Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Rescuing the Roatan Rescue

Some of the bigger pens house over 20 dogs.

Dogs, Cats and Horses in Dire Straits, Again

In the middle of July, a group of animal lovers on Roatan discovered a grim situation: 350 dogs, 200 cats, and seven horses were crammed into 17 dog pens, with 10 to 20 dogs per pen, inside a wooden two-story home on the Politilly property. The sickest animals were confined to cages.

Facing this dire circumstance, a dedicated group of volunteers led by Tanya Walter, who moved to Roatan two years ago, took action. “I have the skills and I can help,” Walter said.

The shelter, currently staffed by eight volunteers, is in desperate need of resources. Animal crowding, incessant barking, and foul odors create stressful conditions for both animals and humans. The weekly food bill alone amounts to $3,000, not including additional costs for medical care, supplies, and medications.

Many of the dogs have never left the shelter, according to Kimberly Gow, a volunteer with veterinary training. “Some [dogs] have been locked up in pack situations for years,” said Gow. “I’ve met animals that have never left this shelter. I have one at my home right now.” Gow took in a small dog that has never seen anything else. “He doesn’t know what anything is right now. He doesn’t know what stairs are; he doesn’t know what a house is. He has no idea,” she says.

The crisis was foreseeable. Janessa Baar, founder of Roatan Rescue, was evicted from the Politilly property a year ago but chose to ignore the eviction. The local community, initially unhappy with the shelter, has since come around. “They realized we are here to help the situation other than making it worse,” said Gow. “They started to pitch in to help us.”

The volunteers have improved the situation since mid July when things were completely out of control “The dogs would get outside of the fences and run around the neighborhood,” said Walter. “It was not a sustainable situation.”

According to shelter volunteers, Janessa Baar, the founder of Politilly’s Roatan Rescue, has lost interest in the facility. “The owner had left the island and didn’t seem to be coming back,” said Gow. Communication between Roatan Rescue volunteers and Baar has been sporadic.

Baar is a colorful character who has shared her life story on social media, claiming a past addiction to drugs before finding Christianity and founding Roatan Rescue. “God is the reason RR started, and He has not brought us this far to only come this far,” Baar wrote on social media in 2021.

The shelter faces a bumpy road.

The current state of Roatan Rescue raises questions about whether the project failed due to incompetence, poor planning, bad luck, or if it was merely a vehicle to raise money. Paya Magazine reached out to Baar for comment but received no response.

Roatan Municipal Council member Nidia Webster has filed a police report against Janessa Baar and expressed strong opinions on social media. “Janessa Baar came to Roatan using the name of God and defenseless animals to line her pockets with thousands of dollars by brainwashing people out of their hard-earned cash,” Webster wrote.

The shelter faces a bumpy road as stray dogs and cats remain in limbo on Roatan. “Technically, it’s illegal to run an animal shelter here,” said Walter. “There’s a law stating you can’t euthanize an animal for population control.” While each Honduran municipality is responsible for stray dogs, existing laws offer no guidance on how to manage them.

Sammy Cortés, chief of the Sanitation and Health Department for Roatan Municipalities, acknowledges that the island lacks laws or strategies for managing abandoned or suffering animals. “It’s difficult to manage strays without laws,” Cortés said. He referred to the 2022 “Plan de Arbitros,” which the municipality follows for its operations. The closest relevant law, Article 148, paragraph 4, pertains only to vagrant cows and horses, which are to be picked up by the municipality, held for three days, and then auctioned off. The municipal law offers no guidance on how to handle abandoned or sick dogs and cats that have no economic value.

Shelter volunteers believe that focusing on adoptions is the key to resolving the issue. The program has already seen success, with 16 adoptions occurring on September 12 alone. The most significant adoption effort to date came from Mrs. Leah of Milton Bight, who adopted 16 dogs—one for each of her children and grandchildren. “She’s going to have her grandchildren collect garbage to pay the adoption fee,” said Gow.

As of mid-September, 76 dogs and cats have been adopted from the shelter. “These are significant numbers, but we have many more animals,” said Gow. Additionally, five animals have been re-homed. Andrea Izaguirre, from Jasper Animal Shelter in Utila, has taken 10 cats from the island.

Focusing on adoptions is the key to resolving the issue.

In another positive development, all seven horses housed at the shelter were relocated to a farm in Big Bight on September 13. Despite these successes, the shelter still faces overwhelming challenges. “It’s chaos. We have a plan, but it changes daily based on new issues we encounter,” Gow added.

The major adoption initiative is still in the planning stages. The volunteer group aims to assess, microchip, and vaccinate all animals to launch a full-scale adoption campaign by mid-October. “The strategy is to bring the animals to communities, churches, and schools. That way, people don’t have to come to us; we go to them,” said Walter.

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