Alison Sawyer Current cares for abandoned dogs and tries to find them homes in the U.S. and Canada

By Lorenzo Benet
August 03, 2009 09:25 PM

With its sandy white beaches, crystal-clear water, and 80-degree year-round temperatures, Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, was just the type of winter getaway that appealed to artist Alison Sawyer Current and her husband, Jeff.

So in 2001, the Boulder, Colo., empty-nesters packed up their bags and moved into a small house they had built on the island community, an old fishing village measuring five miles in length and a half-mile in width. The picturesque island boasts numerous hotels and vacation condos and supports a population of 15,000 residents. But soon after Alison and Jeff moved in they noticed the island had a major problem with stray dogs. “Packs of wild dogs roamed the beach, they’d get riled up and bite a tourist,” she tells PEOPLE Pets.

That’s when the government would move in. With no formal spay-and-neutering programs, and a pervasive attitude among residents that dogs were more like property instead of pets, animal control would routinely round up the dogs, and according to Current, exterminate them brutally, by electrocution or poison. “It was disgusting,” says Current, 56.

According to Current, dog owners on the island carelessly bred their pets and then just abandoned them if they got sick. “Having a litter of puppies might be exciting at first; they’re cute and cuddly but they grow up and need to eat and be cared for,” she says.

Her solution? Current responded by starting an unofficial humane society called Isla Animals, an ongoing spay/neuter, education, vaccination and adoption service that has been in operation since 2002. During much of the year, her home set on a half-acre lot is a shelter for up to 40 dogs, whom she attempts to match with owners in the U.S., Mexico and her native Canada (Current was born in Ontario) with the aid of five rescue organizations. “I’m thrilled when someone brings me a dog instead of just dumping it on the street,” she says. “It shows we’re having an impact.”

Current funds her program, which has found homes for more than 2,000 dogs, with savings and private donations as well as sales from her novel, No Urn for the Ashes, a self-published thriller set in Mexico and Colorado that’s available on Amazon.com. “We work hard to educate the residents,” she says.

Enlisting the help of a couple of local veterinarians, Current began a spay/neuter and vaccination program. “If someone brings us a sick dog we clean it up, vaccinate and try to return them. We speak to children in the schools and provide coloring books showing them how to take care of their pets,” she says.

The good news is her efforts are helping improve the lives of animals on the island, at least compared to when she arrived. Current was honored with the 2005 Doris Day Animal Kindred Spirit Award and she even has been consulted by Mexico City animal rescue organizations about animal overpopulation in the country.

But there have been setbacks as well. Hurricane Wilma hit the island in 2005 and damaged Current’s home. Though it still needs repairs, she and her husband are choosing instead to devote much of their income to the animals. “We put off fixing our windows because we want to help the dogs and find them homes,” she says. “I don’t know how much longer we can keep going this way.”

For more information about Current’s organization, go to Islaanimals.org. And click here to become friends with Alison Sawyer Current on PEOPLE Pets.

Meet more inspiring members on PEOPLE Pets:
Meet a Member: All Breeds Welcome at Molly’s Mutts and Meows Rescue
Seattle Rescue Group Gives Rescued Horses & Troubled Teens a Second Chance

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