A major transport to several stateside rescues is giving the Humane Society of St. Thomas the chance to start from the ground up, and its animals — 300-plus dogs, cats, and bunnies — a better chance of adoption.
It was only a few months ago that the organization had reached its breaking point, with pets lining just about every inch of its campus in Estate Tutu. Like many shelters on the mainland, capacity was spent and volunteers were working overtime to walk, feed and play with the animals. Just onboarded about two months ago, the Humane Society’s new Executive Director Michelle Robbins even took to social media, creating a persona for each animal — complete with backstory and vaccination history — to add to their appeal.
But faced with the possibility of making some hard decisions, volunteers, board members and the Pets With Wings team rallied, appealing to the larger community for donations that would cover the cost of gas and transport for the animals, along with resources such as crates and blankets. While most of those taken to the states came from St. Thomas, some were also brought in from Animal Care of St. John and PAW BVI.
“These are no-kill shelters in the states who have graciously stepped up to help us,” said Paws with Wings Director Rhea Vasconcellos. “And just like us, their resources are also stretched, so some took one dog, or two cats, one 29 cats. We have been so blessed, thanks to them, our staff and volunteers, to have been able to save these animals’ lives.”
Shelters taking in the pets include: Pet Search, Stray Rescue of St. Louis, Heart of Glass Animal Rescue, Ben’s Branches, Pick Your Paw Animal Rescue, and Angels Helping Animals out of Massachusetts, among others, which established the Pets with Wings program within the territory 15 years ago.
The transport was organized early last Thursday, with the Humane Society parking lot filled with volunteers helping to crate and load each animal. Tears also flowed freely as the staff said a bittersweet farewell to animals they’ve cared for for months — some even years.
Still, hope remained. While most spoke of the increased opportunity for the pets to make it to their forever homes, Robbins also said that being able to start from the ground up would enable the organization to provide some of the community services it had fallen behind on.
“That includes more community outreach,” she said. “Of course working hard to respond to calls when they come in, helping to trap animals and get them spayed or neutered — more community support like that.”
And, for the animals, it also includes acclimating them from the time they come in to being around people and other dogs or cats.
“We want to have larger playgroups,” Robbins explained. “After being here for so long, the animals become aggressive and it makes it harder for them to be adopted. With playgroups, community members can come out and maybe see the potential dogs they want to adopt, and it also gives the animals more exposure to play. We really look forward to doing more interactive things this year and moving forward in a positive light.”