Animal welfare in Rarotonga

Thursday October 19, 2017 Published in Letters to the Editor

Two years ago I arrived back in Rarotonga, back to my dream place where I had spent years loving school, sailing, playing and making lifelong friends.


I also arrived back to do a job that was dear to my heart, Animal Welfare.

Like the founder of Esther Honey, I also had a dog called Honey, and I lived around the road from where The Esther Honey Foundation is now situated.

My dog was also poisoned and died, and there were no vets on the island and I made a promise that I would always help animals wherever I could. So arriving back was a dream.

Or so I thought. After spending years and years in Tonga where there was no permanent animal welfare organisation (although it is now better than it was) Rarotonga was a breeze - beautiful dogs mainly well fed, friendly and intelligent.

I was thrown into the deep end when I got here and struggled to swim to the surface for the first few weeks, then it all seemed to come together and I felt privileged to be here and at ease with the locals and most foreigners, hoping I would make a difference.

After 15 months I left Esther Honey to help set up what was going to be a local clinic. I threw myself in and used every favour I’d built up over my years in animal welfare and tried my hardest but despite that it wasn’t what the board was after so I resigned, which hurt.

But this is not about me, it’s about animal welfare here. So now there are two clinics on the island plus the SPCA and there is definitely room for both clinics as they are offering similar services with the same objective, but at the same time very differently. Te Are Manu cannot have strays or dumped animals or any animals up for adoption and that is where Esther Honey excels.

Until recently, Esther Honey attracted a lot of volunteers from around the world but the number has fallen off. I have my theories on why, but I don’t want to get into the political arena.

For a long time, I thought Esther Honey possibly had had its day here but I’m now not convinced. As I said, there are differences on the way both clinics are run. I believe with all my heart that both clinics should have committees where the majority of members are involved and understand welfare and there are at least 50 per cent Cook Islanders on board.

I believe the money from donations should go back into animal welfare on the island, and not on surplus wages as it’s public money. If this was seen to happen the community would under its own free will support animal welfare.

I truly believe there has to be a strong “voice” and advocate for the welfare of animals here who is not afraid to speak out and go public. This is how things change and grow. Ultimately, it helps everyone and all animals.

Animal welfare is not about egos. It’s about passion, love, dedication and hard work with long hours, but also keeping a sense of balance taking into consideration culture and understanding.

I feel the SPCA needs strong leadership and accountability and objectives put in place. It’s very much needed here but there has to be unity amongst their hierarchy.

All three organisations need to remain separate but work for the welfare of all animals. But in order for them to do this we need laws put in place: Laws that take culture into account.

It’s no use fining someone thousands of dollars here, taking food out of families’ mouths. Instead, get perpetrators who violate laws to do animal service and make them apply to be able to “own” an animal again.

It would often break my heart handing back a dog that was so mistreated knowing the problem was actually band-aided and that was all. 

Education is a factor and I know this is done spasmodically, but it needs to be part of curriculum taught in schools with encouragement from teachers to get students to volunteer .This is not saying it needs to be done as ‘future’ job prospects but to learn empathy, care and love  for another sentient being. It’s proved working with animals cuts down on aggravation and aggression from children. 

Another area which Welfare is not winning in is desexing of dogs and the only way this will ever work is by bringing teams of vets to the island and having village desexing clinics , it is the only way it works throughout the pacific and in most developing cultures. Most dogs have never traveled in a car and often owners only have scooters so you go to the village and at the same time register which leads to another problem. The law states the $50 and $60 we pay for registration is a one off fee but there is some contention over that and it needs to be sorted .

I could go on and on but this is to say Meitaki Maata to everyone who supported me and my efforts . I’ve had so many people drop around and stop me expressing their sadness and saying goodbye. I loved my animal welfare time here and I hope it sorts its self out so the animals here get a fair deal. I leave my dream with a heavy heart and many tears but hope in my heart. So thanks for the support that I had even when I was on rolls trying to make things happen differently.

            Jo Taylor-Kupu

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