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Meet a Luxury Hotel Owner Helping Abused and Homeless Animals on Mexico’s Coast

California native Janice Chatterton founded a rescue group and a shelter in Puerto Vallarta with space for 130 dogs and cats.

Crystal Gibson  |  Oct 16th 2014


Animals in need of rescue and a new home can be found all around the world. And though the number of unwanted, neglected and abandoned animals never ceases to increase, there are also more and more kindhearted humans who make it their mission to help these animals in any way they can.

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Janice Chatterton, a native Californian who is a longtime resident of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico, is one of those people.

Chatterton, who owns Hacienda San Angel, a luxury boutique hotel in Puerto Vallarta, became overwhelmed and heartbroken over just how many dogs and cats she saw wandering the streets in Mexico without food, water, health care or shelter. She wanted to do something, and in 2007, founded a group called the Protective and Compassionate Society for the Animals of Puerto Vallarta, or Sociedad Protectora y Compasiva por los Animales de Puerto Vallarta. Its shorthand is simply SPCA de PV.

Despite the similar acronym, SPCA de PV is not related to the international SPCA and its affiliates. It is a freestanding entity that depends solely on private donations and volunteers.

Its mission is to promote and fund sterilization efforts for Puerto Vallarta’s animals, as well as provide health care to animals in need and rehome rescued dogs and cats.

Janice Chatterton, found of SPCA Puerto Vallarta, and some furry friends.

Janice Chatterton, found of SPCA Puerto Vallarta, and some furry friends.

In 2012, after having raised enough money, Chatterton was able to open a sanctuary for Puerto Vallarta’s abused, abandoned and stray animals, a no-kill shelter and hospice which can house as many as 130 dogs and cats.

Since its creation, “The Sanctuary,” as it is called, has saved more than 600 dogs and found permanent homes for at least 500 dogs.

Some of the dogs who are taken in by SPVA’s sanctuary are sent to foster homes in the United States and Canada while they await adoption. Before traveling, all the dogs must be healthy, vaccinated, and spayed/neutered. Volunteers help coordinate the transportation of these animals, and SPCA de PV takes care of the expenses and paperwork.

The PVCA Animal Rescue Society is the Canadian arm for SPCA de VA and handles fostering and rehoming for dogs and cats arriving from Mexico, while PreVent Cruelty to Animals does the same in the United States.

Beautiful Puerto Vallarta attracts many tourists every year, and some of them decide to volunteer at The Sanctuary, like these animal-lovers from Alberta, Canada.

Beautiful Puerto Vallarta attracts many tourists every year, and some of them decide to volunteer at The Sanctuary, like these animal-lovers from Alberta, Canada.

But for those dogs and cats who are too sick, injured or unfit to be transported to foster homes in North America, a dedicated team cares for them at The Sanctuary in Puerto Vallarta. Currently, Chatterton and the other volunteers are caring for approximately 96 dogs and 25 cats at The Sanctuary, but, unfortunately, cannot always take in every animal that needs rescuing.

“The Sanctuary’s success is not determined by the number of lives saved, but by the amount of suffering we are able to alleviate from these highly neglected and abused dogs,” Chatterton says. “Seeing them leave us healthy, happy and restored is an extremely rewarding feeling for me and the other members of The Sanctuary.”

And despite knowing she can’t save them all, Chatterton is making a difference in the lives of Mexico’s dogs.

Formerly abused, abandoned and stray dogs get lots of love and attention at The Sanctuary from staff and volunteers.

Formerly abused, abandoned and stray dogs get lots of love and attention at The Sanctuary from staff and volunteers.

She says that the success she’s had treating some of the dogs at The Sanctuary suffering from distemper has prompted forward thinking local vets to try and treat the condition as well, whereas before, distemper was most certainly a death sentence.

“We’ve also discovered — from our thorough testing of every dog who arrives at The Sanctuary — the prevalence of a tick-borne disease called Ehrlichia. We found that 80 to 90 percent of all new arrivals have it, and it is fatal when left untreated,” Chatterton says. “Because of this, the vets here are now also aware of the prevalence of the disease and many precious lives are being saved as a result.”

Some of the dogs who find their way to The Sanctuary are owner surrenders; dogs whose owners no longer want to care for them when they are sick or injured, and see them as possessions to be discarded. Chatterton says she has seen dogs tossed from moving cars, some of them chasing after the car as it speeds away. But for Chatterton, the biggest problem facing Mexico’s dog and cat overpopulation is that there is no spay/neuter program in place on an official level.

Each of the dogs who comes to The Sanctuary is given a name and the chance at a painfree and happy life.

Each of the dogs who comes to The Sanctuary is given a name and the chance at a painfree and happy life.

Though conditions for Puerto’s Vallarta’s abandoned and abused animals might be tough, those who are taken in by The Sanctuary get the chance to heal physically and emotionally through extensive vet care and rehabilitation. They are free to roam around and interact with the staff, and thanks to the large numbers of tourists who volunteer at the sanctuary during their holidays, the dogs receive daily walks and benefit from lots of attention and care. The animals’ health and well-being is the priority for Chatterton and her staff, and they do all they can, including taking animals to specialists located in Mexico City when necessary.

The residents of The Sanctuary are free to roam around the grounds and interact with staff and volunteers.

The residents of The Sanctuary are free to roam around the grounds and interact with staff and volunteers.

But for those who will not get better, Chatterton wants them to feel safe and comfortable until the very end. “If we are unable to physically cure an animal, we have our own type of hospice care to keep it as painless and happy as possible, so that the remainder of the animal’s life is peaceful, loving and caring.”

And it’s the inspiring recoveries that make animal rescue so worthwhile and motivating for those who see death and despair on a daily basis.

Inspiring recoveries like Benito and Chili, two little dogs who survived thanks to The Sanctuary.

According to Chatterton, Benito must have been wandering around sick and injured for a long time before ending up at The Sanctuary’s rural location on his own. He was near death from a multitude of ailments, had been shot, and was suffering from mange, as well as eye, ear and internal organ infections. But Benito got the help he needed at The Sanctuary, and it’s hard to believe his before-and-after photos.

Like Benito, Chili would never have made it if not for intervention from SPCA de PV and staff at The Sanctuary. He was taken in with his neck nearly severed right through from a rope. Sadly, Chatterton says she sees many puppies who are tied up outside and forgotten, the rope around their necks never loosened as they grow. Eventually, the rope tightens and cuts through their necks, slowly killing them. Chili had chewed through his rope and escaped, and thanks to intensive vet treatment and TLC provided by The Sanctuary, he’s now fully recovered and no longer suffering.

SPCA de PV hopes to continue helping Puerto Vallarta’s dogs and cats by figuring out new ways to get animals adopted into new homes in other countries and by expanding the facilities at The Sanctuary. In order to keep up with the increasing number of dogs and cats who need care and a forever home safe from abuse, neglect and disease, Chatterton also hopes to add more space at The Sanctuary.

Puppies!

Puppies!

She encourages anyone who would like to come and volunteer at The Sanctuary, or to donate much-needed funds to help these animals, to visit SPCA de PV’s website or its Facebook page for more information. Donations are tax deductible within the USA, as SPCA de PV is a registered 501(c)(3) charity.

All photos courtesy of Janice Chatterton or via SPCA Puerto Vallarta’s Facebook page.

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About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom over on Twitter.