would be confined to our garden and house, he would have to learn new rules and would not have the freedom to roam and sniff as he does now. Even the hikes I would take him on would be restrictive compared to the social life he has on the streets with an unstructured lifestyle. Some of these Potcakes, such as the ones described above, are more likely to adapt to home life because they would not survive on the street due to their poor physical condition, while others, such as Scruffy boy are just meant to be free. It was one of life’s epiphanies I learnt while working with so many street dogs.


G-Man aka Hero

This next one, with the accompanying pix will bring the hardest of hearts to tears, even when I tell people the story of Gunther aka G-Man and Scrappy Dog Alice, I cry. For the Punch team it is all the more emotional because the day before all the good stuff happened the team had a hellacious day. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s do it chronologically:


Thursday afternoon, day 6. A very large, very good looking, male Belgian Malinois was brought to the clinic from the Bahamas Humane Society (they were spaying and neutering cats). He was labeled aggressive, and he was maimed and dragging his front left paw. It is thought that he may have been hit by a car and had nerve damage that affected the use of his paw, and that because of his disability he was now useless as a guard dog and so the owners put him out on the street. It could only have been a recent accident because there were no scabs formed on the top of the paw yet from him dragging it on the ground, which would cause secondary infection and therefore part of his leg and certainly his paw would have to be amputated sometime in the future. Because of this impediment he could not be released back onto the streets, so unless a foster could be found he would be spending the rest of his life at the Humane Society due to his aggressive behavior! When he came into the clinic he was barking aggressively at anyone who passed his crate, so his crate was covered and he was scheduled to be neutered first thing in the morning.


Friday morning, the penultimate day of Operation Potcake, and a full moon, which may have everything or nothing to do with what was just about to go down. We had three different cases come to the clinic, before surgery, and all within 30 minutes of each other, that shattered us all into a thousand pieces:


We had just arrived at the clinic and a local couple were carrying their dog into surgery, the dog had been hit by a car and the doctors were going to do what they could to save her. The prognosis was dire, and she was euthanized.


As this was going down a man brought in an extremely emaciated bitch, she was the size of a hound dog, and didn’t even look like a dog, she was literally bones covered in skin. The local man knew about the clinic and brought her to us to help her, she had two-day old puppies, but I have no idea how she was feeding them because her condition was beyond critical.


Then another crate was brought in with another large dog, this time black. A local man found the dog on the side of the road and thought she was dead, he managed to get her into a crate and bring her to us. She was in extremely poor condition, like many of the dogs and puppies we saw, they are dehydrated but this one was really bad. She had a massive, deep gash on her left front paw which was festering badly, and covered in flies, Dr. Nikki was shaking her head and said the dog had a secondary skin infection. We couldn’t get her out of the crate, she was not going to move, no matter what we did to coax her. I cannot imagine the pain and fear she was experiencing. It was decided she would be placed in the print room where it was cool and quiet so the surgeons could look and ascertain how to treat her at lunchtime, it’s exhausting living on the street as a dog especially if you are sick (or nursing). Meanwhile the doctors decided it was kinder to euthanize the emaciated hound dog, and we would get back on schedule with the spay and neuter we had prepped for the morning surgeries.


The good news, G-Man’s surgery went well, and he was recovering nicely, with the help of Krissy, who is a sucker for German Shepherd type dogs. The bad news, when Audrey went to check on our patient in the print room, the girl had decided to take the opportunity of peace and quiet to cross the Rainbow Bridge on her own. It was brutally hard emotionally for the whole team to lose 3 dogs that one morning, but logically I know it was the right thing to do. Being responsible is heartbreaking sometimes.


Scrappy Dog Alice

Saturday, day 8, the last day of clinic and we needed to have the surgeries done by 12 o’clock, to give all the dogs at least 2 hours to recover, get them to their respective homes and street corners so we could clean up, take inventory and get out before the sun went down.


Scrappy Dog Alice came in as a regular Potcake and would leave a Princess. She went in for her surgery, went through post-op no problem, then came outside to recover. Scrappy Dog Alice was taking an exceedingly long time recovering her senses, so much so that Sarah brought her to the attention of Dr. Nikki. They brought her out of her crate so Sarah could keep her warm, rub her belly and try to stimulate her into responding. Scrappy Dog Alice had already been given reversal drugs for the anesthesia so she should be rather more lively than she was, especially after this length of time. Dr. Raymod and Dr. Mike decided that her belly should be reopened to ensure she was ok. She was not ok. The two doctors and Colleen, an emergency vet tech got to work on her immediately.


So now we are two doctors down, as they are working on an emergency, and we still have many more spay and neuter surgeries that needed to be done because it was our last day.

So, Dr. Nikki joined the surgeon doing surgeries while checking out necessary recovery patients. Remember when I said sometimes we were working at 100%, well this was one of those times. No pressure right!


Scrappy Dog Alice was in a very bad way. Apparently during her initial spay surgery it is thought that there was a minute amount of blood that leaked into the wound. Caveat, I am not a surgeon, and this is only what I learnt from listening to Dr. Nikki and Collen discussing the surgery later that evening. I don’t even know the right lingo to use. This blood was not seen at the time of the initial surgery but during recovery it would have been compounded, and fortunately the eagle eyes of Sarah and Dr. Nikki noticed this and brought it to the attention of that day’s surgeons, Dr. Raymond and Dr. Mike. When the surgeons opened her up there was a lot of blood, so with the help of our emergency vet tech, Colleen, they were able to recycle her blood while they were operating on her to prevent further blood loss. Now here’s the interesting part, due to Scrappy dog Alice being a street dog she had other issues too, the poignant one being her lack of blood platelets that are necessary to help blood clot, so our docs couldn’t stop her bleeding out. Help we need a donor.


Remember the mean Malinois, G-Man? Well, it was deemed that he would be the ideal candidate, he was healthy, although on the skinny side of lean, he was in great condition, and although not a street dog, he didn’t have a family, so he was available, is that okay to say! However, it was Colleen that pointed out that there was a vital piece of equipment that was needed to do the blood transfusion and it would take well over an hour to get it from one of the other clinics. Dr. Mike asked Colleen to check the front pocket of his backpack, he thought he might have something that they could adapt to work. Vola, the team was back in business. G-Man gave 300ml of blood, that’s nearly a pint of blood to Alice. No matter how many times I tell this story I always cry, the generosity of this dog to save another, like he had a choice. G-Man was anesthetized for a second time in as many days, and he had fantastic blood.


As it was the last day of clinic, we had the collections crew helping with the dog’s recovery. Krissy sat with G-Man throughout the long hours it took him to recover from his second anesthetic, stroking and talking to him, he really was a handsome dog, with his silky chestnut brown coat, dark face mask and peacefully sleeping rather than barking and growling viciously, I think that’s when she fell in love with him.


While G-Man was recovering outside, Allison and the post-op team were working on Scrappy Dogs blood transfusion, whilst also attending the other dogs and puppies that were coming out of surgery and needing attention, including rabies shots, micro-chipped and flea meds. What a fantastic team, and the space they were working in was very limited. Scrappy Dog Alice was laying peacefully on the high table, as G-Man’s blood purposefully flowed into her body helping her own body and blood work more effectively. It was a slow business that could not be hurried, and nobody knew what the outcome would be. Everyone was calm and positive, but worried.


G-Man was taking an age to recover, he was laying on towels, outside of his crate, relaxing quietly with Krissy stroking his glossy coat, he did not look like the ferocious beast we knew from yesterday. Krissy was taking him back to Rescue Ranch with her, in North Carolina, where she would have his limp leg amputated so he could move efficiently, and this would prevent a secondary infection occurring on the foot that he was dragging along the ground. He would get to live his best life ever. The necessary documentation and arranging the transportation would take 10 days. Hang in there G-Man.


Meanwhile it’s lunchtime, I relieve Krissy so she can get something to eat. Miracle of miracles, I have pizza in my hands and G-Man thumps his tail and raises his head, what dog does not like pizza! Outside of his crate G-Man is a gentleman, but inside he barks and gets antsy. Martina suggests we do what we have done with the other dogs, if he behaves in his crate and doesn’t bark, he gets a treat, it transpires that he is smart and handsome. Someone suggests that our hero is used to raise funds and sponsorship for Rescue Ranch because he has such a good back story.


Later that evening, once we had all gotten back to the hotel, we received news that Scrappy Dog Alice had recovered from her second surgery and had managed to get up, walk a few steps to get to her food. Tonya and her family would foster her, and she would have Potcake company with Piggy. Oh my dog, I do love a real life happy ending. All the fosters from our clinic are thriving, those two weeks were a rollercoaster of emotion, learning, and stepping outside of my comfort zone daily. Would I do it again, yes, but give me some time.


Alysha and Bridget, the local ladies at our clinic were brilliant. As Alysha says, she wants the local, low income families to know that BAARK is there for them and their pets, whether they are sick, need flea and tick med, or spay and neuter. There is no judging, just help and education.


If you are interested in finding out more about K9CRACK, Animal Balance or Operation Potcake 2024, or you would like to donate, please go to:



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