Island tourists swoon over stray puppies, many bring one home
When Brandon and Alyse Kay embarked on their honeymoon to the Turks and Caicos Islands, the last thing they expected was to bring a puppy home with them to Chicago.
“We had no intention of bringing a dog back,” said Brandon Kay. “Next thing I knew, I was carrying a dog through customs.”
The couples’ dog - whom they adopted in 2019 and named Blueberry because he was found under a berry bush - is one of thousands of puppies that a team of local volunteers have rescued and placed for adoption with tourists like the Kays.
“Our lives were changed forever,” said Brandon Kay, adding that, despite being born in a tropical climate, Blueberry adores the snow. “He is such a big part of who we are.”
Jane Parker-rauw is the founder and director of Potcake Place K9 Rescue. She started the nonprofit organization in 2004, but “I was rescuing dogs for probably about five years before that, just unofficially,” she said.
Brandon Kay said that his wife had heard about the charity before their trip, and she suggested they go visit the adoption center in Grace Bay to see the cute puppies.
The rescue group has a storefront in a busy shopping area, and tourists line up in the mornings to have a chance to take a pup on a walk on the beach. Sometimes the line snakes around the block.
Parker-rauw, who is originally from England, moved to the island in 1996 for a job in the spa industry. She initially signed on for a 12-month contract and ended up staying.
Soon after moving to Turks and Caicos, she noticed an abundance of stray dogs - called “potcakes” - roaming around. The name potcakes came about because locals regularly left out their cooking pots - which were caked with food remnants - for the dogs to eat, she said. Other Caribbean islands are known for having potcakes, too.
There was limited infrastructure and regulation in place to prevent the potcakes from excessively breeding. The result: tons of puppies, and not enough people to look after them.
“Just seeing the problem, I wanted to try to do something to help,” recalled Parker-rauw, who said she has always been an animal lover, although she had no experience working with dogs.
She began volunteering at the Turks and Caicos Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and would go door-to-door in residential areas to speak with locals about spay and neuter services. In many cases, the dogs had already started breeding.
“Every house came with six to 13 puppies, and the SPCA had nowhere to put them,” said Parker-rauw, whose job at the time was to have the puppies euthanized. “It wasn’t out of cruelty. They just had nowhere to put all these pups.”
Dogs that are not neutered or spayed can produce a line of thousands of puppies in the span of only a few years. Dogs as young as 6 months old can get pregnant and then have a litter of puppies, with an average of seven at a time, although some litters are larger. A single female dog can birth up to 70 puppies in her lifetime.
Those puppies - if not spayed and neutered - then go on to reproduce, too, and the number of potcakes expands exponentially.
Watching so many helpless potcake puppies die was painful for Parker-rauw.
“I understood why it had to be done,” she said. “But it didn’t sit too well with me.”
After successfully adopting out one puppy, “I decided, there’s a place for every potcake,” Parker-rauw said.
So she started Potcake Place - an all-volunteer staffed charity, which depends on donations to operate. A group of about 15 volunteers rescue the puppies - which they often find through the SPCA. Locals and tourists also alert them when they spot a litter, and people frequently leave boxes filled with abandoned puppies outside the adoption center.
At any given time, there are between 60 and 100 puppies and dogs under Potcake Place’s care. They are mostly fostered in local volunteer homes until they are adopted. On a yearly basis, the organization helps adopt about 500 dogs to people from the United States, Canada and elsewhere.
“We really care about where these pups go,” said Parker-rauw, adding that her team conducts a rigorous inspection before finalizing an adoption, which includes vet references and background checks. “We don’t want them ending up in shelters.”
“You can’t just come down here and pick out a puppy and take it home,” she added. “It’s a serious commitment, and we take it very seriously.”