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VT Cast #32: Animals & VolunTourism


What are some of the VolunTourism initiatives being offered by organizations to support animals? What challenges do organizations face in their efforts to support the well-being of animals? How can VolunTourists better prepare themselves for these types of trips? We address these topics and discuss others during this episode of The VolunTourist.

Copyright © Debra Cummings, All Rights Reserved

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Past Webcast - April 15, 2008

Research Forum

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Debi Alexander, Executive Director of, Rainbow Riding Center [Bio]; Darci Galati, Founder & President, CANDI International [Bio]; Susan Paseman, Director of International Programs, World Vets [Bio].


[And, Debi, do you think about that at all in the work that you're doing, that sometimes you're in a situation, particularly when you are working with children and those that have disabilities - whether it's autism or other things - how is part of the education process that you're going through is to help people understand that this is not - these are not individuals, these are not animals, these are not kids - that you should be pitying? This is really a very vibrant environment where good things are happening...]

"I'm, I'm so glad you asked that question, David. When I first started working with Rainbow, I spent a month in the ring with every listen so I could really understand what it was that we were doing. And, I thought it would be really hard and sad; but the exact opposite is true. Every minute at Rainbow, we experience joy. It's a place where every day kids with different challenges come together and we're celebrating victories with every lesson. Sometimes they're very dramatic - a child will have a huge breakthrough, either emotionally or physically. Usually it's modest and small, but every victory is just joyously celebrated.




And the stories that just come pouring out of the program are incredible. I have a very good friend whose daughter started riding with us last summer, and she has autism. And, if you're familiar with children autism it is very hard for them to show emotion. For the first time, she was out at the barn and she rode 'Amigo', her face was just filled with such incredible light and joy and happiness. And when she got off the horse - - I'm still not sure why I did it - - but I knelt down and I asked her for a hug, and she ran up to me and just wrapped her arms around me and held me, literally, for minutes. It was incredible; and that breakthrough that occurred between her and her horse has carried on past that moment at the barn. Since we're neighbors, and I'm outside, and she gets off the bus, she calls out my name and is very expressive, and then she always wants to know is 'Amigo' in my house or in the backyard. But it's just amazing to see how these animals reach the children and make a difference in their lives." Debi Alexander

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[What do we need to do to help educate those travelers that being a volunteer in a destination, or coming on board to address an issue of concern like that, you can't just step right in and think that you're going to be able to tackle that without having some inroads into the community? ]

"Well, with regards to the traveler, that's one of the problems that we're facing, or one of the challenges that we're looking at - trying to create an opportunity on the web site, and through awareness, to show travelers how they can help. Because right now, the challenge is you go, you see an animal in distress, you run into a situation that's upsetting, and there is really nothing that you can do.

So, for example, one of the most common complaints that we get are from people that come from resorts and cats - - and they see lots of cats on the resorts. And we know that the managers of the hotels, the people that work at the hotels tell you that they poison the cats to control the over-population. One of the things that we want to do is create 'cat cafes,' which is a very simple solution. Going into a resort, you can create like an outdoor condo for these cats, a place where they can have shelter and the hotel can bring food to them once or twice a day. The vets get involved, they do the capture of the cats, they spay/neuter them, vet them, and release them back onto the property. And the tourists will see this and it's great corporate responsibility for the resort to show the tourists that they care - and this is a simple solution that can literally be done all over the world in thousands of resorts.

I have a situation right now with a person that was just in a resort in Cancun, and she contacted us because there's two cats there that totally affected her and wanted us to go in there and rescue them - - which we can't do because the resort is secure, the resort will not like that - - and she was worried to say anything to the managers of the resort because she thought they would just destroy them. So, in the end, there was nothing that we could do, but she's actually, she contacted the resort, because it bothered her so much, and she's flying back to Cancun to get these cats and bring them back home with her. No, it's not a solution. But, it just goes to show how much this happens over and over again - - where people go into a situation, they see something, normally there's nothing they can do, but that's one of the programs that we'd like to get done through tourism that will make a huge difference for these animals." Darci Galati

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[Susan what has been your experience with the setting up of clinics in tourism resorts? Has it been successful? ]

"Yes, we've done that in several places and it varies depending on the situation that exists before we go in. If there is some type of veterinary care there, there's usually been an attempt to educate the community. But, typically, I think it's why it upsets Americans when they do travel - other areas of the world do not view animals with the same respect that we do. So a lot of it is community education and that is one of the challenges that we do face. But, typically when we go into an area, there's been some publicity, some flyers put up, some television coverage making the community aware that we're coming and that we have free services.

We've notice that typically the first few days of our clinics a lot of observation by the locals, curiosity, but then it becomes, almost, the popular thing to do - they want their dog to be seen by the Americans. So it creates a positive mindset, in the way that we respect the animals, and I think that stays when we leave." Susan Paseman

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Guest Bios

Debi Alexander, Executive Director of, Rainbow Riding Center


Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

Debi Alexander joins Rainbow with over 20 years’ experience in managing and directing public relations events and marketing activities as well as resource development, public affairs, and communication strategies. Debi held executive positions at Fairfax County Office of Partnerships, The White House, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Alexander & Associates, Inc. She earned a Juris Doctor Degree and her undergraduate degree at George Mason University School of Law.

A native of the Washington metropolitan area, Debi grew up riding at summer camp in Leesburg and has carried a love of horses throughout her life. A novice rider, she enjoys taking lessons from Pam Wooley in Middleburg with her eleven-year old daughter Ashley who aspires to become a sidewalker in three years. In the meantime, Ashley is pleased to donate her time cleaning tack and grooming the horses.

Debi’s son Alex, who recently finished his Eagle Scout project at Beth Miller Park in Ashburn, is volunteering as a sidewalker on Thursdays. Both children are students at Wakefield School in The Plains and are delighted to support Rainbow as a family.

Married to Congressman Bill Alexander (D-AR-ret), Debi has spent her life supporting non-profits that serve children and their families including Northern Virginia Regional Park Foundation, Medical Care for Children Partnership, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Foundation, America Reads, and the Loudoun School-Business Partnership.

“I am honored and humbled to be able to serve our community with an organization such as Rainbow. With a rich history encompassing 20 years, Rainbow has lift up its student’s lives through the therapeutic benefit of working with and relating to one of God’s noblest and kindest creatures: the horse. Horses enrich the soul of a child with a gentle connection with nature. As someone once said, ‘In riding a horse we borrow freedom, for horses lend us the wings we lack.’ I look forward to growing Rainbow as we go to the next level of being able to provide year-round service to our students and their families as we “Build A Dream” at our permanent home at Silver Lake,” said Debi.

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Darci Galati, Founder & President, CANDI International

CANDi is the dream of Darci Galati, a woman with a successful business track record and an unflinching determination to create an organization which can make a difference. Darci lives in Kelowna BC in Canada with her family and has been involved in the tourism industry for almost 20 years. In 1994 she founded Dargal Interline (www.dargal.com), and built it into one of the largest interline travel companies in North America where she still acts as the President.

Darci is now the CEO and Board Chairperson for CANDi. She has traveled extensively in business and has witnessed the inhumane treatment of these animals first hand and believes the solution is in the hands of animal lovers, executives and corporations who work in the tourism industry in the developing countries of the world.

Her dog JJ is pictured with Darci; a loving member of the family JJ was saved from certain execution. He is the face of so many other animals who were not. "Some great work is already being done by dedicated people in these countries but they struggle everyday to find the financial support necessary to keep going. I truly believe that through these programs such as Cat Cafe in Mexico and now Costa Rica we can create long term solutions. CANDi is committed to provide financial and infrastructure support for proven organizations in developing countries which are tackling this terrible problem every day. Please join me in this important challenge: terrible, savage, inhumane treatment of these animals can be stopped but only if good people and corporations, committed to making a difference, join together and provide the essential financial support." Darci Galati, CANDi

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Susan Paseman, Director of International Programs, World Vets

Susan Paseman graduated from Texas A&M University with a Biology degree and is a registered Medical Technologist with the American Society of Clinical Pathologists. She has 11 years experience in the veterinary field working in both management and technician roles. She is the co-founder of World Vets, a non-profit organization that provides free veterinary aide all over the world.

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