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By Gemma Handy

Coronavirus hasn’t just wreaked havoc on the lives of Antigua’s human residents, it’s seen a surge in abandoned pets too. And an avalanche of dumped dogs and cats has left the country’s largest rescue shelter struggling to cope.

The PAAWS rehoming centre is currently home to a staggering 108 animals – 80 dogs and 28 cats, manager Colin Quinn told Observer.

The Parham-based facility operates independently of government and runs entirely on donations. Since it was set up in 1996, it has taken in thousands of sick, injured and orphaned animals and found them permanent homes.

But as the pandemic’s economic impact continues to bite, pets are becoming the voiceless victims.

“We cannot accept any more animals right now because we literally do not have the space and donations are down too,” Quinn explained. “The phone is ringing every single day with people saying they can’t afford to keep their dog and asking us to take it.”

While some families have been forced to make the heart-breaking decision to surrender their pet due to loss of income, Quinn says many are ignoring discounted and readily available spay and neuter procedures and shunting the responsibility for newborn litters on to the shelter instead.

“Just this morning we got two calls from people saying their dog had had puppies and could we take them in. Some people would rather spend hundreds of dollars on frivolous things, rather than $75 to get their dog fixed which is the responsible thing to do,” he said.

“Thankfully our adoptions are still going well. We are rehoming an average of eight to 10 dogs, and four cats, a month,” Quinn added.

Exacerbating PAAWS’ financial woes are restrictions on social events, which means it is unable to host its usual fundraisers like bingo nights and last year’s successful Antigua’s Got Talent show.

To help bridge the gap, this Saturday, a group of supporters will undertake a sponsored hike to tackle the country’s highest peak.

More than a dozen people have signed up to the walk which departs from the Sugar Ridge resort at 7am. Anyone wishing to sponsor them can get in touch on the official event page on Facebook, ‘Fundraising Hike to Boggy Peak’, or email [email protected].

“Every single cent raised will go directly towards helping more dogs and cats in need – and, ultimately, removing them from the streets which we know negatively impacts tourism,” said a PAAWS spokeswoman. “You can also help us by donating pet food at the Epicurean supermarket in Jolly Harbour.”

For more information about the shelter, how you can help or adopting a pet, visit www.paawsantigua.com or call 561-1484.

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