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Potcakes of the Caribbean

These unique island dogs are finding loving new homes throughout the US and Canada, thanks to a dedicated rescue network.

While on a flight to the Turks and Caicos Islands in February of 2011, I started thumbing through a tourist publication. My “dogdar” drew me to an article about Potcakes, the native dogs of the Turks and Bahamas. What the heck are Potcakes? I wondered. I learned that the name “Potcake” came from the practice of feeding these island dogs the residual hard-cooked rice, peas, fat and meat from the bottom of a flame-cooked stew pot. These hard leftover chunks are called potcakes, and the dogs acquired the same name.

More than a vacation

We had very recently lost our beautiful golden retriever, Isis, to cancer. This left our other golden, Ozzy, without a companion for the first time in his life. It was weighing on us, as he was not the type of dog to enjoy a solo lifestyle. But we were still grieving and the last thing we were thinking about was bringing home a dog from a foreign country.

Our flight landed in Providenciales. As we approached the house we were renting, we passed a home a few doors down with a wrought iron gate sculpted in the shape of a dog’s profile. Again, my “dogdar” perked up, doubly so when I saw the house was named Maison de Chiens. Even with my rudimentary French, I knew this meant “house of the dogs”. What were the odds that my wife and I, pet food business veterans and dedicated dog lovers, would rent so close to a fellow dog fanatic?

At a nearby restaurant, we met a wonderful man named Lovey Forbes, one of the best-loved musicians in the Turks and Caicos islands. We talked about his music, then Lovey asked us the fateful question: “What do you do?” Our answer – “we’re animal nutritionists and pet treat manufacturers” – was met by a huge smile. Lovey said: “You’re kidding! My wife is head of the Potcake Foundation.” When we asked where Lovey and his wife lived, we learned it was Maison de Chiens.

Lovey’s wife, artist Heather Simpson-Forbes, is the founder and chairwoman of the Potcake Foundation (thepotcakefoundation.com), the only charitable organization dedicated to bettering the lives of Potcake dogs. The Potcake Foundation and the Turks and Caicos SPCA (TCSPCA) have provided thousands of low-cost spay and neuter operations to help control the stray population, and have rescued and placed thousands of Potcakes. Also part of the network is Potcake Place (potcakeplace.com), a small store owned by Jane Parker-Rauw. Jane houses some of the puppies that need placement and sells fun Potcake merchandise – the proceeds go to the rescue effort.

Getting hooked

We were invited to Heather and Lovey’s bayfront villa that evening, and that’s when we met our first Potcakes. The couple had four, and they were delightful, cute and friendly dogs. The hook was set and we were slipping into the net.

We were invited to Heather and Lovey’s bayfront villa that evening, and that’s when we met our first Potcakes. The couple had four, and they were delightful, cute and friendly dogs. The hook was set and we were slipping into the net. By the end of the night, Heather had arranged for us to meet Susan Blehr, the Director of the TCSPCA. Our goal was simply to visit the facility and make a donation. We made the trip next day. After some general discussion, Susan looked us in the eye and said: “Aren’t you really here to look at puppies? We have some ready for homes right now.” Amanda and I looked at each other. “Uh, well, we couldn’t possibly bring home a new puppy,” I said. We explained about our recent loss and our concerns about socializing a semi-wild dog with Ozzy. We also worried about potential health issues with the Potcakes, and how we’d fly home with a non-housebroken puppy, not to mention get him through Customs. Susan reassured us on all fronts. The TCSPCA has placed thousands of puppies in homes in the US and Canada, and has the process down to a science.

Health certificates are supplied for travel and all puppies ready for adoption are given complete veterinary care, including all required shots. The puppy would be given to us in a carrier at the airport on our departure day, with all the necessary papers. All we had to do was take the papers to the airline counter and pay a $100 fee to take the pup in the plane for the trip home.

We still didn’t think this was a great idea, but we followed Susan from the TCSPCA office to the Pampered Paws kennel, which houses rescued Potcake puppies until they find their forever homes. There we met three puppies estimated to be about 12 weeks old. They needed homes before they grew too large to take on a plane in a carrier. This was the moment of truth. One of the female pups was very shy and frightened, but she went to my older son and nuzzled him. The others were more playful but when this little girl looked at me my heart melted. I saw something in those eyes: a plea for life and an offer of unconditional love. We asked for some time and went for lunch to discuss what to do. We returned to see the pup again and the rest, as they say, is history.

Taylor comes home

On the day we were flying home, Susan brought the puppy to the airport to meet us. We decided to call our new baby “Taylor Bay” after one of our favorite spots on the island. She behaved beautifully during the flight and we made it safely home to Connecticut.

After a brief period of shock, Ozzy warmed up to Taylor and they have become inseparable. Taylor’s shyness melted away and she has become a vibrant and loving dog. Few can resist her unusual “dingo-like” appearance or her winning personality. We’re often asked: “What kind of dog is that?” We proudly reply: “That’s Taylor Bay – she’s a Potcake from the Caribbean!” As you can imagine, that’s usually the start of some very interesting conversations with fellow dog lovers. Taylor has been with us for 16 months now and we couldn‘t be happier.

More about Potcakes

These dogs have a long legacy. Spanish and English explorers brought dogs on board their ships (terriers were favorites for controlling shipboard rodents). And during the American Revolution, settlers from the Carolinas loyal to the British crown fled to the Caribbean and brought their hunting hounds along. All these dogs, breeding together during the last century, resulted in today’s Potcake breed. Potcakes are recognized by the Bahamian Kennel Club and are classified at island kennel club events as a distinct breed. The dogs vary in size and appearance, but the typical Potcake is between 30 and 75 pounds, with a long nose and large ears.