5 ways to help animals when you travel
You’re on the beach sipping your cerveza when the hungry dog arrives. Tongue out, wagging tail, ribs showing through his fur. For animal lovers, it can be heartbreaking to see a furry friend in need. The good news is, you can help. Here are five ways to help animals when you travel.
1. Program the numbers of local animal rescues and charities into your phone
Do the research beforehand, so if you encounter a stray dog that’s been hit by a car in Mumbai, for example, you can dive into your contacts list for the In Defense of Animals (IDA) helpline in literally seconds.
2. Bring a donation from home
Many vet clinics in developing countries lack access to medical goods widely available in the West. Email a local animal rescue to see if you can bring something on their wish list. The last thing you want to do is show up with a delivery of gauze that could have been purchased inexpensively and locally, when what the clinic really needed was hard-to-find compression bandages.
3. Avoid exploitative animal shows
When seeking encounters with the marquee animal in a given country, visit a reputable animal sanctuary instead of an animal show. “Refuge” and “rescue” are good words to keep an eye out for, but they can also be used deceptively by clever marketers. Do some online homework before you go. For starters, look for sanctuaries that have been accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and get expert regional and animal specific advice from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, In Defense of Animals, and Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).
This added effort will make your interspecies interaction that much more meaningful. For example, in Thailand, as an alternative to elephant riding (which involves brutally violent training practices), you’ll find Elephant Nature Park, an internationally-recognized refuge. You won’t be able to ride an elephant, but you can definitely feed and bathe one in the river.
4. Be culturally sensitive
Sure, your dog or house cat may be welcome at the family table, but in some cultures, that’s downright repulsive. Never feed strays on restaurant premises, where they might offend others. Feeding them near a restaurant could train them to hover near potential danger. In worst-case scenarios, irate staff may “deter” dogs and cats with boiling water or knives.
On a related note, don’t make assumptions about the animals—and people—you meet. Even if an animal isn’t a pampered fur baby, that’s not to say it doesn’t have a home. A “skinny” animal may be slim not starved, so look for other clues, like the condition of its fur, presence of scabs, and overall health. If you feel the need to feed, proceed carefully.
5. Adopt, don’t steal
Finally, don’t “adopt” a foreign dog or cat without confirming it’s a stray! Ask locals if the animal needs a home, and seek the guidance of a local rescue organization because you’ll also need a vet to examine and vaccinate the animal.
The good news is, it’s fairly easy (though not inexpensive) to bring a dog or cat back home. For more information, U.S. residents should review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.