‘Drowning in dogs’: How 2 Colorado sisters are helping neglected dogs in a U.S. territory 2,600 miles away

Local News

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands — Two Colorado Sisters who now live in the U.S. territory of Saipan are trying to make a difference by rescuing neglected and mistreated dogs.  

However, the island has very few resources so the girls are trying to fly the dogs here to Colorado to save as many as possible.  

It’s a pretty incredible story and it starts more than 2,600 miles away from Denver International Airport to all the way to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

Grace & Aria Keilback say compared to Colorado, dogs in Saipan have it rough. 

Skin and bones, fleas and ticks everywhere and not a vet in sight. Grace and Aria Keilback estimate there are about 60,000 stray dogs all on a tiny island about the size of Lakewood.  

The girls said the stray dogs are nicknamed Boonie Dogs that were either descendants from war dogs and remained strays or were abandoned by their owners. 

The Keilbacks said it’s even common to dump pregnant dogs because the owners don’t want to have to deal with the puppies. 

After a while living on the island in these conditions. The girls started an organization called Boonie Babies. Rehabbing and rehoming the strays on the island. However, frankly, Saipan can’t handle all of it.

The two say although they know dogs in Colorado need homes too these dogs have no other option. 

“The community is really drowning in dogs, but those are neglected dogs and abused dogs and dogs that are actively suffering, whereas animals in the US at least have a chance. It is really difficult to find a home for 1000s of strays. Eventually, you’re going to run out of homes, you’re going to run out of families willing you’re going to run out of space. and so really getting these dogs off is our only option that is left,” said Aria Keilback, one of the co-founders of Boonie Babies.  

It’s an overpopulation issue and with no vet on the whole island, there’s no end in sight unless a willing Colorado vet would like to hop on a plane and help the cause.

A lot of the neglected dogs have medical issues that need resolving and even more importantly there’s no one to perform critical spay and neuter surgeries on the island, so the dog population is not getting any smaller. 

There is a make-shift clinic on the island, that is run by volunteers out of a one-bedroom house, but the Keilbach’s say it’s not enough.  

“So the fact that there is no resident vet on Saipan is obviously completely devastating to the animal community, because any animal that has an injury that’s more extreme than a scratch, has no way of being treated,” said Aria Keilbach, co-founder of Boonie Babies.  

“[The clinic volunteers] have no professional medical training or anything like that. We work with local doctors to get prescriptions for the dogs. So that’s the extent of our medical care,” said Grace Keilbach, another co-founder of Boonie Babies.  

They’ve helped about 100 dogs to caring owners on the island with the resources they have, but their best chance would be to send them on a plane here for a better life.  

Grace & Aria Keilbach are hoping to see more Boonie dogs from Saipan land at Denver International Airport but right now the process is preventing that from happening.  

The co-founders of Boonie Babies say they could put 100 dogs on a flight to Colorado right now if they could but there are a few things standing in their way.  

With not a single case of rabies in the U.S. territory of Saipan, you’d think it would be no problem. 

However, it’s the cost, quarantines, weight, temperature and cargo limits, and a lot of paperwork that prohibit Boonie dogs from flying right now. 

Aria Keilbach says there are three main hurdles to getting the dogs a one-way ticket to a better life:  it’s about a $2,000-dollar bill per dog, willing adopters in the states, and airline restrictions.  

“We are trying to work with airlines to in the future them allow us more spots on the plane and less hoops to jump through. Obviously, when to do everything right as it comes to quarantine and such but we want to do it only if it is necessary and safe for everybody. And so finally getting a few dogs on a plane this summer was difficult but it was a successful eventually, and we hope to do more.”

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