The dogs above were rescued from Grand Bahama last week and were already in a U.S. kennel to await "forever homes." On the right, destitute Bahamians await a ferry to the U.S. One hundred and nineteen were ordered off the boat because they lacked entry visas.
I met my first "potcakes" in the early 1990s while docked at the West End of Grand Bahama en route to the Abacos. They were in a pack--lean, scruffy and furtive--come to beg for scraps. Having just endured 45 minutes of gratuitous verbal abuse from a Bahamian Immigrations officer, I was predisposed to sympathize with any underdog; we tossed our leftovers onto the dock and maybe opened a canned ham or two for good measure. The pack scoffed it up in seconds and disappeared into the scrub.
The Bahamas slang for dog, "potcake" refers to rice glummed to the bottom of Bahamian cooking pots, which often went to the neighborhood dogs along with chicken bones (yes, America, these dogs have been eating chicken bones for centuries).
An estimated 15,000 stray potcakes roam the islands of the Bahamas archipelago, not including those in the capital of Nassau on New Providence island. Whatever the total, it is probably somewhat diminished today due to Hurricane Dorian.
Two weeks ago Dorian drifted through the North West Bahamas, ever so slowly destroying everything in its path. Hundreds of people are thought to have died, and 70,000 homes have been rendered uninhabitable if not totally destroyed.
Over the past few decades affluent U.S. citizens have colonized the Abacos, buying so much property that the archipelago is often referred to as "Little America." With Americanization came the animal welfare movement, and potcakes were sought out for spaying, neutering and adopting.
So it was no surprise that the animal advocates were well organized and ready to go as soon as Dorian finally headed away up the East Coast. Last week 60 dogs that had been rescued from the islands arrived at Rybovich Marina at West Palm Beach via the M/Y Laurel, a Florida billionaire's 240-foot superyacht. The dogs were taken to a no-kill shelter in Loxahatchee Groves called Big Dog Ranch Rescue. Many more dogs and cats were flown into the U.S., some of them having been sent on to New York City and Chicago for eventual adoption.
Contrast the seamless and efficient animal evac with this:
On Sept. 8, hundreds of passengers at Freeport Harbour on Grand Bahama boarded a Fort Lauderdale-bound ferry, many without visas because other Bahamians before them had left for the U.S. without visas.
"They (the ferry crew) say they were told it was okay to accept Bahamian evacuees with passport and copy of police record. They boarded boat. Then when they sent manifest to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol — they were told those without visas would not be accepted," wrote Brian Entin, a Miami TV reporter who was on board. Entin reported that 119 passengers were forced to disembark.
Afterward, a U.S. official said the whole affair had been the result of a miscommunication and that those passengers would have been allowed to enter the U.S. Later the same day, Homeland Security walked that statement back, saying, "The bottom line is that all travelers must possess government-issued identity documents, such as passports. All travelers who arrive directly to a U.S. Port of Entry by air or sea must possess a U.S. visitor’s visa."
Sort of takes you breath away, no? Expecting people with no homes, no money, wearing all their earthly possessions to have just the right paperwork in time for evacuation.
Insult to injury: the U.S. administration on Sept. 11 declared that it had no intention of granting "temporary protected status" to Bahamians displaced by Dorian. TPS is a temporary benefit granted to foreign people's whose homelands are deemed unsafe, once including 60,000 Haitians affected by a massive earthquake in 2010. Individuals granted TPS status cannot be deported from the U.S. during a designated period and they can legally work and even travel outside of the country.
As anyone even casually familiar with the Bahamas will tell you, the island nation has neither the infrastructure nor enough give in its economy to handle a mass exodus of Grand Bahama and Abacos refugees internally. In contrast, Florida and the U.S. as a whole can easily absorb these people; they would be welcomed in existing West Indian communities here, and they would find jobs.
Both U.S. Senators from Florida, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, have urged the administration to please loosen the rules for those Bahamians with family stateside, and there are many.
Please don't misunderstand me. I love the fact that Americans are taking care of dogs and cats from these hard-hit islands. It is right and good to do so. I just happen to also believe that people should have parity with potcakes.