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Local heroes helping animals in hurricane-ravaged Caribbean

From South Coast Today

As residents of the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda struggle desperately to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, a small group of islanders is trying to care for thousands of starving and sick animals and also working to curb the escalating problem of pet overpopulation and animal mistreatment in the tropical paradise.

Lakeville resident Julia Dixon and her friend Sharon Gerson of Middleboro recently partnered with Dogs and Cats of Antigua Inc., a nonprofit group established in Antigua to help animals across the islands in distress and to provide assistance for the welfare and protection of dogs and cats on the island through feeding, veterinary care, spaying and neutering, fostering and rehoming.

The two women, along with friends Karen Cook and Abbie Rennie, traveled to Antigua last October with four large crates of pet food and veterinary supplies and helped to care for the countless dogs and cats searching for food and shelter on the island.

Dixon is the owner of Pet Recess, Inc. in Lakeville, while Gerson operates K9 Camp and Resort in Middleboro.

“We went to try to help with the situation,” Dixon said, adding that when the four women arrived on the island, the inhabitants were “reeling” from the destruction. Since 95 percent of Barbuda was destroyed, there was a mandatory human evacuation and all animals, including cattle, horses and goats, were abandoned.

“It was a terrible, disgraceful situation,” she recalls. “People who saw it were sickened.”

Dixon adds that as she and her friends traveled across Antigua, they witnessed horrific scenes of starving animals covered with fleas, ticks and mange. Most of the dogs suffered from heartworm.

According to Dixon, the humanitarian program is coordinated by volunteers Joy Farrell and Mary Harris, former British residents who now live in Antigua. A small corps of supporters works diligently to care for the animals but medications and food are still in short supply and bottled water, which must be imported, is expensive and is a rare commodity.

“These animals are just dying everywhere,” Dixon said, labeling the situation as one of “crisis proportion.”

When the two women learned of the desperate situation last October, Gerson established a Go Fund Me page to help raise funds for the five-day trip.

“Both of our businesses helped to fund the trip,” Dixon said, adding that the money was used to purchase dog and cat food and much-needed veterinary supplies.

“My clients have been very generous in supporting the cause,” she said.

According to Dixon, the four volunteers brought six puppies from Antigua that received medical certification to be shipped out the country. Each dog was spayed or neutered and received complete veterinary care. The dogs were fostered and subsequently were rehomed. Owners were charged $250 to cover the cost of transport from the island and veterinary care.

Dogs and Cats of Antigua, Inc., brought an additional five dogs to Massachusetts since October and transports the canines, which must be accompanied by an owner, to Boston, where Dixon or Gerson are picked up at the airport and brought to Lakeville or Middleboro to receive medical care and find a new home.

“Every dog I’ve brought over has been incredibly sweet,” Dixon said, adding that she hopes to continue to travel to the island to help these deserving animals.

The organization is selling calendars for help support the important mission. The cost is $10 and are available at: Pet Recess Inc., 36 Main Street, Lakeville. For more information, email: [email protected] or visit the website:

IMAGE: Max and Paris born in Antigua get a second chance

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