Humane Society In Cozumel-How Expats Make A Difference

American tourists and expats are often accused of being colonists, trying to make wherever they end up just like home. People often ask, why do you ever leave home if every other place comes up short?  I have met this type of tourist, the kind that can never blend in and enjoy a new environment.  They complain loudly, and never realize how boorish they appear to everyone else. 
There are other kinds of traveller though.  The ones who are happy to blend in and take advantage of cheap labor and never make any kind of contribution to their new environment.  Thank goodness there is also the kind of person who sees the good and bad in a place and loves the place so much that they can’t resist introducing something from home that will help make the place better for everyone.
In my travels, I have met several expats who have embraced their new home to such a degree that they make significant contributions to society, and a friend I made in Cozumel is a perfect example.  Lisa moved to Cozumel in 1991, opened a restaurant and began a long journey as an activist and philanthropist that would challenge her resolve again and again.

 Dog Eat Dog World

The Humane Society of Cozumel was founded in 1993 by Karla Porter.  Lisa was active in the organization from the beginning, but by the time I met her in 1998 she was running the show, mostly out of her own pocket.  In 1995, they received a grant from the Mexican Government which they used to finance the building of a two room clinic/shelter, and covering the cost of some equipment.  When they opened, they had no electricity, 24 kennels, one vet, and one kennel worker.  The island had a lot of street dogs but what really horrified the group that banded together to form the Humane Society, was seeing the dogs at the dump.  There were so many of them, and they were in such bad shape and so hungry that as some died they would be eaten by survivors.
They immediately began a free spay/neuter program on the island, and over 4000 animals have been spayed/neutered so far.  This has been a big challenge in a culture that believes the animal has the right to remain intact.  One of their goals has been to educate the community to help create better pet parents.  Their determination has greatly lowered the dog and cat population on the island by preventing litters.
They now have a full time staff of 7 and are able to care for over 60 dogs and more than 100 cats at a time.  They receive about 40 animals a month.

Take Home A Meximutt

Before a trip to Cozumel check out the Humane Society’s website and see if you can bring down any much needed supplies.  Anyone can volunteer for half a day at the shelter and clinic.  There is also a visiting vet program which is supported by local businesses.  In return for their help in the clinic visiting vets get discounted accommodation, scuba diving, and meals.  Tourists are also encouraged to adopt dogs from Cozumel.  The Humane Society has worked out all the paperwork to make it easy for people to travel home with their adopted animals.  Though some worry about the language barrier in a foreign adoption, the Spanish speaking dogs seem to adapt well when immersed in a home where only English is spoken.

How The Locals and Expats Get Involved

While I was living there, I attended many fundraisers for the Humane Society.  The annual gala became a society event on the island, and was probably what brought the locals and expat community together.  We also donated boxes of things to the garage sales that were held to help raise money to keep the organization afloat.  In a place where so many people are struggling to survive it is a huge challenge to get people to care about animals.  Lisa continues to be a champion of the furry islanders who don’t have a voice.


L. Evans writes about travel and has worked in the design and implementation of translation tools.