Cancun Mexico, 2011: This was their second time here, and gentle breezes washed over the married couple as they strolled along alabaster white beaches under a sky the exact same color as the sea. After the walk, they returned to their resort, one of many that lined the Boulevard Kukulkan.
The conditions seemed perfect in this traveler’s paradise, but all day long Tracey Buyce and her husband Pete had encountered stray dogs—so many dogs in varying conditions of neglect, that it haunted her even after the couple returned to their room. Instead of waiting until they returned to their upstate New York home, Tracey decided that she had to do something right away. She pulled out her laptop and did a Google search and within a minute she was on www.candiinternational.org—the home page for Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), an organization devoted to addressing some of the issues that face animals found in resort areas and also to helping visitors connect with resources to help the strays.
It was a similar story to Tracey’s that started CANDi. In 1994 entrepreneur and avid traveler Darci Galati took her daughters on a vacation to Cancun. During their stay they too encountered numerous hungry, stray animals. Galati promised her girls that she would do something about it, and upon returning home she used her knowledge as an owner of a large travel company to found CANDi. The organization helps people sign up as escorts to accompany animals in transit to new homes in the United States and Canada, among other services.
CANDi also holds clinics in Cancun to provide veterinary care, and the organization spays and neuters stray animals, as well as pets, during these clinics. Animal overpopulation is a problem in the resort town; not only are there many stray dogs and cats, but many of the residents of the area cannot afford to care for their animals.
“A month later I was back in Mexico at my first CANDi clinic,” Tracey Buyce says as she recalls that 2011 Google search.
Besides helping out in the spay-and-neuter clinics, Buyce began to use her skills as a professional photographer to document the stray dog problem. “What’s hard to me as a photographer and an animal lover is to photograph them and leave them,” she says.
She and her husband live in Saratoga Springs, and the couple’s affection toward animals is evident when visiting their home. They have two dogs, Roxy and Cassidy, both adopted through rescue programs, and a cat named Reece who also is an animal rescue. They also own a horse named Moose.
It was during her second trip with CANDi, in January 2013, that Buyce encountered a dog so malnourished that she could not walk away from it. “Her case was pretty severe—she was probably the worse that I had seen,” she says.
The dog was one of two tied in a yard; the other appeared to be much more healthy. Buyce approached the owner, and after a short discussion, she was given the sickly dog. She carried the emaciated animal two miles back to the CANDi clinic where the dog was diagnosed with starvation and a transmissible venereal tumor, a type of cancer common in stray dog populations. Buyce decided to pay for the dog’s care and found a veterinarian who was willing to nurse the animal back to health.
Buyce again used her photography background to create a Facebook page for the dog she named Luna that documented the plight, treatment and recovery of the animal. Although she left Luna in Mexico to recuperate, Buyce vowed that this wouldn’t be the end of Luna’s story. “When I was in the airport coming back I swore I would find a home for her,” she says. “I wanted to keep an eye on her and make sure she was alright. Within five minutes of having [her photo] on Facebook, she had a home.”
Luna now lives in Saratoga Springs with the Witte family, and their chocolate Labrador retriever, Hunter. Jenny Witte, who runs Mamatoga, a local parenting website and magazine, met Tracey on Facebook, and started to follow Luna’s page. In March 2013, she adopted the dog even though the family had no experience with rescue animals. “Our other dog passed away and we couldn’t find a good fit. I thought this was a nice way to bring a dog into the family,” she says.
“Talk about living the life of Riley,” says Buyce about Luna’s new home in Saratoga. “She’s in the best town in upstate New York, and talk about being loved.”
“She’s been great, there was a little adjustment period,” Witte adds. “She’s a content little dog, it’s amazing how much she fits in.” She was especially surprised at the bond formed between Luna and her daughter Flevin. “When Flevin turned 5 she asked when Luna’s birthday was, and then insisted that Luna and her share their birthdays.”
Buyce now sits on the board of directors of CANDi, and is the organization’s official photographer. Her efforts are welcomed by founder Galati. “She has brought to light the problem in a way few could: with her lens that tells a story from the dog’s perspective. Tracey has a unique gift that clearly captures the emotions of these fragile creatures,” Galati says.
Galati also appreciates the work Luna has done to promote the efforts of CANDi. “Luna helped put a face on the growing problem in Mexico. The street dogs there are anonymous, living and dying alone and unwanted. Luna has helped bring about an awareness to the issue that these dogs are just the same as the pets you and I own at home—the only difference is they have been abandoned and have no voice.”
In addition to going to Cancun to volunteer in veterinary clinics and document the stray dog problem, Buyce also holds fundraisers for the organization. She has organized a pet photo session in Saratoga scheduled for this July, the proceeds of which will go directly to CANDi. The session will coincide with another trip to Cancun, where she will do four straight days of street photography of dogs. “I’m going to do a juxtaposition, and put the American dog with the street dog. The premise of the photo session is to have your american dog help a street dog in Mexico.”
“Tracey has been a tireless advocate of CANDi International—promoting, fundraising and even saving lives at her own time and expense—all for the benefit of our nonprofit organization,” says Galati.
“I just feel like it was something I had to do, I felt awful about the dogs,” Buyce explains. “This is something I had to stay committed to, it’s not a one-time thing.”
She has some advice to give to other travelers who are disturbed by what they encounter on trips: “Do a Google search—do it right then and there—don’t wait until you get home. Take the time to pay it forward. Everybody has something to offer.”