Haiti children

Children at the Haiti Children orphanage in Williamson, Haiti, with puppies that the program’s founder hopes can be relocated to Aspen.

A local woman who runs an orphanage in Haiti is seeking the Aspen community’s help to rescue dogs that live on the grounds, after a number of the dogs were poisoned or killed by villagers who saw them as competition for food.

Susie Krabacher, co-founder and CEO of Haiti Children, and her partner in the effort, Anne Cooley of Aspen Animal Hospital, are hoping someone reading this article will donate a flight on a private jet to pick up 22 dogs — eight of which are 7-month-old puppies. They also are looking for households willing to adopt the dogs, which are described as a smaller version of a mix between a German shepherd and a Labrador.

The dogs are “anxious but not aggressive in any way,” Krabacher said.

All but one or two have lived their entire lives at Haiti Children’s 18-acre campus in a rural area north of Port Au Prince. They have received documented veterinary care and except for the puppies are immunized.

“We have taken care of them in a good way,” she said.

Cooley noted that because the dogs have grown up around children, they are well socialized.

“I think it is going to be an easier transplant into a family than a lot of dogs that are completely off the street,” said Cooley, who is the principal doctor at Aspen Animal Hospital.

Aspen Animal Hospital will also donate initial medical needs, including immunizations for the puppies, spay and neuter procedures and health checks.

Krabacher has been working with Haitian orphans for 25 years and spends a week to 10 days each month in the country, she said. The orphanage took in its first dog after the 2010 earthquake and they have become a well-loved part of life on the campus. The dogs have aided in helping the 162 resident children thrive and learn compassion, she added.

Conditions have deteriorated around the campus, however, with hunger, driven by record inflation, and political violence becoming a fact of life in the rural area.

Many of the villagers in the area known as Williamson cannot understand why dogs would be given food that humans could eat, Krabacher said.

Thus, the pets can be seen as a threat. Haiti Children opens up the campus to the community when shipments of rice and beans arrive, for medical checkups and for church services.

Krabacher believes it was during a church service in January 2018 that a villager, whom she described as a voodoo practitioner, fed rat-poison-laced meat to six of the dogs. Five did not survive.

The same thing happened again this January and two dogs were killed.

In another instance, an elderly woman threw a rock at a dog that was coming toward her food and the animal did not survive.

Combined with increasing political violence due to battles involving gang members who have migrated to the area and are working for an opposition government group, Krabacher decided that it was time to get the dogs out of there. The children and staff at the facility are safe, she emphasized, but with so many people coming and going and pervasive cultural attitudes toward the animals, security for the dogs cannot be guaranteed, she said.

It has been difficult for the kids, who have come to love the dogs, but they recognize that the dogs are at risk, Krabacher said. The idea of the dogs being relocated to an area like Aspen has become appealing to the kids, she said.

Krabacher added that she does not do any adoptions of the children to the U.S., though she once did. That changed after the earthquake, when there was a large outflow of kids being adopted out of the county. Krabacher said she focuses her programing now on providing an education for the kids in the hopes that they will stay in the country, go into fields such as medicine, engineering or politics and raise their own families to break the cycle of poverty.

Among the prerequisites for which Cooley will be screening potential adoptive families is a willingness to maintain contact with the orphanage, providing pen-pal-like updates to the kids on their dogs’ new lives.

Other requirements are a home with a yard or a willingness to get the dogs outside regularly, as well as the financial wellbeing to take care of the dogs long term, Cooley said.

“It’s kind of like dating,” she joked. “Do you have a car, a job, the ability to supply food?”

The Haiti dog rescue project is building on a new initiative of the Aspen Animal Hospital, which recently launched a charitable fund to provide veterinary care for people suffering financial hardship. Tax-deductible donations to an account supporting the local hospital run through the American Veterinary Medical Foundation are already being used in the effort and Cooley is hoping to grow the program. More information is available at the Aspen Animal Hospital website.

“I am trying to let the community know that we have amazing doctors, amazing programs and we want to give back,” she said.

Cooley said it is not lost on her that this is a major effort on behalf of a few dozen dogs when there are so many in the world in tough situations.

“But I feel that Susie is committed to the dogs and these people, so we will do what we can and see if we can save this batch,” she said.

Those seeking more information on adoption or who are interested in helping with transportation can email Cooley at aecooley@outlook.com.

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.