Children in Hopkins, Belize, participated in puppy training classes

I was recently reconnected with the Hopkins Humane Society. I was so inspired by their accomplishments I thought I'd share their story. So, I'll stray from the alley cats theme to tell the story of how the Hopkins Humane Society came to be and how they've transformed their town - not just for the animals, but also for the people.

At the end of 2007, my husband John and I were travelling from Mexico to Guatemala when we took a detour through Belize as a vacation from vet volunteering. We found a little town called Hopkins, which was, in essence, shacks scattered alongside a dirt road next to the beach. We rented a hut on stilts, a few metres from the ocean, with the plan to do nothing, but lay in hammocks, read and relax.

As was the norm in Central America, there were a lot of street/beach dogs doing a lot of scratching. As John and I were applying donated Revolution (a topical deworming/flea medication) to the dogs that had joined us on the beach, the men sitting at the beach bar became interested. On hearing we were vets, they insisted we hook up with a woman named Nancy, who was trying to start a humane society.

A hour later, they had Nancy at the bar and we were excitedly talking about what they were starting and how we could help.

As fate would have it, they were holding their first spay clinic the next day and had hired a vet from the nearby island to come in and do surgeries.

Perhaps it was also fate that the vet called to cancel that morning and John and I were there to fill in. The clinic went off with out a hitch and it was a fabulous day.

One of us was doing surgery while the other was attending to the constant line up of locals bringing their pets for exams and deworming.

The community was so enthusiastic and we had a solid crew of volunteers who became inspired at what we had accomplished that day.

At the end of the day, we went back to Nancy's to meet the litter of puppies she was bottle feeding, as well as her firecracker of a husband, Les, a retired large animal vet from the U.S.

Nancy had an amazing vision to get the kids of Hopkins invested in their pets, and Les was a happy helper with a lot of wisdom to contribute. We spent the weekend helping them with humane society stuff rather then hammocking, and made plans to go back to help again on our way home.

It was about eight months later, on our way back to Canada, that we were volunteering with the Hopkins Humane Society again.

We couldn't believe how much they had accomplished in the months we were away. They now had a functional two-room hut that had been donated for their clinic. They'd hired a local teenage boy to act as the program director. Puppy classes were now one of the town's big events drawing at least 30 to 50 kids and their dogs every Saturday morning. They had a pet food bank set up and were fully stocked to hold spay/neuter clinics.

We spent that week doing spay clinics and touring from home to home to help out dogs with minor aliments.

It was amazing to see the trusting relationships the humane society formed within the community and how they had already begun transforming the culture to one of respecting and being proud of pets.

Dogs that once spent their days tied to fences were now on leashes touring the town with the children.

Yesterday, I was on the phone with Clara, the volunteer clinic director of the Hopkins Humane Society. Again, I was so impressed and proud of what they had done in the few years since we'd been in touch.

They now have a full surgery/treatment clinic as well as a travelling trailer. They hold weekly prevention/minor treatment clinics and regular spay clinics. The dogs of Hopkins are no longer emaciated and the average weight of the dogs has gone up to 10 pounds. Clara stressed the success of the humane society has been because it's a community-based organization, not just an animal-based humane society.

To learn more about the Hopkins Humane Society, visit their facebook page at

Hanna Booth is a veterinarian who spent a year spaying street animals in Central America; worked as a shelter veterinarian at the Toronto Humane Society (THS); and runs a volunteer trap neuter return program, She lives in Toronto with her husband, two-year-old son, three former street cats and a former street dog she brought home from Panama.