Cats and dogs have a long bond with humankind. While most animals were deemed either ‘wild’ or ‘food’, long ago, humans decided to bond with canines and felines because both animals are incredibly useful. Dogs make excellent protectors and hunting buddies; while cats would probably be the apex predator on the planet if they weren’t so small and didn’t love snuggles as much as they do. That collective bond has become so strong that humans sometimes identify themselves as cat or dog people.
The world has changed drastically over the past several hundred years. The steamroller of progress that is Western Civilization has essentially eliminated our need for pets and left it it’s wake a powerful desire for them (and, sometimes, to dress them up for Halloween and get them holiday treats). Access to veterinary care, healthy food, toys and beggin’ strips, allows 21st Century pets to live their best lives. The ones who have homes – that is.
Once, cats and dogs could roam free and thrive. With their instincts to guide them, they were perfectly able to fend for themselves in the wild. The problem today is that there are so few wild places left. The concrete world humans created doesn’t often allow animals to fend for themselves – they need us to take care of them. For homeless pets, this is a truly terrible time to be alive. In Aruba, this might be especially true. Most of the wild places left on the island offer no protection from the elements and food and water is scarce.
Aruba passed a law on January 1st 2014 that requires citizens to keep their pets on their property. Along with the Stimami Sterilisami (love me, sterilize me) program – founded by Ewald Biemans, CEO of Aruba’s gorgeous Bucuti & Tara hotel – the number of stray animals on the island has dramatically dropped over the past few years but the problem is far from over. Historically, unwanted pets on the island were left at the animal shelter and euthanized if they proved to be unadoptable. This ‘kill cage’ sparks both moral outrage and a significant ethical dilemma. It’s awful to think of so many innocent, stray animals losing their lives, but, realistically, what other choice is there? People are quick to complain about Aruba’s stray animal situation, but few are willing to actually do something about it. Luckily for Aruba’s stray cats, Terry Bimbo Daly isn’t like most people.
Terry is a long time tourist. She’s a native Bostonian who now resides in New Hampshire, who fell in love with Aruba the first time her toes hit the sand in 1997. Over the years, she’s watched the island’s wild places fall to hotels and shopping malls. Like many of our animal loving tourists, Terry felt a tug on her heartstrings every time she saw a stray. However, one day while she was relaxing on the beach, enjoying the Caribbean breeze and scrolling through her Facebook feed, Terry saw a picture, posted by local, Geraldine Kock, that would forever change the course of her Aruban vacations.
Despite being a full-time air traffic controller and busy mother, Geraldine is an animal activist. She’s never seen a stray that she didn’t try to save and she has a soft spot in her heart for all things feline. There are several local organizations dedicated to rescuing dogs, so Geraldine and her family started a grassroots movement to help the stray cats of Aruba find families. The day our story begins, Geraldine was trying to find a forever home for rescues from the kill cage: two, beautiful white cats – a mother and her only surviving kitten. She’d posted their pictures in local Facebook groups and when Terry saw those sweet, furry, little faces, she knew in an instant that they were destined to be hers.
Some great relationships begin in a classroom or over drinks in a bar, but Terry and Geraldine’s relationship began in a veterinary office. Terry arrived at the vet’s office to meet the cats she planned to adopt and work out the logistics of the adoption. Geraldine had been collaborating with Valerie ‘Val’ Purdy-Pyeron, another frequent tourist, who found Geraldine through the Crijojo Trappers. Together they’d been arranging overseas adoptions for Aruba’s strays and Val would come to the island with her bags stuffed full of donations for our homeless animals.
Terry found herself inspired by these two women’s heroic work on behalf of the island’s animal community. She left the vet’s office that day with more than just the promise of two new family members, she left with a desire to save more than just those two cats.
When Terry first hatch the idea of starting 9 Lives, Geraldine jumped at the chance to help. Since she’s on island, she takes on the brunt of the day to day work caring for the cats. She suggested that Val might also be interested in Terry’s project. Val was indeed interested and immediately signed on to the crew. Due to scheduling conflicts, Terry and Val worked closely together – for quite some time – before they actually met in person. Three years later, that desire of Terry’s has become 9 Lives Aruba a non profit organization dedicated to saving stray and abused animals on Aruba. Since there were several existing organizations focused on rescuing dogs, 9 Lives concentrates their efforts on cats – though they’ll never turn down any stray in need.
I recently had the chance to catch-up with Terry via video chat. Terry introduced me to her feline fur family; Yoda, Mina, Divi and Dushi. (Can you guess which cats are Aruban by birth?) Even though she was enjoying a beautiful, New Hampshire morning, Terry’s thoughts were in Aruba. She was busy gathering supplies and planning future fundraising events – being the President of a non-profit organization is a never-ending responsibility. Terry regaled me with tales of all the bureaucratic hoops she had to jump through while forming 9 Lives – let’s just say it was no easy feat. However all of the struggles 9 Lives faced, getting started, pale in comparison to all the tails they’ve saved.
Terry, along with Geraldine (Vice President and the ‘heart and soul’ of 9 Lives) and Val (Board of Directors) as well as a host of volunteers have rescued close to 400 cats, to date. In the past three years, 9 Lives has purr-fected their operation and adoption processes. Several times a year, 9 Lives accepts donations of gently used items and holds a massive garage sale – with all proceeds going toward the care and maintenance of their furry wards who are awaiting adoption. There are monthly adoption days at the Bestial Animal house in Aruba, raffles and most recently 9 Lives merchandise. They’ve also developed an excellent standing with customs officials and streamlined the adoption process for anyone who wants to adopt overseas. Perhaps even more importantly, 9 Lives promotes educating the population of Aruba about the importance of animal sterilization – which is the only way the stray population will ever be under control.
9 Lives was founded on the belief that every animal deserves a chance to live it’s best life. They’re committed to saving every animal they can, but that commitment comes at a price. Between food, kitty litter, toys, general maintenance and astronomical vet bills, fundraising can be as difficult to raise as the tail of an unhappy cat. If you’d like to help with a donation click here. 9 Lives also, gladly, accepts physical donations such as cat carriers, food, cleaning supplies, toys, brushes – anything that will make their furry wards as comfortable as possible until their adoption day. Check out 9 Lives Facebook page for ways you can help.
Terry Bimbo Daly’s vacations in Aruba are quite different than they used to be. Instead of basking in the sun and sipping a cocktail, she’s busy running her organization. Instead of agonizing over which bathing suit to bring, she’s trying to fit 50 pound of cat food in her carry on. Instead of feeling heartbreak and complaining about the stray situation on Aruba, she and her team are making an actual difference. Terry used to leave the island with a sunny tan, now she leaves with a full heart and several furballs who’ll be adopted in the US. On behalf of Aruba, we salute Terry, Geraldine, Val and everyone at 9 Lives!