My trip to Playa as more than a tourist

Thank  you to our long-time volunteer and Pet Project Rescue board member, Jenny Bennett, for writing up this great account on her experience in Mexico at our on-going 2017 spay and neuter clinic!


Most Minnesotans who venture to Mexico in January are on vacation. They head south to escape winter, lounge on the beach, drink cerveza, and soak in the sun. Not Project Rescue founder, Maia Rumpho. She travels to Playa del Carmen, Mexico each January to wake-up before the sun, wander neighborhoods most tourists never visit, and look for animals in need. She is partnering with Coco’s Animal Welfare (established by Laura Raikes) to execute Pet Project Rescue’s (PPR) mission to reduce the homeless-animal population by providing spay/neuter services and other life-improving veterinary care. This January, I had the opportunity to join her to see this mission in action.


The sun wasn’t up yet when we piled into the big blue Coco’s Animal Welfare van with Uli Vidal, a man whose job title I’m not sure how to describe. Part community liaison, part dog whisperer, part fearless champion for animal welfare, he’s certainly more than a transport driver for Coco’s. Nonetheless, he was our guide for the morning as we made our way to the Cristo Rey neighborhood about 20 minutes outside of Playa del Carmen’s center. The stacks of dog crates rattled in the back as the van bumped along the dirt roads of the jungle. It was evident we were no longer in a tourist area of Mexico.


IMG_20170120_145328_413The van pulled into the Cristo Rey neighborhood just as the sun was beginning to peek through the trees. Uli pulled out his clipboard and reviewed the list of dogs we would be picking up for the day’s spay/neuter clinic sponsored by PPR. Uli and Maia had visited the neighborhood on a previous day to talk with families, educate them on the importance of spay/neuter, and offer this clinic as a free resource. We expected to be picking up a little over a dozen dogs for the day’s clinic, but we were off to a bit of a disappointing start. The first house we visited had changed their mind. No dogs picked up there today, but Uli would try again another day. The decision to spay/neuter pets is an uncertain one for many Mexicans so patience and persistence is necessary. At the second house, we were greeted by Milo, a shaggy white dog, and his family. Two young girls hugged Milo and brought him to the van. Their father retrieved a second dog from the roof of their home. This small Chihuahua had been afflicted with a skin condition, so he carried it gently with a plastic bag. Uli placed both dogs in kennel in the back of the van and labeled each crate with the names of the dogs. Maia and I smiled as the father lovingly insisted that the dogs be labeled with their first AND last names. “Milo Balboa” and “Chico Balboa,” he said. These dogs are cherished family pets and the family is grateful they will get the veterinary care they need thanks to PPR and Coco’s.









Onward we went, house after house in this small, but dense rural neighborhood. The crates are quickly filling up in the back as more and more dogs are picked up for transport to the clinic. A few of our pick-ups were unplanned; Uli will go to any length to get animals the care they deserve. Whenever we saw a dog wander out of the jungle or along the side of the road, Uli rolled down his window and began talking with neighbor after neighbor until he found the owner and secured permission to provide spay/neuter services. We picked up at least 2 unplanned dogs this way, made room in the van, and persisted on.


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IMG_20170116_084126222We were almost done with our pick-ups and beginning to make our way back to Coco’s clinic when Maia and I witnessed Uli’s fearlessness and compassion for animals first hand. He pulled the van over at a construction site at the edge of the neighborhood after seeing a dog in need. It’s somewhat common practice in Mexico to chain up a fierce looking dog outside of a construction site as a method of security and protection. At this site, a large bull terrier had been chained up. He did have a water dish and someone had put a t-shirt on him to protect him from the daytime sun and the nighttime cool, but he was in danger. The chain around his neck had become restricted to only a few inches when he had tried to escape the fencing around the site. Uli noticed this and took action. From the safety of the van, Maia and I watched as Uli approached the snarling, fearfully aggressive dog. Uli was calm and gentle, reassuring the dog the entire time. He managed to free the chain, calm the dog, and coax him back inside the fence of the construction site (after the dog humorously stopped to lift his leg on the side of the building). Uli then secured the bottom of the fence in the hope that the dog wouldn’t become trapped again. I’m sure Uli will be returning frequently to check on this dog. As I mentioned before, he truly is a FEARLESS champion for all animals, even those not scheduled to come to the clinic.



IMG_20170113_100633_601We made one last pick up of 4 dogs that had been cared for at an area business, then made the return trip to Coco’s Animal Welfare Clinic in Playa. The staff was busy preparing for the arrival of the 16 dogs we picked up in Cristo Rey today.  We parked the van at the side door and crate-by-crate, transferred the dogs to the lobby of Coco’s. Staff immediately attended to the dogs, compassionately talking to each one and calling them by name as they cared for them. It’s evident they do their work for the love of the animals. Within a short time, all animals were assessed, transferred to kennels, and preparations for their veterinary care had begun. This is where our work for the morning ended as the dogs were now in the loving and capable hands of Coco’s. Thanks to funding from PPR, each dog will be spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and provided with any needed medications. By the evening, Uli will be making the return trip to Cristo Rey to reunite all of these animals with their loving homes.




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Thank you to Pet Project Rescue and Coco’s Animal Welfare for allowing me to see first hand the incredible ways you are improving the lives of animals. In my day-to-day life in Minnesota, I rarely come across animals suffering or in need of veterinary care. We are fortunate to have many resources for animal care in our area. Seeing these needs in Cristo Rey further illuminated the importance of international partnerships for animal welfare, like the collaboration between PPR and Coco’s. It doesn’t take much to make a difference. For example, the little puppy we picked up today with the skin condition (as well as 3 other dogs) will be treated for this life threatening condition with a medication that costs only $15. That’s all it takes to save a life…$15! I am happy to work with an organization whose supporters step up immediately to help in any amount they can. Within an hour, PPR had reached out to donors and had already received funding to help these dogs and so many more. In the end, animal welfare still feels like an overwhelming challenge but it’s reassuring to see people, like those with Pet Project Rescue and Coco’s, committed to doing anything they can, day after day, to better the lives of animals.


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