Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   November 2016

Island Dog = Boat Dog

by Chelsea Pyne

Call it a quarter-life crisis. As I was approaching 25, I felt that my youth and energy would soon be leaving me.  Being from the southeastern US, I am used to couples marrying young and starting families as early as 18 years old. Almost every girl from my neighborhood now has a house and a baby (or two) on the way. And what have I been doing?  Island-hopping in the Caribbean, avoiding all responsibility for the past ten months.  Still, no regrets there.

My boyfriend’s natural response to me casually bringing up, “Hey, you know, I’m not getting any younger” was to awkwardly leave the room because his “stomach hurt”. After a week of these remarks, he brought me to St. Martin’s “I Love My Island Dog” dog shelter. Trying to appease or fend off my needy, motherly instincts, he got me a dog. Smooth move, dear, but this puppy distraction will only last so long. 
I, do, however, really love dogs. Especially big ones that make strangers second guess approaching me. Not that I’d ever train a dog to be aggressive, I just like the added fluffy security. For months I researched which dog was right for me. But there was one catch. We live on a 44-foot CSY cutter. Not a whole lot of room for my Portuguese water dog, German shepherd or Dalmatian. The simple act of getting the dog onto the boat from the dinghy would prove a hassle. So my research and dreams of getting a big dog to protect and love me went out the portlight.

We now have Margo, our pirate pup. Rescued in the dumps of St. Martin, she had been at the shelter for several months before we scooped her up. She was absolutely terrified of everything; I had my doubts she would make a good liveaboard pet. Her reaction to being in the car made me decide almost immediately we would have to take her back. There is no point in keeping a dog on a boat if it can’t deal with motion. Everyone would be miserable. Luckily, the shelter let us take her on a trial run to see how she would do. 
After a few days of warming up to us, we did a small sail in Simpson Bay Lagoon. Although it was smooth and not a great motion test, Margo was totally invested in the adventure. She surprised everyone with her courage, and we thought there might be hope to keep her. This is a dog that was spooked by falling leaves and shadows. When we took her to the beach, she wouldn’t walk down it because she didn’t trust the little boy playing in the sand. This is the revered island dog?

Her coconut retriever ways make it impossible to tell what breeds she comes from. Our best guess is border collie, Australian shepherd, heeler, pointer and Chihuahua mix. She is adorable and goofy — with her giant pointy ears, she somewhat resembles Yoda. Luckily for us, she’s a smart dog. Margo quickly warmed to the fact that if we were getting in the water, then she would be joining us. It got to the point where she would have to be restrained on the beach so I could go on a long swim without her. As a fast swimmer, she likes to quickly turn on me and try climbing my face, leaving me covered in scratches. Love hurts.
The obvious solution was to get Margo her own board. Our dog now surfs. Mastering both a boogie board and a paddleboard, this island dog finally fulfilled her legacy. Friends from home would see my pictures of her and ask how I managed to get her riding waves. It was simply not my choice — she is an island girl and this is what she was meant to do.

The coconut retrievers I’ve met in St. Martin have got to be some of the best dogs around.  I have yet to see a super-aggressive, hyper or unmanageable dog here, though I’m sure they exist. And other than their Caribbean “chillness” I have noticed other traits that differ from the big-country dogs.
Margo is completely uninterested in tennis balls. Coconuts, on the other hand, can be chased and fetched all day long, which makes getting toys for her much more affordable — we’ve got about 12,000 of them lying around! Have at it. She is also not one for walks around the park. Sure, she loves to sniff new things and mark her territory where she can, but her true love lies in the hunt. For iguanas, that is. Every morning (while docked) we peruse the rocks surrounding the jetty. Sunbathing iguanas line the rocks as we quietly approach from behind. Margo is a petite dog, and knows not to get too close, but she sure loves to make them flee. I also like to see them scramble away, as they leave us little “treats” along the dock and destroy the surrounding gardens.

Margo’s love of coconuts, surfing and iguanas, and her altogether relaxed sense of life have made her one of the best dogs I have ever owned. And I have to say, for being born in the dumps and raised in the shelter, she turned out quite all right. 
But our trials with Margo are not over. We have yet to figure out how to potty train her for longer sails. She has been a trooper on six-hour sails from St. Martin to St. Barts, but crossing a sea? We provided puppy pads, but she still has shown no interest in using them. Our best guess is to keep an eye on her, look for signs of needing the bathroom, quickly move her onto the pad and reward her afterwards. Advice for this would be greatly appreciated! Although this training will be a nuisance, her added security to the boat is worth the trade-off. The increasing crime rates around the Caribbean, especially in the cruising community, have made her an additional alarm system for which we are thankful.

Although cruising with a pet has now become more complicated and expensive — as we have to have a passport, certificate of good health and all updated vaccines — she has been so worth it. Our cockpit gets blanketed in dog hairs and our saloon floors will inevitably be covered in scratch marks — yet we don’t care. There will be times (hopefully not many) where we will be cleaning up her messes on the deck and dealing with an anxious dog who just needs a full motionless beach day. Certainly, life aboard will become more challenging, but much more fulfilling as well. And we can sleep peacefully knowing that Margo will not wake us up crying because her diaper needs changing or because she is hungry. She has become our pirate-pup baby; one that I will pamper and play with until my next wave of maternal needs hits me. Until then, she’s perfect. 

Making a Difference

Living aboard with a dog is not impossible, although it can be difficult. Still, for us, the benefits highly outweigh the drawbacks. I greatly encourage other cruisers to look into adopting an island dog — there are so many who need homes. Coconut retrievers are known to love a good Caribbean adventure, and the joy the pups bring will be well worth taking them on as crew.

Don’t have room for a pet? You can still make a difference — even save a life. Many islands have organizations that provide care, food, medicine and shelter for stray, abandoned or abused animals. Donations can made online, or, if you’re around, stop and volunteer at one of their fundraising events. Most centers have logo T-shirts, mugs and calendars available to purchase, with all proceeds going towards our furry friends. Always in need of help, (usually without government funding) these organizations are making the islands safer for people, animals and the environment.
Here’s a list of some Caribbean shelters and animal welfare organizations.

Dominican Republic
Dogs and Cats of DR Animal Rescue (DCDR) provides medication to control a multitude of parasites, plus education on overall pet care, and even food donations in dire cases. The animal population on the streets, beaches and in Dominican homes is monitored constantly to ensure that these animals are spayed and neutered. DCDR is currently averaging an animal a day through adoptions in the Dominican Republic, the US, Canada and Europe. All financial support is directed to the purchase of food, medicine, and payments for spay and neuter surgeries. Their new goal is to build and operate the first animal sanctuary in the Dominican Republic.
Visit for more information.

Cat Island Humane Society (CIHS) exists to assist, protect and defend domestic, feral and wild animals of Cat Island, Bahamas — including dogs, cats, birds, turtles, lizards, fish, horses, goats, bees, sheep, snakes, pigs and rabbits! CIHS offers subsidized spay/neuter programs, veterinary assistance, low-cost preventative medications and supplies, and low-cost animal food.
Visit for more information.

Puerto Rico
Second Chance Animal Rescue
Visit for more information.

St. Martin
I Love My Island Dog Association (ILMIDA) has rescued thousands of dogs from the streets and the kill pound of St. Martin since 2006. Helping control the stray animal population, ILMIDA sterilizes dogs and cats, holds fundraising events for their food, medicine and care, educates youth on their duties to the environment and animals, and organizes their flights to new homes abroad.
Visit for more information.

St. Kitts/Nevis
People for Animal Welfare on St. Kitts (PAWS)

Antigua & Barbuda
Since 1996, Protect Antiguan Animals With a Smile (PAAWS) has cared for the neglected, abandoned and injured dogs and cats that are frequently found in Antigua. As a no kill shelter and boarding facility, it has created a safe, temporary home for 100 dogs and cats. PAAWS rehabilitates the animals, microchips, spays or neuters them so they are ready to go home to a new family.
Visit for more information.

Société de Protection Animale de la Guadeloupe (SPAG)
Visit for more information.

St. Lucia
St. Lucia Animal Protection Society (SLAPS)
Visit for more information.

St. Vincent & the Grenadines
The Vincentian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (VSPCA) organizes classroom presentations, subsidized clinic days, tools and financial support to ensure all the animals they come across are treated and cared for. Their Humane Education Programme has operated in 19 schools, teaching 700+ children how to properly care for animals.  Hundreds of dogs, cats, donkeys and one monkey have been rescued from deplorable conditions, nursed back to health with caring foster parents, and adopted out to loving homes in SVG and abroad.
Visit for more information.

Trinidad & Tobago
The Animal Welfare Network was founded in order to help control stray populations and promote animal education to the young islanders. Holding a Spay Week each November during 2005-2013 they cared for over 5,200 animals. Bringing such success (and demand), they have expanded their services year-round. The group offers a low-cost spay/neuter programme and has incorporated a primary school education programme — kids are our future, so we must teach them how to care and be responsible for the safety of animals in their environment.
Contact (868) 627-3449

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