Angelique Schornstein moved from Philadelphia to Todos Santos in Baja California, Mexico, 25 years ago. She has spent her time since working tirelessly to help the dogs and cats of the area live healthier and happier lives through her organization, Amigos de los Animals de Todos Santos (AATS).
“When I came down here to live permanently, I saw the sad state the animals were in,” Schornstein says, explaining that the condition of street and beach dogs, as well as family pets, was less than ideal. Sterilization was not a standard practice at the time, and as you can imagine that caused a population of animals who could not be cared for financially by owners and the community.
Schornstein was greatly disturbed by the government’s response to the animal overpopulation issue. “I found out that the military, twice a year, would go around and shoot mangy dogs and packs of dogs all over our little town.” As an animal lover, she knew she had to find a way to help.
The help Schornstein was able to provide developed into her nonprofit group. AATS focuses its efforts on spay and neuter clinics, animal rescue and adoption, and community education.
At the center of the group, Schornstein is quick to credit volunteers for all the positive work that is done, although it is clear she is the driving force and is not afraid of hard work. For 15 years, she went every couple of days to feed dogs at two different beaches, get them fixed, and help them get adopted. That work has since been taken over by likeminded people.
AATS’ spay and neuter clinics, which now happen twice a year, were originally conducted annually by one vet from California on a countertop of a friend’s house. That vet was a member of the Veterinarians for World Animal Health, a no-longer-active nonprofit group out of California. He helped for three years and, per the group’s website, performed 329 surgical sterilization on cats and dogs in Todos Santos from 1999 to 2001.
As soon as the clinics were started, the military stopped shooting dogs. A huge victory, but when VWAH went inactive, Schornstein, once again, had to look for volunteer and vet assistance.
At this time, there were no veterinarians in Todos Santos, so she traveled to La Paz and asked every doctor she knew to help her community by volunteering by once a week. She was successful in convincing one vet to join the effort. He traveled to Todos Santos every Friday and offered his services in a building provided by Schornstein. It became more than just a place for animals to get medical attention. “It was a social gathering location,” she explains. “There was a little bench outside of the office, and people would sit there and wait for the vet.”
Now Schornstein says she can rely on a team of 15 to 20 volunteers, whom she identifies as “gringos,” who come to help with the twice-annual spay and neuter clinic, manning the MASH unit from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Support also comes from a sister group in the U.S., The Refuge Animal Society.
Schornstein didn’t start collecting statistics until 1998, but from that time until 2014, more than 3,300 animals have been sterilized through the efforts of the volunteer-manned clinics.
In addition to the special clinic days, the group has paid for more than 2,500 sterilization operations provided by local vets, including the two who are now a permanent part of the area. Raising money to help continue surgeries beyond the clinics is important. As Schnornstein points out, “Two clinics a year is fabulous, but it doesn’t eliminate the problem because dogs and cats get pregnant during the year and don’t wait for the clinic!”
Schornstein started helping animals when she lived in Philadelphia. “It’s my life at this point,” she explains. Two dogs and two cats accompanied her to Mexico back in 1990. She admits that she felt bad for bringing more animals to an area she knew had so many in need, but she had made a lifetime commitment to her animals. This commitment is something she takes very seriously, and she works to instill this value in the residents of Todos Santos.
Education is an important part of the group’s work, and Schornstein has found that focusing on teaching through school programs is extremely effective. “It begins with the children. If the children are on board, we are all on board.” Once taught that stray puppies and kitties cannot be cared for appropriately, the students will help educate the adults and push to have their family pets sterilized. It seems to be working. “People are becoming more aware of tending to their animals and going to the vet, which is amazing.”
All of this hard work takes money, and the need for more of it — as well as for additional volunteers — is dire. The AATS and the Refuge Animal Society are in desperate need of funds for all of this important work and community growth to continue. “We are sort of at a loss, and we are trying to generate funds and not to let this dry up. Our [Todos Santos] streets, considering Mexico as a whole, are very very clean, and you hardly ever see a mangy animal anymore, and that is due to the volunteers.”
Amigos de los Animals de Todos Santos’ next clinic is today through Saturday (March 19 to 21). Schornstein is actively looking for volunteer doctors to help with November clinic. To volunteer, visit the group’s website, and to donate, go to its GoFundMe page.
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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.