On the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, away from the beach sports and tourist hustle and bustle, barking dogs greet visitors to SPCA Puerto Vallarta.
Dogs and cats are rescued from the streets and sometimes out of abusive conditions. Some are ill and require veterinary intervention. At SPCA Puerto Vallarta, animals with special needs may require a longer stay, but staying here isn’t so bad. They all receive the medical care they need—somehow resources are found—even if it means seeing a veterinary specialist.
“We do what it takes,” says founder and President Janice Chatterton.
There’s even whirlpool for rehabilitation on the premises. There’s also a veterinarian with a special interest specifically in shelter medicine, a rarity in Mexico.
More than a shelter, SPCA Puerto Vallarta truly is a sanctuary. Dogs are kept in spacious indoor/outdoor runs and almost always have the company of one or more canine companions. A cadre of volunteers, ranging from residents to tourists, walks the dogs daily. Cats live in a colony and can catnap inside or outdoors in an area protected from potential predators. A surround-sound system provides calming music throughout. Some employees’ job title is “cuddler” because they merely keep animals company.
The idea isn’t for animals to merely survive here. The goal is for them to thrive and one day get adopted. And that’s what mostly happens. However, a pawful of special-needs animals may potentially not find that forever family. If hospice care is required, animals receive it before being humanely euthanized.
Most adopters are from the United States or Canada. Chatterton says there’s already an overabundance of animals seeking Puerto Vallarta homes. And she is discerning about those deserving of adopting either directly from the facility or from a small but organized foster network.
Dogs at SPCA Puerto Vallarta live in indoor-outdoor runs.
Jim Watt and Brenda Rose Drolet of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, said they were at first rejected for an adoption because of their busy schedules. Watt travels a great deal as an environmental superintendent, and Drolet works at a bank.
“I cried but then reapplied when I thought the dog can go into day care,” Drolet said. “I was so happy to be accepted and appreciate how particular they are.”
“Luna changed my life,” Watt said of their new pet. “I had never before lived with a dog. It’s a void in my life that I didn’t know I was missing.”
“It’s true what they say about a man and his dog,” Drolet added. “Watching them play together brings a tear to my eye. There’s a special bond between them.”
Two other Edmonton residents, retirees Bruce and Carole Thom, adopted from SPCA Puerto Vallarta and were so impressed they did it again. A dog named Nina, originally taken as a foster animal, had a bad habit: She bit people.
The Thoms didn’t give up on the dog. In fact, quite the opposite. Carole said she realized her pup was simply fearful. She found help from a certified dog behavior consultant and today they manage Nina.
“I’m so glad,” she said. “Sometimes things happen for a reason, and Nina taught me so much about dogs. And that’s allowed me to help other dogs.”
Today, the couple helps to organize adoptions and foster families in Edmonton and Alberta.
Asked why they doesn’t offer the same commitment to their local shelter, Bruce said, “Compassion should have no boundaries.”
He added: “Of course I am for saving animals anywhere, but we’re connected here. After all, we’re so impressed with the commitment to save animals and provide for the best possible quality of life. Most certainly, this is a sanctuary more than a shelter.”
SPCA Puerto Vallarta likely will adopt out its 1,000th animal in 2016. But it’s not only a numbers game for Chatterton.
“Numbers are important because we want to save as many as we can and we are happy when at the end of the year we total the ones saved and adopted and it is a nice figure,” she said. “Otherwise we do not think about numbers when we are making critical decisions.”
Chatterton also operates two of Puerto Vallarta’s most elegant boutique hotels: Hacienda San Angel, where actor Richard Burton once resided, and Casa Kimberly, where actress Elizabeth Taylor lived.
Janice Chatterton operates two hotels in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, when she isn’t running the local SPCA shelter.
Chatterton, who is from San Francisco, began to help Puerto Vallarta’s animals in 2007. She opened SPCA Puerto Vallarta in 2012. Today, construction has begun on an addition.
Chatterton has not been without her detractors. In Mexico, she’s an outsider who’s pushed for change to happen at her pace.
“I don’t believe she’s ever accepted ‘no’ for an answer,” Bruce Thom said.
Well past retirement age, Chatterton keeps going and at the pace of an energizer bunny.
“I suppose I’ve made a difference,” she said. “I know I’ve saved lives. That’s my passion.”
Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior consultant, national newspaper columnist and host of two national radio programs syndicated by Black Dog Radio Productions. He also appears on WGN Radio in Chicago. He’s a contributor to “Decoding Your Dog,” written by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
Originally published in the February 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!