For the past year, Noelle has been volunteering at Los Adoptables, a no-kill rescue shelter for stray, sick and traumatically scarred dogs in Ensenada, Mexico. Twice a month, Noelle makes the three-hour trip across the border in her small Volkswagen to pick up foster dogs from the shelter and help them find homes.
“I’ll pack in as many dogs as I can to where the whole back seat is just kennels,” said Noelle. “I don’t get to go down there as much as I’d like to, unfortunately, but it’s important to get these dogs out of Mexico and healthy. So, when I do visit, I take as many as my car can hold.”
According to Noelle, dogs are much more prone to diseases in places like Tijuana and Ensenada because of both the high population of dogs and the fact that none of them are vaccinated. One of the most common diseases stray animals are prone to in Mexico is Distemper, a virus that affects dogs’ respiratory, gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems.
“It’s such a horrible, painful disease for them to get and it’s almost guaranteed that these puppies on the streets will get it at some point because most people just can’t afford to vaccinate their animals or even neuter them,” said Noelle, who lived in Rosarito for a year and would drive around the city with dog food and water in her trunk, offering help to the area’s many stray dogs.
“Distemper is everywhere down there and it’s so easily spread. It’s like children getting the common cold in school, and there’s really nothing we can do about it.”
But Los Adoptables is dedicated to saving as many dogs as they can. Founded in 2016, the shelter began with four volunteers trying to find homes for 177 dogs that a local woman in Ensenada had been sheltering. Through the efforts of the community and local veterinarians, most of the dogs were able to find forever homes. The rest became fosters, and one of the four volunteers, Pris Austin, became the new owner of Los Adoptables.
“I've always loved dogs, but never thought I was going to be in charge of a shelter,” said Austin, who houses between 30-50 animals at a time, including both dogs and cats. “Now that I do, I don’t see myself doing anything else.”
Austin says that, according to the municipal dog pound, there are six dogs per every one person in Ensenada and neutering is still a low priority for locals. There has being many efforts to change this way of thinking from other animal protection organizations in the area. But while the treatment towards the animals is starting to shift, the outskirts of the city still have a long way to go.
“Our main goal is to get steady income so we can offer low-cost spay and neuter events for the community,” said Austin. “Also, going to the schools and talking to the kids about the importance of having a healthy pet is key to changing our society and the way the animals get treated. We can't do it with some of the adults, so we have to do it with the kids.”
The abuse and abandonment of animals is also a common occurrence in Mexico, and even the practice of dog fighting is still often being left unchecked. Noelle says Los Adoptables has helped save many animals that have been left on street corners, kept chained in yards or used as “bait dogs” in fighting circles. People will often even throw animals over Austin’s fence and leave them there.
“Pris doesn’t turn any animals down,” said Noelle. “The hardest part of living down there was seeing these dogs hurting and alone every day. But now we get to help them get lucky and live happy lives.”
Since volunteering at Los Adoptables, Noelle has helped transport and save 35 dogs. Her goal is 100.
“San Diego is a huge dog-friendly community,” said Noelle. We have people bringing their dogs to the bars and to the beach. They are their children and I’m the stork that is bringing those children home.”
Those interested in donating to Los Adoptables, volunteering or adopting an animal themselves can visit the shelter’s website at losadoptables.org or check out their social media, @losadoptablesorg.