GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Animal Welfare Foundation’s Animal ambulance former and current volunteer-drivers celebrated the familiar gray van’s 20th anniversary Thursday with St. Maarten Veterinary Hospital staff. “This van is actually not the first ambulance,” says Inez Folkers, a foundation board member who was instrumental in the acquiring of funds to launch the program.
In 1996 an animal charity in the Netherlands (Stichting Buitenlandse Asielen) funded a green van that ran until 2005. It was AMFO which provided the one you all know now.” For the five years previous to 1997 foundation members transported residents’ pets in their personal cars, but not as a regularly scheduled service.
There were thirty volunteer drivers when the animal ambulance service began. A handful still live on the island, although most are now retired. Over the years as a group, their work has enabled the sterilization of thousands of pets, the adoption of thousands more, and – with the emergence of oral mange medication- the treatment of hundreds of afflicted dogs every year. One of the drivers’ most important tasks is as a true ambulance team: carrying injured animals to vet clinics, plus transporting pets for treatment and vaccinations if residents are without a vehicle.
The one thing the animal ambulance does not do, Folkers emphasizes, is go around grabbing up animals off the streets. While the team does collect animals that owners give away, strays must have the caller or a neighbor sign a statement that to their knowledge the animal has been abandoned. Nevertheless, the animal ambulance has been an important part of the overall improvement of the roadsides on Dutch St. Maarten. Ambulance drivers past and present are very proud of that.