Helping stray dogs find ‘fur-ever’ home

Posted on Nov 26 2020

Boonie Babies Foster founder Aria Keilbach plays with two dogs under her care. “I had heard the rumors that boonie dogs are unpredictable and aggressive and couldn’t possibly make good pets but, through my experiences, I learned that that was far from the truth,” she said. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

The large number of abandoned, malnourished, and sick dogs roaming the streets of Saipan has led to the birth of Boonie Babies Foster—a group that seeks to find “fur-ever” homes for the island’s stray dog population.

Founded by Northern Marianas College freshman Aria Keilbach, Boonies Babies Foster provides shelter, food, comfort, and love for dogs before they are adopted. Keilback’s passion for animals brought her to care not only for her own dogs but also for the ones who are unloved and are alone.

“I have always had a passion for animals and I spent my childhood back in the [United] States rescuing baby birds, volunteering at animal shelters, and spending any spare moment I have training my own dogs. When I moved to Saipan and saw the complete lack of respect for animal life and the overpopulation of stray and neglected dogs here, I was devastated,” she said. “One day, a male boonie dog appeared at our yard and decided that it was going to be his home. He had a collar but was extremely malnourished and dehydrated, so we gave him food, water, and a simple name, D-O-G or Diogi. The effort to not get attached was futile as Diogi was an extremely affectionate and playful dog that became more and more a part of our family as we started bringing him along on walks, beach days, and car rides.”

Sadly, Diogi passed away a few weeks later due to a dog disease called parvo, proof that previous owners never got the dog the necessary vaccines. “He filled the missing piece in my days, like only the comfort a loving dog can. …That was when I realized that adoption was not the only way to help stray dogs on island so I started keeping dog food in my car so that I could stop and feed any stray I see,” she said.

“Soon, we had taken in two foster dogs from Saipan Cares for Animals and Boonie Babies Foster began.

“I had heard the rumors that boonie dogs were unpredictable, aggressive dogs that couldn’t possibly make good pets but, through my experiences, I learned that that was far from the truth. Any unsocialized dog who is forced to face neglect and survive on their own has the potential to form aggressive tendencies, solely in self-defense or fear. However, there is nothing in boonie dogs’ genetics that makes them aggressive. It is all dependent on the experiences they’ve been through,” she added.

Since Diogi passed away in 2019, Kielbach has taken in 19 neglected, injured, and starving boonie dogs with the intention of rehabilitating, socializing, and loving them until they are ready to be adopted out to their “furever” homes. “The random feedings of stray dogs have grown into a scheduled route made up of about 10-15 dogs across the island that I feed regularly and who come running to my car when I pull up. I started posting about my foster dogs and strays and created a platform on which I educate others on the animal situation here and the process of rescuing,” she said.

“Providing care and necessities for the number of dogs and cats that rely on me, an unemployed 18-year-old college student, would be impossible without help. I am incredibly grateful for the support of everyone who follows my social media platforms, my hundreds of followers on Instagram and 300,000 followers on TikTok. I do not only receive donations to cover food expenses but also medical costs and make donations to the incredible nonprofit clinic here, Saipan Cares for Animals, who, without their help, none of my rescues would have survived,” she added.

One of Boonie Dogs Foster’s first rescue was a dog named Bella. “I had several foster dogs that I got from Saipan Cares for Animals but the first dog that I personally rescued had such an impact on me. I was driving home from school when I spotted a dog chained to a cement slab in the pouring rain and starving to death. She was so skinny and looked like a skeleton. I pulled over with the intention of simply giving her some food and comfort but, as I approached her, I was shocked to see a 4-week-old puppy near her that was barely old enough to walk. I scooped up the listless puppy and, after some searching, found two other puppies, all of which were covered in ticks, sopping wet, and barely alive. I knew that I needed to get those dogs out of that situation or they would not survive much longer, so after a conversation with the owners, they agreed to let me take Bella the mother dog and her puppies.”

According to Keilbach, Bella made a full recovery and is now getting plenty of love from her adopted family. “I owe it to Bella for not only strengthening my passion for rescuing but also for the support of people through my social media as her rescue video got 9 million views. …I have always wanted to rescue and foster dogs but the fact that there is such a need for it on this island is what really motivated me to do so and encourage others to do the same,’ she said.

“Every single one of my foster dogs, many of whom were rescued off the streets and had no prior human contact, became happy, friendly, socialized dogs, all perfectly capable of being a loving family member. …There are so many ways in which the community can help—adoption but, if you are not prepared for that kind of commitment, there is fostering, volunteering at Saipan Cares for Animals, or simply supporting them through donations or social media, as raising awareness is extremely important as well,” she added.

Kielbach doesn’t see stopping anytime in helping animals that need it. “I live by the belief that animals have souls just as complicated and strong as our own and I think that until you own an animal and form that bond, part of your soul remains unawakened. Dogs are intelligent, understanding, loving, feeling creatures who deserve our respect and care,” she said.

To help and send donations, reach out to Aria through Instagram: @booniebabies and Tiktok: @stay_wavy-baby.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.
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