Dogs & Cats Find a Temporary Home in an Island Shelter
Olivia Munteanu was once homeless in Italy and a man offered her a job. She remembers this as a life changing experience and now Olivia gives back to the abandoned and neglected creatures of the island. “I wanted to change the world and I changed a world for a few animals,” says Olivia, 51, who runs the only animal shelter on Roatan.
In 2006 Olivia, born in Rumania, and her business partner Marc Heffern moved from Cozumel to Roatan to start up a aquatic activities business in West Bay. Two years later they decided to launch a tourist photography enterprise that would employ young islanders interested in helping island animals. The profits from the photo business would for the running expenses of an animal shelter. Their Roatan Animal Shelter [RAS] was the first such facility that the island had ever seen.
Today, seven boys work with the photo business and one of them, Kevin Antunez, age 25, is receiving a Brazilian government scholarship to the Veterinary School at the University of Sao Paolo. He is half way through its six year program. “I want to perform surgeries on the island to stabilize the animal population there,” Kevin says. “It’s not just the animals, it’s about the humans. We are raising a new generation of compassionate Hondurans,” says Olivia.
In 2017 Olivia worked with Honduran Animal protection organization AHPRA to pass the country’s first animal protection laws. “Now dog fights are illegal. Police can intervene when there is abuse,” she says. “People who are compassionate towards animals are compassionate towards other human beings.”
Many dogs have scars from machetes, acid and other abuse
In 2017 RAS found homes for 17 dogs and 10 cats and since its inception over 100 dogs and 100 cats have been rescued by its volunteers. “A dog shelter should be a temporary place for animals,” says Olivia.
The most sick dogs end up first at Olivia’s house and when they are back to being healthy they are moved to the shelter. The shelter’s location remains hidden to prevent people from abandoning their dogs there. Olivia explained that many people contact her the evening before leaving the island ready to surrender their animal.
The shelter is a concrete building with two small apartments for volunteers and two running pens for dogs. The 25 sheltered dogs bark and howl seeing Olivia coming. The back fence has caved in from a mudslide and the conditions are primitive to say the least. “This is a hard core volunteer place,” says Olivia.
After a decade of helping the dogs and cats on the island Olivia have seen just about everything. Many dogs have scars from machetes, acid and other abuse, but they are well fed, with shiny coats and plenty of energy. “Helping Hondurans is an art. You cannot impose your values, but you still want to help, and you have to treat people with dignity,” says Olivia. “Dogs are amazing: once you help them they recover their strength quickly”.
There are other individuals helping K9s and cats on the island. Kathie Schupe has been helping to bring three to four veterinary volunteer groups to the island every year. “On a regular basis three people on the island give me some money or food,” says Olivia. “There is the $700 rent, veterinary bills, food. Unless we get help from the outside we will not be able to continue,” she says desperately.