The Star (St. Lucia) - - ANIMAL WELFARE - By Cat Foster

Taj Weekes - mu­si­cian, poet, hu­man­i­tar­ian, do­gowner and an­i­mal-lover - is now tack­ling an is­sue that has been trou­bling him since he was a child grow­ing up in Saint Lu­cia. Taj is or­gan­is­ing spay and neuter clin­ics for an­i­mals on 16th, 17th and 18th Oc­to­ber in the north of the is­land and in Soufriere.

Aside from his suc­cess­ful mu­sic ca­reer with the band Adowa, Taj is as­so­ci­ated with his work for un­der-priv­i­leged and needy chil­dren, es­pe­cially in the Caribbean. He has been ap­pointed by UNICEF as a ‘Cham­pion for Chil­dren’ and in 2007 he co-founded a not-for­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion: TOCO - They Of­ten Cry Out­reach - which is ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing the lives of Caribbean youth through sports, health and en­rich­ment pro­grammes. In 2012 the Saint Lu­cian gov­ern­ment be­stowed on Taj a Hu­man­i­tar­ian Award and this July he was a Distin­guished Ser­vice Award hon­oree of Pro­ject Ed­u­ca­tion, a New York-based or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps dis­ad­van­taged Saint Lu­cian fam­i­lies to ob­tain school sup­plies, at its fifth an­nual Break­fast for Ed­u­ca­tion.

Given that Taj is well known for his work with chil­dren, The STAR asked what inspired him to now turn his at­ten­tion to an­i­mals. His hon­est and in­ter­est­ing re­ply was: “Maybe it’s karma. I grew up in Saint Lu­cia; it may have been some­thing cul­tural but I don’t think we treated our an­i­mals well. I threw stones at the dogs, I kicked the dogs. But there was al­ways one in­ci­dent that stood out in my head, even while we were treat­ing the an­i­mals badly. There was a guy who used to come to our house; he had a dog and I re­mem­ber the dog get­ting hit by a car and I re­mem­ber him pick­ing it up and hold­ing on to it. There was blood all over his shirt and he was cry­ing. And I never un­der­stood why he cared about this dog so much and why it was that he was so un­like the rest of us; that we were there treat­ing dogs badly and this man cared so much about an an­i­mal. It kind of al­ways lin­gered in the back of my mind. And later I moved to North Amer­ica and I saw peo­ple with an­i­mals in their houses and I was thrown off by that - the dog lives in the house!

“I’ve been back to Saint Lu­cia a cou­ple of times and I’ve seen the dogs, and peo­ple mashing and kick­ing them and I’ve al­ways thought about do­ing some­thing about the dogs but chil­dren were my thing. Last year I was here with my fam­ily and it’s a funny story: we went to Gros Islet, to a res­tau­rant, and my son came over and asked, ‘Dad, can I have some money?’ and I gave him $20. He was gone for about five min­utes and he came back and asked for more money so I gave him another twenty. And soon I’m $80 deep and I’m think­ing ‘What are you do­ing with this money?’ And some­body came over to me and said, ‘Come see what your son is do­ing.’ And I came out and there were lit­er­ally about thirty dogs around him. He had bought chicken and bakes and he was feed­ing all the dogs and he was so happy about what he was do­ing.

“When we were leav­ing he asked me, ‘So what is go­ing to hap­pen to these an­i­mals?’ And I said that they were go­ing to re­main on the street. And he said, ‘What are we go­ing to do about that, Dad?’ And we got home and he was still ask­ing the same thing, ‘What are we go­ing to do about the dogs?’ So I de­cided to do some­thing about the dogs, and that’s what I’m now do­ing.”

Taj teamed up with the Caribbean Spay and Neuter Foun­da­tion and con­firms that twelve vets will visit Saint Lu­cia in Oc­to­ber to spay and neuter dogs, cats, even goats. Their ac­com­mo­da­tion for the du­ra­tion of the clinic has been se­cured through the gen­eros­ity of The Land­ings and Anse Chas­tanet re­sorts.

Last week, while in Saint Lu­cia, Taj in­vited Dr. Jenny Cenac-An­drews, vet­eri­nary sur­geon, to take the lo­cal lead. He also met with Pam De­vaux, Pres­i­dent of the Saint Lu­cia An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion So­ci­ety (SLAPS), so that the spay and neuter clin­ics can be or­gan­ised in con­junc­tion with their mem­bers and vol­un­teers.

The clinic venues have yet to be con­firmed. Taj has viewed var­i­ous prop­er­ties in the north of the is­land and in Soufriere to as­sess their suit­abil­ity for sur­gi­cal oper­a­tions and re­cov­ery but also as a po­ten­tial per­ma­nent shel­ter for an­i­mals.

The plan is to hold a fol­lowup ex­er­cise six months af­ter the clin­ics to check on their suc­cess, to con­sider other com­mu­ni­ties which would ben­e­fit from the spay and neuter pro­gramme, and to lay the foun­da­tion for the an­i­mal shel­ter.

Taj knows that it is hu­mans who have to speak on be­half of the an­i­mals. He is con­cerned about the lack of en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing laws for their wel­fare and pro­tec­tion and wants to see the laws here prop­erly im­ple­mented so that an­i­mals do not suf­fer. He also seeks to ed­u­cate and in­form so that the ways of his child­hood, when peo­ple knew no bet­ter than to kick an­i­mals and throw stones at them, will be erad­i­cated.

Fur­ther de­tails on the clinic venues will be an­nounced in Oc­to­ber.

Taj Weekes, Lu­cian-born mu­si­cian and hu­man­i­tar­ian, re­turns to our is­land to plan

spay and neuter clin­ics.

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