Living in San Francisco, Janice Chatterton enjoyed animals, but when her dog died after she’d already started going back and forth regularly to visit Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and she decided it would simply be unfair to get another dog. Chatterton was never involved in animal welfare, or intended to be.
In 2007, by which time Chatterton was living in Puerto Vallarta, she agreed to join some friends to help at the city pound, mostly as a social get-together. She was horrified by conditions at the facility. Chatterton and others developed a program where after the shelter spayed/neutered, dogs. Following spay/neuter of shelter animals, they were taken to public places and events to be adopted.
The program seemed a great idea at the time, but proved to be otherwise. Dogs were put up for adoption immediately after sterilization surgery without time to recover. Getting sick after adoption proved to be a death sentence when owners couldn’t afford or didn’t care about providing medical care. Worse, the animals who weren’t adopted returned to the shelter to be immediately euthanized. “I realized we were doing more harm than good,” Chatterton says. “I thought someone’s got to do something else; it might as well be me.”
And ever since, she’s steadfastly devoted her life to saving animals in Puerto Vallarta. Chatterton opened La Casita, a small private sanctuary for animals in Puerto Vallarta, and she hasn’t looked back. She hired staff with her own money, and began to enlist volunteers to help rescue animals, adopting them out to mostly Americans and Canadians, a formula which would ultimately become her model.
Many fundraisers later, Chatterton established and opened the much larger SPCA Puerto Vallarta Sanctuary in January, 2012. Dogs are kept in spacious kennels, and always have the choice of being indoors or outside. They enjoy daily playtime, and attention nearly 24/7 from a staff of about 20 employees supported by volunteers.
Once taken in by Chatterton, her commitment to individual animals never wavers. She’ll do what it takes to maintain their health, even taking them to see veterinary specialists in Mexico City. Dogs requiring physical therapy get it with an on-site hydrotherapy pool. Overseeing all this is veterinarian on-staff (uncommon in Mexico). To use terminology the facility is “no-kill.”
The best job in town is a Puerto Vallarta SPCA cuddler. Dogs recovering after surgery, dogs traumatized from previous abuse receive arguably the medicine there is – TLC.
When Chatterton began her mission, too many dogs are were skill maintained tied on roof-tops in and around Puerto Vallarta. Dog languished in yards without food and water, or wandered the streets and beaches, homeless. While all these problems still exist, local suggest Chatterton has single-handedly changed the culture there. No doubt expectations of the growing number of U.S. and Canadian nationals has made a difference as well.
In Puerto Vallarta, Chatterton has helped establish the concept of ‘voluntourism.’ The Sanctuary welcomes tourists willing to spend a good part of a day volunteering at the facility. Many wind up adopting a new BFF. Chatterton is now expert at the process of transporting animals to the U.S. and Canada. However, not even every U.S.or Canadian home is good enough. Chatterton has her standards. “My goal isn’t only find these animals a home, it’s to find a good home,” she says. “Many have had rough lives, and they flourish with love.”
There are no shortage of success stories – dogs on the brink of death or unable to walk, rehabbed, brought back to health, adopted and then the SPCA PV Facebook page highlights the dog romping in the snow in an backyard or cuddling up with other household dogs. “Numbers of total adoptions matter, but it’s really about one dog and one life at a time.”
2016 was the year of the puppy. Around 100 puppies taken in, some newborn, others months old….100 percent were adopted. Chatterton is a perfectionist and she likes perfect records.
When asked about retirement or even slowing down, the response is a steely-eyed stare, “There’s still too much to be done.” And Chatterton is doing it, non-stop. Funding, though is always an issue. Dollars go a long ways in Mexico – still it takes money for SPCA Puerto Vallata to continue their mission.
“She’s an inspiration and a model for what one person can do” says longtime volunteer Laura Miller of Chatterton.
Still Chatterton deflects question about her, she would much rather talk about saving animals. It’s a topic she knows a lot about.
2016: SPCA PV Year in Review; please watch and you will understand far more than my words can ever describe: