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On the Island Since… 2003, Marlies Tiepel

Marlies Charlie and volunteers
Shelter volunteers Kenneth, Melody, ”Charlie,” Wanda, Akkie with Marlies

“I came here because I felt like a bit more ‘oxygen’ in my life – more freedom. I don’t know, we just went! In Holland I’d studied cultural anthropology and ended up on the marketing side. In my first job I was the boss of a development corporation foundation. That was kind of special – being a woman and the youngest person on the team. I was only 29. I did that for a couple of years, then I started working for the Ministry of Economic Affairs as an account manager in the patents field and during the same time we had a furniture shop.

I didn’t see the move to Bonaire as an adventure – that sounds so silly – but it was a lot of paperwork and there were lots of boxes to pack and unpack. I began renting holiday homes here, but after a while that takes care of itself and you’re only busy with tourists. It doesn’t make you feel part of the community and everything that’s going on in it.
After a year I was asked by Michelle, who was working for the  Animal Shelter, if I wanted to join the team. I started immediately.

When the previous manager, left I was asked by the board to take over. I was eager to make changes. I wanted to give the Shelter a friendlier face – more open so that everyone – visitors, people who are looking for a pet, people who don’t want their pet anymore – would feel welcome. We changed the opening hours so that people could come in the afternoon and on Saturdays as well. Publicity is another important issue. You have to keep the public informed about everything that’s going on, and we’re doing that through the local media. We also invite schools to come for a visit.

We upgraded and promoted the pet boarding facility and we  turned the team and the volunteers into a close-knit group of people. The Shelter depends a great deal on those  volunteers. We couldn’t do without them. These people keep us going, they are very much involved and reliable and we can absolutely count on them – they are irreplaceable.

We also have a very active and supportive board, loyal and generous sponsors, and one of our most appreciated co-workers is Kenneth Piar, who’s been with the Shelter for over 15 years! He’s an easy going guy, always in a good mood and has a natural talent when it comes to dealing with animals. He’s never been bitten by a dog! But I was! I feel that a civilized country should treat their animals in a civilized way… but in 2009 the Shelter had to euthanize almost 1,000 animals. That’s a horrible and sad number and it never happened before. I just can’t accept it and so a change has to come. Our primary goal is to shelter animals and to put them up for adoption, but the reality is very different. In 2009, almost 100 animals were left at the Shelter  every month, 75% of them dogs. Imagine… 100 animals per month. That’s about three or four per day, seven days a week. And for a small island like Bonaire with 15,000 inhabitants that’s way too much! Of course we would love to be a no-kill shelter, but the circumstances won’t let us. What should we do? We can’t release the sick, mentally disturbed or wounded animals back on the streets. They would die of starvation, they would be killed by cars or by each other and people wouldn’t be safe either. The main reason that so many  cats and dogs are dumped by their owners is that people don’t want to or cannot take responsibility for their pets. Sometimes it’s a matter of money, but most of the time it’s negligence; people just don’t care enough. They leave their pets when they move to another location. They let them get pregnant every time they’re in heat and they let them roam the streets by themselves. Or they lock them up in a crate for life, put them on a chain and never let them loose. Then after a year or so the animal goes mad and becomes a threat or loses all interest in life and then they don’t want it anymore. And then there’s also abuse and starvation and many diseases that will kill the animal eventually.

There are a lot of prejudicial opinions as to who is to blame, but let me tell you something. People from every background or origin are capable of doing such things. It’s a personal thing; it’s about responsibility and respect for all living creatures; it’s about seeing life in a  positive way. It’s not about culture! Over the last years the Shelter has worked very hard to drastically reduce the number of animals that have been left there. We started with an educational program about how to take proper care of your pets, and through various media we’re also informing people about all kinds of issues concerning animals. We started a ‘sarna’ mange project because there was an explosion of  mange all over the island. For five months we went to inject dogs at people’s houses three weeks in a row for free.  This year we will do it again. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it does help  and people get to know us. Last year in May we began an active castration and sterilization program, ‘Bonny, the Superdog,’ through which people can have their pet sterilized for free. Since May 2009 more than 400 pets have been sterilized. And we’re trying to increase the number of adoptions by finding new owners for the Shelter animals as soon as possible. Therefore 2009 gave us another record: more than 209 adoptions! We are not doing this all by ourselves; we’re working with several animal organizations on the island like STINAPA, the Animal Welfare committee, the local veterinarians and the island’s dog trainer.

But to decrease the number of dogs and cats that end up at the Shelter and the number of animals that we have to put to sleep, we need all the help we can get from the people who live here and from the government as well.  The government especially has an important role to fulfill. They are the only ones who can revive the job of the dog catcher. LVV, the agricultural department, took care of this job for years – picking up stray dogs from the streets or unwanted dogs from people who didn’t have transport – but they  stopped doing it because of internal reorganization. We took over; we didn’t get paid; we didn’t have the car. We used our own cars, gasoline and spare time because the government had promised us the job and the car and because there was a tremendous need for it. Now, after numerous  meetings with all parties involved, who all agree that we should get the job, we still need a signature from the government and so we’re waiting, and meanwhile more dogs are roaming the streets and more pets are being dumped in the sea or in rural areas. It’s awfully frustrating. Also,  we would like the government to set up a registration (dog tags) for people’s pets.

Charlie and Marlies
“Charlie” and Marlies

Well, there are many more plans, fundraisings and informative and educative projects coming up. One of them has happened already. We’ve put a cage outside our gate where people can put their unwanted pets – a much needed facility to prevent people from dumping their animals elsewhere.”

Marlies Tiepel has a lust for life. She’s driven and passionate; she’s fast and she wants it ‘now!’ but she’s not blind to how the world works. She knows how to put things in perspective and she has a tremendous sense of humor. She’s the heart and soul of the Animal Shelter, a very bright and compassionate girl. She laughs: “I don’t see this as  ‘my job.’ I can’t say it’s my hobby either and at the end of the week we all have to go for a drink  to get rid of the misery. But, on the other hand, we are also extremely happy with all the good things that have been accomplished. The Shelter is in spite of everything a happy place. It’s always busy and many adults and children and also tourists come to help or visit or chat. Everybody is always welcome! What we want is for every dog and cat to be a ‘Superdog’ and ‘Supercat’ and every pet owner to be a ‘Super owner.’ That’s the dream and one day it will come true…”

Story & photos, by Greta Kooistra, Bonaire Reporter, February 5-19, 2010

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