Sara Briner, one of the founders of SayulitAnimals, was born in Spain and raised in Switzerland. Thirteen years ago, she left her job as a dental hygienist, and her life in Switzerland behind, looking for her place in the sun. She traveled for two years through Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Guatemala, and Mexico. Eleven years ago, she drove into Sayulita and instantly knew this was where she belonged, and she has been here ever since. Upon adopting her first puppy, Esmeralda, it opened her eyes to the needs of the homeless dogs and cats on the streets of Sayulita, as well as the mistreatment of some of these animals. At the time, she had no knowledge of animal welfare, but knew she couldn’t live here without actively helping.
How did SayulitAnimals start?
Seven years ago, I teamed up with two other women who also felt a strong urge to help the animals. There were crippled dogs who were dragging themselves in the streets, packs of homeless dogs roaming about, and pregnant and starving dogs on the beach. There was biannual poisoning of street/beach dogs going on in regards to overpopulation. It was just heartbreaking. So, together we started SayulitAnimals.
How does SayulitAnimals make a difference in Sayulita?
Well, there are nearly no homeless animals now, which really helps with tourism. I’ve heard people who have been coming to Sayulita for years say that they almost didn’t come back because they had to leave behind a homeless dog, and it was breaking their heart. I’ve heard stories about people meeting a dog on the beach and the dog running after the bus or taxi. Now these same people come back to Sayulita and they don’t have to face that heartbreak anymore. Also, most dogs and cats in the area are pretty healthy. When I first came here 11 years ago, nobody was walking their pet on a leash. Through community education, this has changed. The locals seem to be more connected with their pets.
SayulitAnimals has four programs in place that are crucial to its success. Will you tell me more about these programs?
We have a free spay and neuter program, which has tremendously cut down on unwanted and homeless animals. There are no longer packs of dogs running around. Through the years, we’ve seen more and more Mexicans wanting to get their animals fixed, which initially many resisted. Anyone who wants to, can take advantage of the weekly spay and neuter day, which is every Thursday. However, it’s important to make an appointment in advance. Up until this year, we have sterilized an average of 350 animals each year, but this year the number has increased and we’re hoping to sterilize at least 500 animals. We’ve sterilized over 2,000 animals in the last 6 years. We now have the population pretty much under control in Sayulita and have the luxury of going to other communities that have no animal welfare organization or vet to sterilize their animals. We have been getting a very good response with this.
We also have an adoption assistance program, which makes it extremely easy to adopt a pet with our help. I’d like to mention here that SayulitAnimals is NOT a shelter! All our rescues should be going to a foster home. It is safe to say that finding responsible foster homes is the biggest struggle I face. I very much wish that more people of this community got involved with us. SayulitAnimals can not operate without foster homes! As simple as that…
Our medical aid program helps to get hurt and sick street animals off the street. We get them the help they need to recover and then we find the animal a home. If you choose to rescue a dog or cat in need, this animal is your responsibility. However SayulitAnimals is more than happy to assist you with your rescue. We will spay/neuter the animal and will help you in getting it back in shape for it to get into our adoption assistance program. Now, just to confirm what I have said earlier, we do not take in any rescues! You can not drop off a dog or a cat at our clinic.
Community education is another vital program.
What role do you play?
I’m co-founder and director. I’m physically at the office Tuesday through Saturday from 10am until 2pm. I run the adoption assistance program and the spay/neuter program, and Shelly Labovitz and I run the medical aid program. I’m active in dog and cat rescue myself, and it’s a comfortable feeling to have this amazing organization as a backup.
What motivates you to continue to try to make a positive impact in Sayulita?
The gratefulness of the animals I help is extremely motivating. They are so thankful. I also get a lot of encouragement from Sayulita locals and tourists who are in town. It makes me see that I’ve been doing a good thing.
What additional changes do you want to see brought about SayultiAnimals?
While the street animal situation is now pretty much under control, it’s heart wrenching to know there are so many owned animals sitting in a back alley or hiding behind the bushes tied up and suffering silently. Until now, it was really difficult or impossible to help those animals. While there are laws against animal cruelty, there has been no authority to act on and enforce the law. Things are now changing and the law will be enforced. I hope to be able to work with the authorities to help these animals and punish the owners.
What have you gained from your involvement with this foundation?
I’ve gained the meaning of my life and I have discovered my passion. I have realized that every life is worth trying to save. It’s always worth trying. I’ve become a vegetarian simply because of the sake of not wanting to be any part of destroying animals. It doesn’t make sense to me to be called an animal lover and then turn around and eat them.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of every animal that pulls through. I’m proud of those that have encountered such hardship and possibly torture, and they pull through and become these trusting, happy, amazing beings. I am also proud that after over six years of being on the front, I still feel such compassion, commitment, and dedication even though I’m in a constant struggle not to burn out. It has gotten heavy on my soul seeing and hearing what I hear and see. I have to be very careful not to let my soul break. Good news is that I’m getting better at it!
Animal rescue isn’t always easy. How do you remain so passionate about this cause?
If you have ever looked into the eyes of a rescued dog, you will know how.
How can others help?
First of all, if you want to directly help the animals, go out there and rescue them. Get inspired. If you want to help SayulitAnimals, you can donate money, foster a dog or cat, or help with fundraising efforts. You can walk dogs, clean kennels or escort dogs to the States and Canada. You can also help at our spay and neuter clinics.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes! I would just totally love to see business and rental owners here in Sayulita think about just how much their businesses benefit from SayulitAnimals! Having an animal welfare organization on site is BRILLIANT for tourism. And tourism is the major economical influx here. So, Ladies and Gents, I’m talking to all of you beneficiaries of tourism: it’s about time to give back! Thank you.