Alison Sawyer Current has transformed Isla Mujeres by providing over 20,000 free spay/neuter procedures for the island's stray pets

By Diane Herbst and Eileen Finan
January 22, 2021 09:00 AM

When Alison Sawyer Current visited the small island of Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun, Mexico for a month-long vacation 25 years ago, she was shocked by what she discovered. 

"Puppies were everywhere, coming out of the bushes and along the sides of the road," Current, 67, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, on newsstands now.  "They were mangy and covered with fleas and ticks and scars."

"It was sad," she adds of the numerous stray dogs she encountered. "There was so much need. I just couldn't stand to watch it."

So the artist from Boulder, Colorado decided to help. Current built a home on Isla Mujeres in 2000 and started created clinics on the island, where the area's homeless dogs could be spayed and neutered.

Over the years, more than 20,000 dogs and cats have been spayed/neutered at these clinics, which also provide free veterinary care to the pets of Isla Mujeres. Current first covered the operation costs of these clinics with about $1 million from her stock portfolio and then through donations. And with help from a cadre of volunteers, she has also found homes for over 2,000 homeless animals.

Isla animals
Credit: Courtesy Alison Sawyer Current

"I admire her so much," says veterinarian Arturo Dzul Leon, 35, of Cancun, who has worked several days a week on Isla Mujeres since 2009 performing veterinary care for Current's nonprofit, Isla Animals.

"When she started it was a mess, you could find cats, dogs in front of every business," he continues. "It was so terrible. But now it's so different. She is really doing a great job."

The streets are virtually clear of homeless pets, and wild dogs no longer exist, says Leon, adding that when he started on the island 12 years ago, "we counted 14 cats and seven dogs per person. Now you can find 3.7 cats per person and 1.8 dogs per person."

Isla Animals' Facebook page contains story after story about malnourished, sad-looking dogs and their heartwarming transformations once Current and her team stepped in and to help.

Isla animals
Credit: Courtesy Alison Sawyer Current

George, found in 2016 in a jungle near Cancun, was "sad and underfed," Current says. At the forever home Isla Animals found him in Minnesota he's "loved." 

And then there is Riley, who was skin and bones when he was found in a parking lot. Now, he hikes mountains with his family in Canada.

Isla animals

Each year the group re-homes more than 170 pets, most flying with volunteers to families in the U.S. and Canada. 

In 2019 while vacationing on Isla Mujeres, Sandra Gray of Ontario, Canada, discovered Current and her work. After browsing the Isla Animals Facebook page, Gray fell in love with a little white puppy, and in October her husband flew to the island to bring Taffy home. "Alison," says Gray, "has a really good heart."

While Current has not spent as much time as she usually does on the island this past year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, she is running things remotely from Boulder. 

"There's nothing in the world," she says, "like finding a starving dog, getting it to good health, and finding it a loving home."

To learn more about Current's heartwarming work, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.