Milton’s Lene Oest is a frequent traveller to the Caribbean. A few years ago, through a woman doing work with stray animals in the Bahamas, Oest saw a photograph of a malnourished, injured dog. The dog had been rescued from an abandoned factory in Nassau, with the remnants of a chain still around his neck. He was named Link by his rescuers.
Potcakes: this is what the locals call stray dogs. A Potcake is the scrapings from the bottom of a rice pot. Says Oest, “Islanders make little cakes and throw them to strays.” The Bahamian rescuers were in desperate need of supplies and donations; often personally supplying veterinary care, medications, and all the implements needed to restore stray dogs to health. Upon hearing about the rescue efforts of individuals in many Caribbean nations, Oest says this was a call to action for her and her daughter.
She founded the group Miltonians Helping Island Potcakes. “When people travel, they open up to other people. I didn’t realize the extent of the rescues out there, how many animals are in need.” In places like the Bahamas, certain things are impossible to get or very expensive. Miltonians Helping Island Potcakes became a grassroots means of collecting badly-needed items, as well as forming a network, of travellers to the Caribbean that bring along suitcases filled with donated items. The movement has proven effective and popular, inspiring donations from airlines like WestJet who know about the program and help out where they can.
Today, Miltonians Helping Island Potcakes has helped to connect rescuers with veterinary care, medications, and the everyday supplies needed to maintain the health of animals, some of whom end up fostered and eventually adopted in Canada. Oest has a Potcake in the family, named Harley. There is a lot of paperwork, and the logistics of rescuing dogs and bringing them to Canada can be daunting. With distemper in the islands and other illnesses, dogs must be at least six months of age before being eligible for outside adoption. Oest has always been an animal lover; she has always had dogs. But she says that she too didn’t see the problem until her eyes were opened to it. She had seen stray dogs while travelling but she “hadn’t thought anything of it” until she learned more about the situation.
People sometimes ask Oest, why not help at home? “That’s a tough one. I know the Oakville Humane Society has a lot of dogs. But we don’t see them running in the streets, starving, dying in the streets like in the islands. We don’t see that here.”
The biggest challenge for the group is that each suitcase costs a lot of money to send. Having had a business for years (Oest owned a restaurant), Oest still has a hard time asking for donations. So she often covers the cost of suitcases when the airlines don’t donate their fees. “People are good at donating stuff. Medicinal stuff, and donated things. Food is too heavy to transport, but the food is also a problem because of importing rules around food products.” Therefore, cash donations are used to purchase food. Medications are particularly important and hard to come by such as treatments and preventatives for conditions like heartworm, fleas and tick-borne illnesses, ear wipes, alcohol wipes, rubber gloves, bandages and ointments. Rescuers frequently have to treat animals injured or sick in the street.
Link is doing well! Oest made a pilgrimage to visit him and he is happy and healthy. With summer approaching, on some Saturday mornings, Oest will be raising money for potcakes by setting up garage or bake sales in her driveway in downtown Milton to raise money for supplies.