Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide The Incredible Impact of Saving Soldiers’ Pets

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Here at SPCA International, our Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program is constantly helping soldiers stationed around the globe rescue their pets when their overseas tours of duty end. This work can be extremely complicated, but our talented staff members always find a way to help soldiers and their battle buddies.

Although this work never grows old, it does become second nature to see successful missions carried out on a regular basis. This familiarity can mean that we start to take for granted just how difficult and unique each story is. Working with a well-oiled machine, you forget about the individual parts that come together to create the end result.

Recently, we asked some of the soldiers who have been helped by our program to share their experience in a short video. Their videos reminded me just how life-changing the Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program is and how vital our work is not just for the animals it saves, but the humans we serve as well.

When soldiers contact us, they are typically doubtful about the possibility of rescuing their animal. Most have already researched many options and come up without any viable way of getting their dog or cat back to the U.S. on their own.  

The roadblocks are numerous; the military prohibits adopted pets on military planes, private pet transportation companies don’t serve the countries where many soldiers are stationed on active duty. These soldiers hit dead end after dead end until they find our program.

As I reflect on the Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program, I feel honored to give back to U.S. service members who sacrifice so much for our safety, proud of our program staff at SPCA International, and immensely grateful to each and every person who supports this important program. By sharing these experiences, we hope to give people more insight into our program by hearing from the soldiers directly.

Right now, due to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, our Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program is grounded. We can’t transport pets because so many airports and borders are closed. So, dogs and cats in the program are being cared for at facilities and in foster homes in Iraq, the Philippines, Poland, Kenya, Jordan and Somalia. We are hearing rumors of airports and international travel opening soon. The moment it becomes possible, we’ll reunite these pets with their soldiers and celebrate their homecoming.

I hope these videos warm your heart as much as they warmed mine.

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COVID-19 Reflections

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

With our SPCA International headquarters located in New York City, we have felt the profound effects of COVID-19. Our staff members have done their part to slow the spread of the virus by working from home and only leaving for the most essential tasks. We have known neighbors, former classmates and friends who have fallen ill and even passed away. Our hearts and thoughts are with all those here in New York, across the country and around the globe who are healing, grieving, job searching and getting by any way they can.

I am immensely proud of the work our team, our supporters and our partners across the globe have continued to achieve, even during these difficult times. As we begin to transition toward a “new normal”, I am reflecting on some of the positive effects of this pandemic.

The global community has been forced to slow down, reconnect with family, and remember how to live without constantly running from one task to the next. We have strengthened communication strategies and business systems to accomplish our work even when we can’t be together.

In addition to the effects on people, our planet is also healing. Pollution and noise are down, and many animals are thriving and taking back their natural habitats. Animals are coming out of hiding in US national parks, and populations are increasing in unprecedented numbers. When we look back on COVID-19, I hope we remember the good that came out of this harrowing situation. I hope we remember to reduce our pollution, slow down our lives, and generously share our planet with animals.

At SPCA International, we are as busy now as we ever were. We have gotten our commute time back, quieted our lives and rededicated ourselves to new ways of problem-solving. We remain committed to our mission, advancing the safety and well-being of animals.

Hunting Regulation Rollbacks Target Wolf Pups and Bear Cubs

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

On May 20th, the National Park Service removed hunting and trapping prohibitions on Alaska national preserves.

I am deeply concerned about this change. The new guidelines remove protections implemented in 2015 and will allow hunting and trapping practices that are being opposed by conservationists and many hunters. The rule change allows for:

  • Using artificial light (such as spotlights) to hunt and trap black bears in their dens, including cubs and sows with cubs.
  • Using bait to hunt and trap brown and black bears.
  • Hunting and trapping wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season.
  • Hunting swimming caribou and using motorboats to do so.
  • Using dogs to hunt black bears.

Personally, I don’t understand hunting for sport, and I am appalled at the idea of hunting bear cubs and wolf pups. Proponents of this rule change say it supports state hunting guidelines and gives tribal members the right to hunt traditionally. These statements may be true, but I believe the coming years will show many sport hunters taking advantage of this ruling.

Unfortunately, the new rules have already been implemented. Here at SPCA International, we’ll be keeping an eye on the situation and letting you know if there is any way to get involved in the future. In the meantime, you can find the ruling in the federal register here. https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NPS-2018-0005

Earth Day: Good for the Environment, Good for Animals

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Here at SPCA International, we’re celebrating Earth Day this April 22nd, and we hope you are too. Granted, we aren’t throwing a big bash, but we’re taking a few minutes to recognize the importance of caring for the environment.

Keeping our planet healthy and sustainable is intrinsically linked to animal welfare. Conserving forests and grasslands keeps natural habitats intact. Removing plastics from oceans and rivers provides cleaner water for animals at all levels of the food chain. Reducing emissions keeps the air pure for all of us.

We remember that each day, every single person can take small steps to mitigate climate change and care for Planet Earth. Here are a few simple ideas to give the environment a symbolic hug:

  • Use reusable grocery bags and keep plastic bags out of landfills and waterways
  • Walk, bike or carpool to drive less and reduce air pollution
  • Recycle paper, metal, batteries and everything else that you can
  • Buy sustainable foods and products, more companies are sharing this information
  • Eat less meat to reduce the byproducts of meat processing
  • Use a reusable water bottle and coffee mug to reduce single use cups and bottles
  • Turn out the lights when you don’t need them to save energy
  • Turn off the water when you don’t need it, like when you’re brushing your teeth
  • Print less paper at home and work to save more trees

With all of us taking a few simple steps like these, we can make a huge collective impact on our planet.

New York Legislation to Ban Puppy Mill Sales

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Animal shelters across the nation house thousands of dogs and cats in need of loving homes. That’s why I am heartened by the newly proposed New York State Senate Bill that would ban pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits. Instead, pet stores would be encouraged to offer spaces to local shelters to showcase available rescue animals.

This is an exciting opportunity for the state of New York and other states that may enact similar legislation. Just imagine, instead of walking by a pet store window and seeing puppies and kittens for sale, we’ll see dogs and cats available for adoption. Coupled with strong federal regulations to combat puppy and kitty mills, legislation like this could change the way Americans acquire pets.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan sponsored the bill and says, “by ensuring that pet stores can offer only rescues for adoption, this legislation will protect consumers, help to shut down the mills and end the puppy to-pet store pipeline,”

New York would join Maryland, California and hundreds of U.S. cities with similar legislation already in place. You can read the bill and follow it here:  https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s4234

COVID-19: What We Know

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I hope you are staying safe and healthy while we navigate the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. Here at SPCA International, we are in constant communication with officials, shelter partners and rescue organizations. They are keeping us abreast of the latest developments in Asia, Europe, Latin America and here in North America.  

People all over the world are stepping up to make sure animals stay safe during this crisis. In many countries, people are restricted from moving between their homes and workplaces, so shelter staff and volunteers are living at shelters to care for animals. However, animals continue to be at risk, mostly because of food shortages.

Over the past few weeks, many shelters have contacted us for help. They are scattered across the globe, but their stories are eerily similar. Stores are closing, food shipments are delayed, people don’t know if they’ll be allowed to go out to buy more food when they need it. Everyone is hustling to make sure they can feed the animals in their care during this crisis.  

Unfortunately, animals not in the care of animal welfare groups are at extremely high risk. We have reports from our partners that dogs in China are being killed indiscriminately and pets are being abandoned on the streets of Italy due to unfounded fears. Pets are being left behind when their owners pass away unexpectedly. Animal welfare groups are doing their best to respond to each of these emergency situations and save as many animals as possible while facing an uncertain future themselves.

As this situation unfolds, we’re continuing to monitor animal welfare across the globe and step in where we can help. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we have been able to earmark $100,000 for animal welfare groups affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

We know the global COVID-19 crisis is far from over, and there are many unknowns, so we remain committed to helping animal welfare groups meet new and unique challenges as they arise.

Please, stay safe and healthy during this difficult time.


If you would like to help us continue to provide vital support to shelters and animals around the world in this most challenging time : 

Courageous Women Lead Animal Welfare Movement

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

March 8th is International Women’s Day, so I want to take a moment to honor all of the amazing women in the field of animal welfare.

Animal welfare is by and large a women’s movement. That’s not to say there aren’t some amazing men involved with animal welfare, because there certainly are. However, the vast majority of our partner organizations in North America and overseas are led by women. Even here at SPCA International our staff is made up of an incredible group of strong and committed women.

So, this International Women’s Day, I would like to recognize and honor just a few of the women making the world a better place for animals.

  • Helena Hesayne founded BETA Lebanon in 2004 and has since cared for thousands of animals. Today, BETA is in the process of building a new state of the art shelter facility that will house the over 800 dogs and cats who depend on Helena and her team.
  • Suzanne Rivera Danziger wanted to build a shelter when she founded AMA Guatemala, but couldn’t afford it. Now she sees this as a blessing. Instead of sheltering, AMA helps low income local citizens foster the strays they encounter on the streets. Then AMA secures loving forever homes for the animals. With this model, Suzanne is changing public perceptions about animal responsibility in Guatemala.
  • Pat Chan founded Spay Panama in 2001, which has sterilized tens of thousands of animals in Panama through free and low cost spay and neuter clinics held throughout the country. Pat’s innovative model of utilizing the time and talents of dozens of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary students has prevented the births of hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals.  
  • Anna Clements founded SOS Galgos in Spain in 2000 along with her veterinarian husband. Together, they have saved hundreds of Spanish Greyhounds known as Galgos, brought the plight of Galgos to the public and political conscience, and even helped Galgos become one of the trendiest rescue dogs in Spain.
  • Du Yufeng is the fearless leader of the Bo Ai Animal Protection Centre in China. A life-long animal lover, Du started rescuing dogs in 2003. She is well known for her work to stop the dog meat trade in China and has been known to demand permits from truck drivers and butcher operating illegally (then call the police to have them arrested).
  • Garofita Hofmann leads Dog Rescue Romania where she has rescued hundreds of dogs and subsequently rehomed them throughout the European Union. Not just a shelter, Dog Rescue Romania works to sterilize dogs throughout the country and improve conditions for animals on the streets.

In my travels with SPCA International it has been an honor and a pleasure to meet the women advancing the animal welfare movement who are equal parts compassionate, motivated and intelligent. So to all the women who have stepped up to make life better for even just one animal. We see you, we honor you and we thank you.

Working Dogs Left to Die

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

You may have seen the news recently about the reports published about horrendous neglect of U.S. bomb-sniffing dogs in Jordan. In response to a hotline complaint, the Office of the Inspector General sent a team to do an evaluation of the kennel conditions of Explosive Detection Canines provided to Jordan. What they found was a horrifying combination of neglect, overwork and lack of basic veterinary care.

Dogs that were carefully trained to save lives are now living in squalid conditions. Their kennels are covered in feces, their water bowls are often dry, and they aren’t being fed regularly. All of that, and they are still expected to work long days under the hot sun; sniffing for bombs.

The report that was published makes an attempt to correct the living conditions, and some progress has been made. In late December, the State Department announced it would stop sending working dogs to Jordan and Egypt.

Unfortunately, U.S. trained dogs continue to live and work in Jordan and other foreign partner nations. This can feel like a lost cause, but it isn’t. We must urge the U.S. Government to implement worldwide standards of care can be met and monitored.

Will you join us in standing up for these animals? Please SIGN OUR PETITION urging the government for more transparency:

Our petition asks the State Department to STOP sending dogs to partner nations until policies are in place to ensure the well-being of these military dogs.

I have added my name to the list and hope you will too. You can read the full OIG report here: https://www.stateoig.gov/system/files/esp-19-06.pdf

Spay and Neuter: Still New in Developing Countries

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Here at SPCA International, we talk a lot about spay and neuter. I know it can seem like a tired subject because it is such a common practice here in North America. However, in many developing countries around the world, sterilizing pets is a new concept, and it is just starting to catch on.

That’s the good news, though. Spaying and neutering pets is becoming more common in some of the most unlikely places, thanks to incredible SPCA International partner organizations. Last year, we supported organizations on every continent (except Antarctica) that are working hard to improve the health and living conditions of vulnerable animals by reducing suffering through spay and neuter initiatives.

SPCA International provides direct cash grants through our Shelter Support Fund and veterinary supplies through our Veterinary Supply Aid program for animal welfare organizations across the globe that have limited resources. These resources ensure that the surgeries can be carried out with the proper, sterilized instruments and necessary medications.

These partner organizations are carrying the message to rural villages and urban cities that spaying and neutering is humane and practical. Beyond educating the public, they are also setting up free and low-cost spay and neuter campaigns to ensure people can access the care their pets need. In many remote places there are no established veterinary clinics or regular access to veterinary care which makes these low cost campaigns incredibly important. Across the globe, millions of animals are born, live short lives and die on the streets. These animals experience extreme suffering, which is why spay and neuter is so critical. Every animal spayed or neutered saves several thousand potential animals from suffering.  At SPCA International we will continue to work toward the day that no animal has to suffer from simply being born into an inhospitable environment.

Giving Tuesday

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

The Giving Tuesday movement has been growing each year since it began in 2012 and represents millions of dollars generously donated to non-profit organizations around the world. It is an important day for SPCA International, but not just because of the donations that help save animal’s lives around the world.

Giving Tuesday is about celebrating a great American tradition of generosity in a world that seems increasingly disconnected. As someone who works across international borders the global demonstration of giving is particularly heartwarming for me.  

Intrinsically tied to Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday helps us kick off the holiday season by considering how we can take an active role in making the world a better place and gives us a chance to stand with others who care about the same causes.

This year, I hope you’ll consider starting the holiday season with a donation on Giving Tuesday. No matter how small, Giving Tuesday donations make a difference. When millions of people make donations on the same day, they are speaking with one voice to tell others they care.