A crescendo of barks greeted a vehicle that recently pulled up to the Montego Bay Animal Haven in Jamaica. Penned dogs — 147 of them — were tipped off it was time for their morning walk. They leapt at the chain-link fence, tails wagging, then surged in joyous waves through a gate. Dog-loving visitors, in expendable clothing, climbed out of the van to welcome the onslaught with laughter, no fear.
“Hiking with the Hooligans” began as a tourist activity in January, a raucous way to enjoy Jamaica’s hilly countryside flush with ackee, guava, mango and papaya trees. There are no sea views from this inland sanctuary; the dogs grab all the attention. The hourlong hike is rugged, not a day at the beach, so wearing flip-flops would be a mistake.
Tammy Browne, the haven’s founder, was inspired after visiting Territorio de Zaguates (Land of the Strays) in Costa Rica last year, a no-kill sanctuary with hundreds of dogs roaming the land (it is currently closed to the public). Since Browne’s 17-acre property in Jamaica is enclosed, the dogs are unleashed for the hike. The panting pack sociably trots together, the shelter’s guides breaking up the occasional disagreement.
Charlie Brown had three legs. Albus was missing an eye and part of his tail. Stallone’s head was furrowed with scars; his streetwise gravitas commanded respect from the other dogs. To the untrained eye, those lacking distinctive features looked pretty much alike, but Browne knew all their names. She had rescued them from the streets or abusive owners and nursed them back to health. They are neutered and have the relevant vaccines.
“I hate the word mongrel,” Browne said. “Royal Caribbean terriers, I call them. Every dog you see has a story, the most horrendous background.” She said she has found homes for hundreds of dogs since she founded the nonprofit shelter in 2009 and “adoptions are up tenfold since we started the hike, more in the last two months than we had in the last year.”
Another 43 dogs were back at Browne’s house in various states of recovery, limiting her time, so the daily hikes are handled by a local entrepreneur and Airbnb host, Irina Bruce. The $65 cost for the hike includes the 30-minute ride from downtown Montego Bay, bottled water and protective outerwear if necessary.
“It’s a win, win, win, win,” Bruce said. “Good for the dogs to get exercise, good for guests, good for the people who run the shelter and good if a dog gets adopted.”
For more details go to montegobayanimalhaven.com.
OTHER VACATION spots offering walks with rescue dogs, (albeit one-on-one):
>> Potcake Place K9 Rescue, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
The puppy socialization walks along Grace Bay Beach are solely for the benefit of the dog, stressed Jane Parker-Rauw, the charity’s director, adding, “No dog is a souvenir.” Still, adoptions have increased fivefold since she started the walks in 2011. “Potcakes” are mixed breeds, named for the burned scrapings of peas and rice the locals feed them. Ten to 15 are ready for walks Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The program is free. “My goal is to be run out of business,” she said.
>> Kauai Humane Society
Mirah A. Horowitz, the shelter’s executive director, estimated three to five adoptions each month are the direct result of a family taking a dog out through their “Field Trips” program. Eight to 10 healthy dogs are usually available and eager for beach breaks (poop bags provided). The leash stays on even for swims together. Check the website for daily pickup times (closed Wednesday) and the suggested donation is $25. Credit cards will be charged a $200 deposit in the event the dog is not returned.
>> Maui Humane Society
Explore Central Maui through the “Beach Buddies” program every Wednesday and Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Five pooches (one per family) are generally available for outings in nature or to dog-friendly restaurants. Sign up in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a $20 suggested donation.
>> St. John Animal Care Center, Virgin Islands
Hurricane Irma deluged the shelter in 2017 with more than 300 lost or surrendered animals; the majority were adopted or reunited with their families. In April, only nine socialized strays were available for daily leashed walks to nearby Cruz Bay. “In the last five or six years it’s really taken off, a lot of it to do with our social media following,” said Ryan Moore, the shelter’s manager.
Info: 340-774-1625 or email email@example.com.
>> Vieques Humane Society, Vieques, Puerto Rico
For anyone missing a dog back home or looking for a companion to stroll with on the beach, roughly a dozen rescue dogs here would jump at the chance. It’s free, Thursday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Info: Email viequeshumane firstname.lastname@example.org; viequeshumanesociety.org