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15 March 2000 Issue
For The Pet's Sake - the Baja Animal Sanctuary

 

By Stephanie Moore - Volunteer

My friend and I arrived at the Sanctuary early Saturday morning, loaded with 200 lbs. of donated food, blankets, toys and treats. I even threw in some lattice fencing I had hauled out of the trashcan. We followed the directions in the newsletter that Sunny Benedict, the founder, had sent me. Bouncing along the rutted dirt roads, I was grateful my friend Terry had decided to accompany me (and drive her SUV). Eventually, we found the villa, leaning precariously off the side of the hill, surrounded by chain link fencing on all sides. There were areas separated by chicken wire, chain link and whatever else was handy. And each area was filled with dogs. Hundreds of dogs. Big mixed-breed dogs, little dogs with amputated legs, medium sized dogs, even some purebred dogs -- all lazily stretched out in the morning sun. They did not break out barking when we got out of our car; in fact, they barely opened their eyes. However, a large yellow hound-lab-Great Dane, sauntered over for an ear scratch, which I eagerly administered. I later learned his name was Tyson and that he roamed the grounds as he pleased.

The Baja Animal Sanctuary was founded two years ago by Sunny Benedict and a couple of other expatriate Americans living in Rosarito Beach, Baja, just south of the border from San Diego. I had read an article that the San Diego Union-Tribune had written, and began sending a small donation each month. As a full-time student and being temporarily disabled, I couldn't afford much. But this woman sent me a thank-you note for every small check, each and every month. I was determined to do what I could to help. I knew the conditions these animals lived in - I spent half my life growing up in Ensenada, Mexico - and knew she'd need all the help she could get. Housed in a rented half-built villa, adorned with bougainvillea, the shelter sits on the East side of the popular Rosarito Beach area. It has no electricity, and just this past month, they were able to pipe in hot water. All surgeries must be done by daylight by resident vet, Karina Toledo, who lives in a small Winnebago on the property. She has no x-rays or autoclave machines, and can provide only rudimentary care. She readily welcomes any help by volunteer veterinarians. Runs for the dogs are built catch-as-catch-can and house many different types, sizes and genders of dogs. The remarkable thing one notices about Mexican-born dogs is their sociability -- since most run in packs on the street -- there are few displays of aggression. Some of the older residents don't even stay in the yards -- they have the run of the ranch. Each animal has a story - Cazador, a beautiful shepherd mix, was adopted by a local farmer, but soon found his way back to the shelter and has never left again -- nor has his owner come looking for him. Tripod, a precious three-legged small mixed breed dog, lost a leg to a car, but keeps up with her buddy, Tesuku, an Old English Sheepdog, quite easily. Stinky and Stinko, lookalike terriers, were picked up separately in town. A batch of puppies, thrown from a truck, are thriving and eagerly awaiting a home.

The cattery is upstairs in the villa, and houses approximately 65-plus cats. Part of what may have been a large bedroom has been partitioned off with fencing, filled with condos, toys, baskets and litter boxes. The thing that strikes you, after the shock of the sheer number of animals cared for, is how clean everything is. The dog runs are immaculate, as is the cattery. (Having worked for a boarding facility, I know the amount of work it takes to clean numerous cages, litter pans, food bowls, and could not fault this shelter in a single area). The cats mix easily with each other, playing, sleeping or looking out their open windows. Dr. Toledo separates the ones with rhino or calci virus in order to treat them, and all are vaccinated for common diseases.

Here, as with the dogs, is a spectacular display of genetic variety! One big, yellow tom was lying in his basket, when I noticed he had no eye. A calico sauntered by proudly waving a tail that appeared to have been broken many times. Still another tuxedo-colored youngster was playing catch with a toy, happily. A young shorthaired tabby, shy but determined to be petted, teased us over and over again to reach out and pet him. Donated kitty condos, scratching posts, toys and feathered goodies abound. The kittens play with the adolescents, who play with the elder cats. One gets the sense that they know they have a common background, and it has made them agreeable roommates.

But the Sanctuary still has much to do and its needs are great. Sunny does all she can to provide care for these animals, including crossing stateside to take them to Mesa College's Veterinary Technician program for various treatments. Though the Sanctuary looks a bit ragged and haphazardly built, it is paradise for these animals -- food to eat, loving voices and gentle hands, care for wounds, and a home forever if not adopted. Which most of these animals will never have. (Sunny has over 350 dogs at the present time.) Few Americans know about it, and the local residents, who don't want these pets, drop off the bulk of the animals. The Sanctuary is also dedicated to a no-kill policy, unless the animal suffers from an extreme illness, in which case they are humanely euthanized.

The Sanctuary, though unlike what we statesiders are used to, with dirt areas, shared bins for food, is stunningly immaculate. I never saw one pile of feces, nor urine spots anywhere. Jaime Victorio, the facilities manager, works day in and day out to insure his charges get the best care. He and Emilio Hernandez work tirelessly to clean pens, build new runs, enlarge the cattery, and repair what is broken. Jaime told me he also fosters cats at his own home.

Sunny Benedict, the founder, has dedicated herself to providing the only home and steady food many of these animals have ever had. She is seeking a Volunteer Fundraising Chairperson to help create a stronger financial base for the Sanctuary, and welcomes all dedicated help. The morning my friend and I showed up, there was a monthly meeting. Sunny had notified people by a direct mail newsletter -- and one person showed up. "You know, she says philosophically, "that's the way it is, the story comes out, and everyone is gung-ho. After a while, you never hear from them again". Problems continually crop up -- finding medicine, enough food and shelter every day can be a challenge. Several weeks ago, the North County Humane Society generously donated a van to the Sanctuary. While having a mechanic check it out in Tijuana, the equivalent of the Mexican IRS pulled over the van and confiscated it. Despite paperwork proving ownership, Sunny did not prevail. The van now sits in a fenced yard with other foreign-plated late-model cars, vans and trucks in Tijuana. No one has been able to help Sunny get it back. She needs someone (with some legal savvy) to help her with the "unique" legal system in Mexico, as she has all the paperwork, but cannot retrieve her van. She had even sold her own car when the van was donated and has no transportation.

In the Union-Tribune article of January 14, 1999, Sunny says, "I've actually sat down at the sanctuary, so frustrated, wracking my brain for solutions, and within two minutes, I am surrounded by all these furry little faces." "It's like they are saying, please, don't give up, keep going we need you." '" It gives me the push to go on." This is one determined woman. With help from her few volunteers, she will succeed. As a student at the local community college, and retired from twenty-five years in advertising, I do what I can by creating awareness of the Sanctuary wherever I go. The response has been moving.

I have had the pleasure of working with an enthusiastic young woman, Lisa Watson, employed at the local PetCo, who bought and donated over 200lbs of food, bags of treats, snacks and toys. She continues to provide support by coordinating adoptions of these pets through the local PetCo stores. (This is in the process of being worked out).

Another generous donation I have received is 600 pounds of food from WESTERN PET WHOLESALERS, whose rep, Jim Balsimo, answered my email plea for help. They plan to offer regular donations and are wonderful people. Located in San Marcos, California, they distribute California Natural, Natura, Solid Gold pet food as well as other brands. They can be reached at 1-800-395-7387.

My friend Terry New is working on getting a visiting vet to help by donating spaying, neutering and vaccinations services. She also generously provides transportation to Mexico, as my car wouldn't make it! In addition, she and I are returning in two weeks to pick up a litter of kittens to bring up here for adoption. The Health Services receptionist at Mira Costa College, Karen, donated a twenty-pound bag of cat food. (I am well known at school now because of my word-of-mouth advertising!)

Adoption of these animals is amazingly easy -- all you need are vaccination records, which are provided by the Sanctuary - to be able to cross the border.

Wish List:

Food- especially kitten and puppy chow

Litter and litter pans

Loving homes

Toys

Shampoos, ear treatments, Advantage or Biospot, Parvosal or bottles of plain bleach

Cleaning supplies; brooms, trashcans and liners, mops, hoses, rubber gloves,

newspaper for cattery floor.

Carriers or dog houses

Building supplies

The most important donation is one of your time -- these animals are starved for play, loving hands.

BAJA ANIMAL SANCTUARY

MEX 626 PO BOX 439060

San Diego, California 92143-9060

Or call Sunny Benedict at: (011 52 66) 31-32-49 (This dials her directly, no international operator comes on)

Or, you can contact me:

Stephanie Moore

2130 Sunset Drive #104

Vista, California 92083

760/631-6892 PST - please, no calls after 8 pm. Due to my "poor student status" I cannot return long distance calls.

No email available

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