Sunday, November 16, 2008

Peninsula lacking services doesn't deter rescuers

The Blackberry family poses for their caregiver. Photo courtesy of PAWS founder Carol Fuegi.

The West Coast community of Point Roberts, Washington is a geopolitical oddity known as an exclave. Unless you fly a small plane or take a boat through Boundary Bay, the only way to get there is by driving through Canada.

In that region, Canada and the United States are divided by the 49th parallel. Because Point Roberts is south of the 49th, the three by two mile peninsula was claimed as American territory.

Life on the Point is breathtakingly beautiful. Surrounded by expansive views of the ocean, lush forest and mountains, the scenery is nothing short of spectacular. But the region also has its challenges. You have to cross an international border just to get on and off the peninsula. There are no hospitals or doctors. And services such as veterinary hospitals, boarding facilities, and animal shelters are non-existent.

For animal rescuers, lacking these essentials is compounded by the transient nature of the population. Typical homes co-exist alongside cottages and cabins. Located just 22 miles south of downtown Vancouver, the Point’s 1,300 full time residents are joined by thousands of Canadians flocking there in droves for holiday weekends and vacations, particularly in summer. Many of the homeless pets rescued on the Point have been lost or discarded by vacationers.

Resident volunteers who can’t bear to let the cats starve or be eaten by coyotes are devoted to cleaning up a problem that wasn’t of their own making. The Point Roberts Animal Wellbeing Society (PAWS) was co-founded by Carol Fuegi and Wilma Donaldson. The group holds garage sales and fundraisers to cover the costs of trapping, fixing and feeding the colonies of homeless cats.

“We find cats in crawl spaces, under cars and sheds, and every place imaginable,” Fuegi said. “Feeding them where they hang out is sometimes challenging for people our age, but the bending and crawling and hiking through the fields provides us with exercise.”

Just over the border on the Canadian side, kind veterinarian Dr. Tina Gemeinhardt of Tsawwassen Animal Hospital provides a “lifeline for the cats”, and is dedicated to helping her fuzzy American neighbors. She has been a godsend for more than 10 years, providing the animal rescuers with medical services such as spaying and neutering for free or at minimal cost.

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