BRIDGETOWN, N.S. - When Cheryl Ponee goes to Cuba, she takes treats for the dogs. Lots of treats.
In fact, the last time she was in Varadero, in September, she had a large suitcase and an oversized dog crate filled with toys, food, medication, leashes and collars. She got some looks at the airport.
“I think the stars were aligned that day because I had to go to the kiosk to get checked in and the WestJet agent had looked in the crate and wondered why I didn’t have a dog in there and asked what was all the stuff,” Ponee said. “I explained to her about Cuban Dog Tales Rescue and what we do. She ended up getting her phone out and showing me the dog she rescued from the Dominican Republic … She could relate to what I was doing and she was able to get all our bags checked in with no issue.”
Ponee, who lives in Kingston, is also a member of the RCMP out of Bridgetown and works with youth as part of her job. But what takes her to Cuba is fitness.
“I work part time for a company out of Ontario called Energy To Go and I look after 10 resorts in Cuba placing fitness and yoga instructors, so I go to Cuba quite frequently and have been for years,” she said.
Her friends in Cuba soon realized her passion for animals was as great as her passion for fitness and she’s been called Doctor Doolittle more than once because during breakfast, supper, or eating out she was always feeding stray dogs.
It was something Danielle Speirs of Ontario was doing - but on a bigger scale.
Fell In Love
“My first trip to Cuba was in October of 2014 and it was during my stay on a resort that a very skinny stray made her way around the pool area right to myself and my husband,” Speirs said. “We were not there even 10 minutes from arriving that she bee-lined for us. During our stay she came everywhere with us, chasing the golf cart we took to the beach area ... waiting outside our room everyday.”
“It was one of the hardest moments for me to leave her behind,” Speirs said. “The moment the wheels of the plane lifted off the runway I cried and vowed I would find a way to get her to Canada.”
After weeks of trying via email and a translator program she found somebody in Cuba to help and the stray was finally rescued.
Speirs started Cuban Dog Tales Rescue with two priorities: getting supplies to Cuba to help veterinarians and animal protectors so they can help strays with sickness, injuries, and disease, and to support sterilization programs. Secondly, she wanted to help tourists, who like herself, found a dog or cat they wanted to adopt.
It didn’t take any convincing to get Ponee involved.
“When I came back after a trip last fall, I stumbled across this Facebook page about this Cuban dog rescue,” Ponee said. “I reached out to her (Speirs) and asked if there was any way I could help her. I brought stuff down the first trip and ever since then I’ve been bringing more and more, doing fundraising and creating awareness of this.”
Ponee already helps animals at home in Nova Scotia.
She’s fundraised for Companion Animal Protection Society and is a big supporter of the SPCA.
“It’s just that here at least they have a hope,” Ponee said, “where down there, the Cubans are so poor they have a hard time feeding themselves let alone the stray animals.”
Cuban strays lack just about everything. If you go on the Cuban Dog Tales Rescue Facebook Page under ‘Notes,’ it will list some of the things they need more than others, especially anything to do with tick or flea medication.
“Even if they have the money down there they don’t have the facilities to buy it, so they rely on supplies from Canada,” Ponee said. “Anything like bandages, Polysporin, cortisone, any anti-pain medications, glucosamine, vitamins, that kind of stuff for the dogs. Leashes, crates, collars, anything. It’s all listed on the Facebook Page if people are interested in donating.”
And, “if there are vets around here that have medication that’s about to expire, or they’re not using it anymore, or the package is ripped, we will take all that,” Ponee said.
Through Speirs’ connections, Ponee works with a veterinarian in Cardenas, Cuba, and with an animal protector and rescuer in Varadero, Cuba.
She’s going back in December and supplies are already accumulating. She’s going to a different part of Cuba in the spring and is already collecting stuff for that trip too.
“Because they’re really in desperate need of stuff on that part of the island.”
Ponee said the Cuban people appreciate what she’s doing.
“It makes my heart full to do this. I can’t even explain how gracious they are and how thankful they are when I go there,” she said. “It’s just something I’ll continue to do. Whenever I get back I’m already saving for the next trip.”