Last year Dr. Shelley Harper went on a vacation to dive and snorkel on Salt Cay, a tiny island in the Turks & Caicos. While visiting the island and getting to know the people that lived there, Dr. Harper learned that this little island had a unique problem. It all started in the 1600’s when British Bermudans settled the island and established it as a salt mine. They brought donkeys from England to work the salt mines and when the salt mines were abandoned in the 1940’s, the donkeys were left behind. Now approximately 40 donkeys live on the island of Salt Cay and have become feral. Since there are only 30 year- round human residents on the island, the donkeys outnumber the people for most of the year. The island is very arid and there is not enough fresh water or forage for the donkeys and no one feeds them regularly. The human inhabitants relayed the plight of the poor donkeys to Dr. Harper and asked if there was any way she could help to control the donkey population. Dr. Harper decided to plan a veterinary project to Salt Cay for March 2014. There had never been any veterinary care for the donkeys, or for the cats and dogs that live on the island. The only way to get veterinary care for your pet if you live there is to take them by plane or boat to a nearby larger island, but this isn’t feasible for most residents.
As Dr. Harper planned the trip, more and more requests came from the residents of Salt Cay for vet care the animals needed. The island was experiencing a feral cat population explosion and the residents asked if the cats could be trapped, spayed and neutered, and then released. They also asked if 3 resident dogs could also be spayed and neutered. Dr. Harper was able to get permission from the Dept of Agriculture of the Turks & Caicos to bring a small veterinary team to Salt Cay for a week and to run a spay/neuter clinic for the small animals and to castrate as many male donkeys as could be caught.
During the planning process, the Turks & Caicos SPCA on the main island of Providentiales got involved and they arranged for 13 cat traps to be shipped by barge to Salt Cay. The expats living on the island during the winter graciously donated a vacation rental for the week and also volunteered to trap cats every day during the project.
Dr. Harper assembled a team made up of Dr. Dana (an equine vet from Seattle), Dr. Carlos (a friend and veterinarian from Caracas, Venezuela), Sarah (a vet tech from Blue Pearl Specialty Practice in Tampa), and Chris (Dr. Harper’s fiancé and now expert donkey wrangler). They all flew to Salt Cay and spent the week catching and castrating donkeys, trapping cats and then deworming, vaccinating, treating for fleas and ticks, and most importantly spaying and neutering the cats. By the end of the week 12 donkeys had been castrated and 35 feral cats had been spayed and neutered, as well as 3 pet dogs. The residents of Salt Cay threw a big thank you/farewell party for the team and expressed huge amount of gratitude for the veterinary visit. After the completion of the vet project, Dr. Harper and Chris had 2 additional travel companions for the flight home. They brought back 2 rescued island puppies (called Potcakes) to find homes for them in Tampa.