This month we interview Maureen Sheridan, operator of the Animal House the animal shelter located 8 miles outside of Ocho Rios. Founded in the 1990’s the shelter has been helping stray, injured, abandoned, and feral (wild) animals and their owners. They provide food, shelter, medical care (including spay and neuter), and adoptive services to both animals and owners in need. They are a charitable organization that runs on donations.
Q: What is The Animal House?
The Animal House is one of only two shelters in Jamaica and the only one on the north coast. It is also the only no-kill shelter on the island.
Q: When did you start it?
We began informally in 1996 and became a registered charity in 2003.
Q: Why did you start it?
I started it because there were so many animals in need on the north coast and no one was doing anything to help them.
Q: How many animals do you rescue per week?
It varies, some weeks there are none, other weeks there are 10-15.
Q: Can you explain to us a typical rescue? Does your team go out and find the animals? Do people bring in animals?
Most typical is people contacting us by telephone or via our website. We get many calls from tourists who become very distressed when they run into injured or sick stray animals and they will either call us while they are still in Jamaica or contact us as soon as they get home. Some of them ask us to rescue the animal and ship it to them because they want to adopt it. We also get local people dropping animals off in front of the shelter and driving away and we ourselves pick up any animal that we see who has been injured or otherwise needs care.
Q: Once the animals are healthy what happens to them? Can someone adopt them?
Yes, all of our animals are available for adoption
Q: Do you get many calls for adoptions?
Not many calls, but we do a lot of advertising
Q: Animals are sometimes treated cruelly in Jamaican culture? What do you do to education people on the treatment of animals?
We are planning eventually to start a humane education program in primary schools. Humane education not only helps the animals by teaching compassion and kindness to children, it has also been shown to reduce violence towards people in later life. There is a direct correlation between cruelty to animals and violence towards human beings. You have to address the problem early on.
Q: How as the attitude of Jamaicans to animals affected your efforts to rescue them?
Sometimes Jamaicans want money for an animal if they think that by claiming ownership of a stray they can “mek a money”. We have always managed not to do this, however. Other Jamaicans are very kind and try to help us. Not everyone in Jamaica hates animals.
Q: Do you have a memorable experience with an animal you rescued you can share with us?
One of the most memorable is an experience that just happened. A cruise ship passenger was on the island for only three hours and during that time went to Dunn’s River Falls. While there, she saw a pretty, little blonde stray dog at the bottom of the Falls and offered it some food. She also took the dog’s photograph. When she got home – she lives in Florida – she found us on the Internet and asked us to rescue the dog, whose name is now “Shaggy” and send her up to her in Fort Lauderdale. We rescued the dog a couple of weeks ago and she is now at our kennel awaiting her American Airlines flight which should be within the next ten days or so. This particular dog is a very special dog. As the manager of Dunn’s River Falls told me, Shaggy would meet the first tourists who arrived each morning and follow them to the bottom of the Falls. She would stay down at the bottom for the whole day, getting scraps of food from anyone who cared to feed her. At the end of the day she would actually climb the Falls with the last set of people climbing and then go with them to their bus and see them off. The employees of Dunn’s River Falls all knew Shaggy …their name for her? “Tour guide”.
Q: Do you plan to open more shelters around island?
We would love to but this one has to be financially stable before we branch out. If someone what to help what do you suggest they do?
Q: Do you have volunteers who help you run the shelter?
Volunteering is not part of the Jamaican culture. We currently have two students here frm Calgary. They have volunteered to help for the entire month of July. But, this is a very rare occurrence.
Q: Can visitors to the island volunteer for a day?
Absolutely. When are they coming!
Q: Where are you from originally?
Originally from England, but I have been in Jamaica 25 years.
Q: Is the shelter your full time job?
It is a full-time job, but I volunteer all of my time. My actual profession is a writer/producer. I am having trouble finding the time to write, however.
Q: You probably see more that enough suffering animals during the day. What do you do to relax when from a hard day?
I haven’t reached the point where I can relax. I have to keep going (like the Ever-ready bunny) to find enough funds to feed about 150 animals every day. Haven’t had a day off in over five years.
Q: If someone would like to help what should hey do?
The best thing anyone can do is donate (and I should mention that 100% of all donations goes directly to the animals), but failing that we are appreciative of any help – supplies, volunteering, fundraising assistance,etc.
Q: Thanks for the interview. Any final words for the readers on Jamaicans.com?
Final words – If you love animals, and if you love Jamaica, please help us. Donations can be made via our website through Paypal or mailed to us. If you can’t donate, but can send supplies we also are always in need of almost everything. And if you can’t do either of the above, please just spread the word of our work. Our animals are worth it!