Taj Weekes – musician, poet, humanitarian, dog-owner and animal-lover – is now tackling an issue that has been troubling him since he was a child growing up in Saint Lucia. Taj is organising spay and neuter clinics for animals on 16th, 17th and 18th October in the north of the island and in Soufriere.Aside from his successful music career with the band Adowa, Taj is associated with his work for under-privileged and needy children, especially in the Caribbean. He has been appointed by UNICEF as a ‘Champion for Children’ and in 2007 he co-founded a not-for-profit organisation: TOCO – They Often Cry Outreach – which is dedicated to improving the lives of Caribbean youth through sports, health and enrichment programmes. In 2012 the Saint Lucian government bestowed on Taj a Humanitarian Award and this July he was a Distinguished Service Award honoree of Project Education, a New York-based organisation that helps disadvantaged Saint Lucian families to obtain school supplies, at its fifth annual Breakfast for Education.
Given that Taj is well known for his work with children, The STAR asked what inspired him to now turn his attention to animals. His honest and interesting reply was: “Maybe it’s karma. I grew up in Saint Lucia; it may have been something cultural but I don’t think we treated our animals well. I threw stones at the dogs, I kicked the dogs. But there was always one incident that stood out in my head, even while we were treating the animals badly. There was a guy who used to come to our house; he had a dog and I remember the dog getting hit by a car and I remember him picking it up and holding on to it. There was blood all over his shirt and he was crying. And I never understood why he cared about this dog so much and why it was that he was so unlike the rest of us; that we were there treating dogs badly and this man cared so much about an animal. It kind of always lingered in the back of my mind. And later I moved to North America and I saw people with animals in their houses and I was thrown off by that – the dog lives in the house!
“I’ve been back to Saint Lucia a couple of times and I’ve seen the dogs, and people mashing and kicking them and I’ve always thought about doing something about the dogs but children were my thing. Last year I was here with my family and it’s a funny story: we went to Gros Islet, to a restaurant, and my son came over and asked, ‘Dad, can I have some money?’ and I gave him $20. He was gone for about five minutes and he came back and asked for more money so I gave him another twenty. And soon I’m $80 deep and I’m thinking ‘What are you doing with this money?’ And somebody came over to me and said, ‘Come see what your son is doing.’ And I came out and there were literally about thirty dogs around him. He had bought chicken and bakes and he was feeding all the dogs and he was so happy about what he was doing.
“When we were leaving he asked me, ‘So what is going to happen to these animals?’ And I said that they were going to remain on the street. And he said, ‘What are we going to do about that, Dad?’ And we got home and he was still asking the same thing, ‘What are we going to do about the dogs?’ So I decided to do something about the dogs, and that’s what I’m now doing.”
Taj teamed up with the Caribbean Spay and Neuter Foundation and confirms that twelve vets will visit Saint Lucia in October to spay and neuter dogs, cats, even goats. Their accommodation for the duration of the clinic has been secured through the generosity of The Landings and Anse Chastanet resorts.
Last week, while in Saint Lucia, Taj invited Dr. Jenny Cenac-Andrews, veterinary surgeon, to take the local lead. He also met with Pam Devaux, President of the Saint Lucia Animal Protection Society (SLAPS), so that the spay and neuter clinics can be organised in conjunction with their members and volunteers.
The clinic venues have yet to be confirmed. Taj has viewed various properties in the north of the island and in Soufriere to assess their suitability for surgical operations and recovery but also as a potential permanent shelter for animals.
The plan is to hold a follow-up exercise six months after the clinics to check on their success, to consider other communities which would benefit from the spay and neuter programme, and to lay the foundation for the animal shelter.
Taj knows that it is humans who have to speak on behalf of the animals. He is concerned about the lack of enforcement of existing laws for their welfare and protection and wants to see the laws here properly implemented so that animals do not suffer. He also seeks to educate and inform so that the ways of his childhood, when people knew no better than to kick animals and throw stones at them, will be eradicated.
Further details on the clinic venues will be announced in October.