Costa Rica News – Since 2003, Asociación Pro Bienestar Animal (McKee Jaco) has been dedicated to significantly improving animal welfare through effective public awareness campaigns, education in animal welfare, animal population control and medical aid. Its mission “To End Pain and Suffering of All Companion Animals in our County” still stands strong. Despite the challenges and difficulties the organization has faced over the past decade, its determination to improve the lives of animals has always prevailed. Looking back on all these years, it is, without a doubt, awe-inspiring to see McKee Jaco has managed to accomplish with such a small amount of members and only five volunteers.
Who better to take us on a trip down memory lane than the founder of the organization herself, Katja Bader? A Jaco resident and fierce animal lover, Katja and her team of volunteers have been going above and beyond during the 10 years to keep her project running successfully. I met up with her at the place that inspired her to take action all those years ago, the beach of Jaco. “When I came to Jaco for the first time, I noticed countless stray animals on the beaches and in the streets.” Katja reminisces, “Many of them were either sick or starving. The situation became worse when unknown people put out poison to eliminate the strays, leaving the area scattered with dead bodies. “Back then,” she continues, “there was one clinic in Jaco offering basic animal care only. One day, when my husband and I were on our way to San Jose, we saw a taxi driver hit a dog and drive off. We decided to take the dog to a veterinarian in San Jose. This is how I connected with the Director of McKee Costa Rica, Christine Crawford. She asked me if I would be interested in joining forces and becoming a member of the McKee family. That was the start of McKee Jaco.”
With the help of veterinarian Dr. Sergio Brenes, McKee Jaco was able to set up a spaying and neutering program to help control the growth of stray animals and provide assistance with veterinary costs to low-income families. Throughout the years, McKee Jaco has been organizing big events in rural areas aimed at helping stray animals or pets from very poor owners. The outcome of these events, which are held at the most unlikely yet useful locations such as a mortuary, a church, or a village school, has always been very successful: In participation with volunteer veterinarians up to 70 cats and dogs are spayed on average. Simultaneously, these kinds of events offer a great opportunity to educate people. “It’s been a slow and difficult process,” says Katja, “but it’s very encouraging to see that more and more Costa Ricans are starting to realize that they are an important part of the solution to the overpopulation of homeless animals and can help their pets live a happier, healthier, and longer life. Packs of wild dogs roaming the streets have become an image of the past.”
The results of McKee Jaco’s steadfast efforts are astounding indeed: Over a 1000 animals are successfully treated every year.
Medical Care Program
In response to the alarmingly increasing amount of injured dogs on the roads, McKee Jaco decided to approach the Animal Hospital at the University of Heredia and ask the veterinarian team there for help. They were more than willing to provide their assistance and have been doing so until this day. “This incredible vet team, which is headed by Dr. Mauricio Jimenez nowadays, helps us with all the difficult cases that cannot be treated in Jaco, including the orthopaedic surgeries,” Katja says, “while retired vet Dr. Carlos Morales, who comes to our county several times a month, performs orthopaedic and all kinds of other surgeries for our McKee patients here in Jaco. With the consistent cooperation of all these professionals, and so many more, we have been able to provide medical care to our patients every day.”
One of McKee Jaco’s most important programs, “Sharing the world with the Animals”, started in May 2009. Because of a poor understanding of animal welfare issues, there was a high degree of suffering in Costa Rica’s animal population. The organization recognized the need for an educational program that would stick in the minds of people. Together with psychologist and teacher Cynthia Lizano, who used her expertise to incorporate animal welfare education into regular course materials, McKee Jaco launched an effective program that exceeded everyone’s expectations. “On a yearly basis, we have been able to reach over 1200 students! These days it’s Angela Maria from Art School ‘Mire Vea’ who does a wonderful job working with the kids. Our goal was, and continues to be, to reach as many children in our community as possible and create a sense of ‘irreversible responsibility’ by educating children towards a better understanding of the needs of all animals, the relationship between the animal and it’s environment and the ways in which all animals, the environment and humans are related.”
Besides the activities at schools, McKee Jaco also organizes events for children and their families within the community filled with quality animal information and lots of fun stuff to do. By bringing animal welfare awareness programs into the homes of Costa Ricans and making everyone feel included in the program, McKee Jaco strives to have its mission better understood and adopted. Education is a key element in helping pet owners become more aware and ensuring that animals receive the respect they so need and deserve. Unfortunately, due to the lack of available funds, the education program is currently on hold until further notice.
Project “I brake for Animals”
McKee Jaco realized that besides medical care, public consciousness needed to be raised in order to reduce the number of injured or killed animals in traffic. According to McKee Jaco’s calculations, an estimated 70% of all animal accidents could be prevented, if only the drivers would use their brakes.
“I brake for Animals” was launched at the end of 2012 and is turning out to be a big success. Besides having already sold a great deal of bumper stickers with the mission stated on them, McKee Jaco has managed to receive the kind cooperation of a substantial number of taxi drivers. In return, they received a special starter’s kit with printed t-shirts and business cards and the highly acclaimed status of “pet-friendly taxi driver” on McKee Jaco’s recommended taxi drivers list. Last but not least, McKee Jaco managed to have 12 road signs placed in Jaco and Herradura, which is a remarkable achievement on its own. Bigger road signs of at least 2 meters high and 1 meter wide are currently in the making.
McKee Jaco has always gone out of its way to find safe havens for animals in need and has never considered any animal ‘unadoptable’. There are many wonderful stories to prove it. “It’s been very difficult to maintain this project as we don’t have any animal shelter facilities at our disposal,” Katja says. “We don’t want to give up though, and hope that more and more people will recognize the urgency and realize that we are all responsible for the well-being of our furry friends in need. With the help of our supporters we’ve managed to find homes for over 500 stray animals each year. Furthermore, we’ve set up a special foster home program, enabling animal lovers who can’t take in animals themselves to support this program”.
Another successful activity with the younger members of the community and their parents has been organized by the group every year since 2009: The Pet Festival. Last year, over 200 people and 49 canine companions performing all kinds of amazing tricks participated. Katja: “Out of the countless events we’ve organized, this event was one of the most entertaining. All entrants were very well taken care of, and their owners were very proud of them and one could see that they really loved them. The message of this activity was repeated in all our presentations and decorations: All animals have rights, and it is the responsibility of the entire community to make sure that these rights are respected. Once this happens, our county will become a better place to live for all: humans, pets, and wildlife animals.”
A great method of continuing the momentum and providing people a sense of involvement is through the Golden Paw Award, which is awarded twice a year in cooperation with the magazine “Pets y Mas” to honor the people in the community for their compassion and service toward animals.
When asked what McKee Jaco’s biggest challenge is at the moment, Katja explains, “From a communal point of view, it’s to make owners realize that they are responsible for their pets and their needs, which includes medical care whenever necessary and that McKee Jaco is only able to help strays and people who for some reason can’t afford to take care of their pets at the moment. This is a slow process.” Katja continues, “The challenge from the organization’s perspective lies in the fact that we have many great ideas and a lot of potential, but no manpower to implement them. If we were to have more volunteers, we would also be able to focus more on funding.”
McKee Jaco is a non-profit organization with the welfare of animals as its main reason for existence. All its funding comes from public donations and, therefore, the organization heavily relies on the kind efforts of its volunteers and donors.
There’s lots of work to be done in order to keep this fantastic project running and McKee Jaco is in urgent need of your help.
Please contact McKee Jaco to find out how you can get involved or connect your business to its wonderful cause.
By Nadzyra Calonius
Website – www.mckee-jaco.com
Email – [email protected]