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I Went On a Hike with 100 Dogs in the Hills of Jamaica

by Stephanie Koathes Mar 18, 2019

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Hooligans, I’m surrounded by hooligans.

This doesn’t mean what you’re probably thinking. I’m not surrounded by troublemakers; frisking happily around my legs are the hooligans of Montego Bay Animal Haven, the nickname given to the group’s rescued animals.

Founded in 2009, Montego Bay Animal Haven is a registered non-profit organisation based in Montego Bay, St James, though they often help with rescue cases in other parishes. The Haven is run entirely on donations.

One bright Saturday morning while spending some time in Montego Bay, I contacted the Haven hoping to arrange a visit. I was enthusiastically encouraged to participate in a hike with the hooligans.

Hiking with the hooligans is an experience like none other.

Participants get the opportunity to take a stroll through the hills of rural St James with around 100 of Montego Bay Animal Haven’s rescued dogs. The hike was the brainchild of Tammy Browne founder of the Haven as a means of supporting the animal shelter’s work. Visitors have a chance to explore inland Jamaica with the dogs who gambol about enjoying their walk and the attention.

“The hike takes out about 100 [dogs] although they can all go if they want to. We have up to 182 up there plus we have 40 at the house, 18 cats, three horses, one goat, parrots, one chicken, and three hamsters,” said Browne.

I adore dogs, so I jumped at the chance to hike with the Montego Bay Animal Haven hooligans.

Driving along the winding road with thick vegetation on either side, it felt as though the bustle of Montego Bay belonged to another world. The route  took me into an area known as Orange where, across the street from a salon with aliens painted on its fence, I met up with Steve, my hiking guide.

From there I followed Steve along a very rough road until we came to a farm where the dogs were waiting behind high chain link fences. According to Steve, the dogs get excited whenever they hear cars approaching because for them it means they’ll get to go for a walk.

It’s an incredible sight driving up to the dogs’ enclosure, a large swath of grassy land, surrounded by secure fences. And it’s mind-boggling to witness. Many of them run up to the chain link yapping enthusiastically, tails wagging, and their excitement is catching. It’s reasonable to be intimidated by the mass of dogs milling around waiting to greet you. But I wasn’t worried, the dogs all looked so happy.

Several happy dogs behind a chain link fence at the Hiking with the Hooligans tour in Montego Bay.

Steve opened the gate, and the dogs flooded out like a tidal wave. They started jumping around eagerly reaching their heads up to be petted.

I was cautioned to wear long pants and a shirt that I didn’t mind getting dirty and I’m thankful I followed that advice as little paws tugged at my clothes.

I was right not to be nervous. There was nothing to be nervous about. All these dogs wanted was to play and to be petted and loved. One sweet female dog stayed with me during the entire hike, reaching up to me periodically so that I could rub her head.

All around you could see scars from hard lives and ill-treatment. It’s no secret that Jamaica isn’t a place where animals are treated well, and these dogs have been through terrible experiences.

I asked Steve why he thinks Jamaicans often mistreat animals.

“I’ve loved animals from I was a little boy, I really love animals. I do this for them. To me people don’t understand that animals that can’t talk are just animals like us, God made them too. People don’t realise that dogs are really great. If you treat them well, you’ll be surprised at how that dog will protect you. I don’t know why Jamaicans treat animals like this,” he reflected.

Despite what people have done to them, it’s clear that all the dogs want is love, to be loved and to give love in return. It’s a powerful experience. The dogs aren’t trained. They stay with you during the walk because they want to be there; they’re happy to be around people giving and receiving affection. These dogs are available for adoption, to both local and overseas visitors. Montego Bay Animal Haven has lots of experience getting their dogs to homes in the US, UK, and Canada.

You can find and book the experience on Airbnb, through IrieLab, or you can contact Montego Bay Animal Haven.  All dogs available for hiking with the hooligans are temperament tested. Any dog that is likely to become aggressive remains at Montego Bay Animal Haven in the city. Please listen to your guide’s advice while on the walk.

For more information on Montego Bay Animal Haven’s work and how you can  donate, visit the rescue group’s Facebook page or website. You can also check out Find Yello’s interview with Tammy Browne, on what a typical day is like running the Haven.