Some vacationers return from the Caribbean with something that will last far longer than a suntan, a piece in last weekend's Los Angeles Times reported.
Take Todd Weller. He visited the turquoise waters of the Caribbean last fall to kick back and relax. But he returned to his Bay Area home with a wiggling, 9-week-old puppy named Mardi.
Weller's new best friend is a potcake dog, a mixed breed common in the West Indies. In bringing the animal back to the United States, he became part of an international rescue effort that transports homeless digs on the Caribbean -- where life for canines is often less than kind -- to the United States and Canada.
Most of the couriers resemble Weller -- upscale tourists flying home from holidays. Some adopt the animals themselves, as Weller did, but most just transport them to North America. Nearly 400 dogs have been relocated in the last two years from the Turks and Caicos Islands alone, where Weller found Mardi.
Potcake Place, a nonprofit group, was founded about two years ago. The organization rounds up homeless island pups, gets them vaccinated, provides carry-on bags and pays airfare charges. "We could not stand by and allow the death of perfectly healthy puppies," said Jane Parker-Rauw, director of Potcake Place.
Most pups make the flight before they're 14 weeks old, while they're still small and light enough to avoid airline weight and size regulations that would force them to ride in the baggage compartment instead of the passenger cabin.
The group arranges homes for them in the United States, either with individuals or with no-kill dog-adoption groups. Potcakes -- the name developed because locals give them the caked remains in the bottom of the pot to eat -- are medium size with a shepherd-mix look. They're hardy, smart and make good house pets, Parker-Rauw said. "And they smile a lot."
Other programs rescue dogs from the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and St. Croix. In the Turks and Caicos, a popular celebrity playground east of Cuba, the airlift program evolved because stray dogs were jeopardizing the tiny nation's burgeoning tourism industry -- running in packs, fighting over scraps of food and frightening visitors. Many of the dogs were shot, and others were poisoned; few lived beyond the age of 3.
In Freeport, the Humane Society of Grand Bahama uses a combination of programs, including puppy lifts by ferry boat to Florida and spaying/neutering to help deal with the problem.
To those who say the United States has enough strays without adding potcakes, Parker-Rauw replies that her group doesn't want to deny homes to American dogs: "We think all puppies deserve a home, including potcakes."
Photo: Judy Smith, a visitor to the Turks and Caicos Islands, bonds with a young potcake. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)