Being a rescuer isn’t for the faint of heart, and as Alison Sawyer Current learned, it’s a full-time gig.
By Vicki Martinez
The story begins on the white-sanded, turquoise-watered island of Isla Mujeres (located eight miles northeast of Cancun in the Mexican Caribbean Sea). Longtime Boulder resident Alison Sawyer Current and her husband were building their dream second home when a series of soft yips and snuffles emanating from under a woodpile changed her course forever. It was 1999, and the six lucky baseball-size pups Sawyer Current found that day were her first rescues.
In her book, “The Dog Lady of Mexico,” Sawyer Current chronicles the sometimes exhausting, sometimes frustrating, always fulfilling journey she underwent with her family and an amazing group of locals. They made it their mission to end the overpopulation of stray dogs and cats on the island—an issue which is often handled locally by mass euthanasia, using electricity.
A potter by trade, Sawyer Current never imagined becoming a rescuer, but those first puppies opened her eyes to the plight of stray animals on the island. She continued to take in more animals and sought the help of locals to feed and care for them. The sheer numbers were overwhelming. They resulted from a combination of factors: families being unable to access or unaware of the importance of spay and neutering services, pet abandonment, plus a less common animals-as-family-pets cultural mentality.
At one point, Sawyer Current recalls having 65 rescue animals in her island home. “I had no life at all. We’d become fairly well known by this time,” she says, “and people started coming to my house, knocking on the door all the time, wanting to visit and walk the animals.” But the lack of privacy and even a hurricane, a bout of dengue fever, salmonella poisoning, and the utter exhaustion of such an undertaking never deterred her.
A Long Road to Success
“Dog rescue, especially in Mexico, is hard. I’ve seen so many rescues come and go—they run out of money, they run out of steam. You have to be obsessed to do it,” says Sawyer Current. She attributes her operation’s success to its longevity.
Today, Isla Animals, the nonprofit Sawyer Current founded, continues to make a huge impact. The nearly five-mile-long island is essentially street-dog free and has almost no wild dogs. “And the people are more educated on taking care of their pets and they know what’s available,” she adds. Isla Animals has teamed up with a local veterinarian and they host free spay-neuter clinics, averaging 20 surgeries every Thursday.
“We’ve muddled through for twenty years and it’s given us a big enough name to earn the support we need to grow bigger and do more every year.” In fact, unable to deny the impact of her efforts, the Mexican government now allows the rescue to use one of its buildings. In addition to operating the local clinic, Isla Animals now hosts annual spay-neuter clinics on the mainland. The most recent one in November 2019 treated 1,720 cats and dogs in six days. All for free.
What can you do?