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The Sanctuary

American hotel owner Janice Chatterton has seen enough. In her adopted home of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, stray dogs and cats roam the beaches, city streets, country roads and rural fields. They are simply everywhere.
Posted by CityDog Magazine | Photos courtesy of The Sanctuary
There is no culture of spay/neuter so every day the problem reproduces itself. Stray animals are frightened, often sick, always hungry and frequently abused. And if/when they are caught and removed from the streets, their fate is rarely good.

It may seem like an insurmountable set of circumstances–there isn’t even a remotely accurate tally of the number of homeless dogs and cats in Mexico–but like any great cause, all you can do is chip away at it bit by bit. Chatterton, the owner of a luxury boutique hotel in Puerto Vallarta and a lifelong dog lover and animal advocate, decided to start chipping away at the problem, one animal at a time.

After starting her local chapter of SPCA in Puerto Vallarta, she decided she needed to build a shelter to house the animals she rescued. Through trial and error, she learned what worked and what didn’t, what circumstances allowed the animals to thrive and which caused them to act out, and just as importantly, what circumstances were most appealing to potential adoptive families, donors and volunteers.

In 2012, after much fundraising and community outreach, she was able to build a bigger shelter, one that would not only allow her to save more animals, but would also allow the animals to live in an environment that encouraged rehabilitation, socialization and family friendly manners. She calls it The Sanctuary.

The result of this new environment is that dogs have an appropriate amount of exercise, thus are calmer. They are socialized with other dogs and humans, thus are less aggressive, fearful and reactionary. They have sessions with trainers, thus are more prepared for life in a family. They receive proper nutrition and healthcare, thus they feel better, act better and look better.

All of these factors lead to the same road: when a person or a family is interested in adopting, they look at photos online or they visit The Sanctuary and they see animals that they can envision in their homes and lives.
Janice’s new passion is sharing her method and encouraging others, in Mexico as well as in the U.S. and Canada, to consider incorporating them into their shelter and rescue systems to whatever degree possible.

Her methods include:

Room. A constantly confined animal is nervous and full of pent up energy. Instead of crating them in a kennel, provide pens that ideally have indoor and outdoor access to move freely.

Fresh air, grass, dirt, sunshine.

Common areas for socializing with other animals.

Quiet areas for retreating.

Significant time with humans, relaxing, playing and learning.

Basic obedience training.

Appropriate healthcare.

Quality nutrition.

Physical rehabilitation.

At any given time, The Sanctuary houses about 100 dogs and 25 cats and of course, it is always at capacity (much like her other passion, the hotel). Hacienda San Angel is a 20-room luxury boutique hotel set on a hilltop overlooking the Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madre Mountains. Many of the hotel’s guests become donors, frequent visitors and even adopters at The Sanctuary.

However, while the experience people find at the hotel is beyond the norm, and certainly counts as luxury, what is provided at The Sanctuary is simply humane.

For more information about Puerto Vallarta's SPCA Sanctuary and to donate, please visit

Photo captions top to bottom: The Sanctuary playground; the SPCA Sanctuary; hydrotherapy is included in physical rehabilitation; a volunteer spends time with puppies, so they can learn how to interact with humans; Vincent, a terminally ill dog is with "cuddlers" 12 hours a day; Sanctuary volunteers are instrumental to the program's success.
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