( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Phaedra Barratt Educating The Community And Conserving Wildlife To Avoid Their Endangerment
ENSPIRE Contributor: Devyn Petraglia
Phaedra Barratt is President of The Balam Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that serves the wild and stray animals of Mexico. Phaedra currently owns five cats of her own: Balam and Chaska, who are oriental shorthair brothers, Zog the Dog, Roo, and Oona who each have their own unique personalities. Balam is special for his meow, cute quirks, and big ears. Besides singing an ode to Beyonce, stealing your eggs, and warming the stove with his bum, he steals your heart. Chaska will insist he caught a bird even though he only caught feathers. Zog the Dog is the family freak with his squeaky meow, pantaloons, and feisty playful personality.
Roo not only steals your heart, but he also steals your hair! Oona will tell you she isn’t, but she’s obsessed with paper towels. She will annihilate the entire roll! These cats will win your heart with their love for others and one another. You will definitely catch them spooning. Not only has Phaedra rescued these five cats, but she also found homes for other cats and dogs by fostering them. Her dad adopted Frida who is blind and Petunia, who is now an inseparable pair. Lastly, Twiggy, the Twiglet will charm you from the start with her feisty personality and cute grumbles. She is small but acts big. Without her amazing contributions to their vet care, these cats would never be where they are now. Balam and Chaska were extremely sick as kittens along with Twiggy who has been nursed back to health with her extraordinary care.
Besides her passion for animals, Phaedra has a passion for education. Her goal is to spread awareness about endangered wildcats and educate people on how to help prevent their extinction. Her Balam Foundation has amassed a great following while protecting wildlife. In Mexico, overpopulation is a serious issue with cats, and people are struck by poverty unable to afford their vet bills or general care. This organization focuses on sterilization campaigns that will prevent breeding between cats. Stray animals are often dumped leading to starvation, disease, breeding, and injury. She is spreading positivity through her goals of educating and bringing awareness to these very touching issues. With her campaigns and travel, more and more animals will be rescued and brought to freedom.
I spoke with Phaedra about her lovely cats and her goals for the next year to continue saving endangered wildcats.
I’ve followed your Instagram page for a long time but when did you start Balam Says and what inspired you to start it?
I started the page on March 1st, 2018. I had shared a Facebook video that went viral and my friend told me to upload it to Instagram. When it began, I only had Balam and Chaska. Then came Zog, Roo, and Oona. All within a few months, all my cats were sent to me which I believed they were meant to be.
Can you explain how your page is promoting positivity and awareness?
I’m so grateful for Balam because he enabled me to develop this nonprofit organization that’s helping so many animals. If it weren’t for him, my page wouldn’t have found so many homes for animals. Having this program where we’re able to adopt them out and place them in safe, loving homes is what I long to do.
Can you tell us more about the leader of the group, Balam?
Balam is not only big, he is a big character. He’s a wonderful, complicated, smart, jealous, and sweet character. He is the inspiration behind everything I do, starting with the organization.
Can you tell us more about each of the five cats and their rescue stories? Balam and Chaska, Zog, Roo, Oona, and newest member Twiggy’
Balam and Chaska were extremely sick as kittens and they came from a breeder. I found Zog in a hot spring where he was starving and approaching multiple people. I ended up taking him. Roo had been picked up by somebody else who couldn’t keep him so I took him in as well. With Oona, she was in a rough area out in the cold and I couldn’t let her freeze so I took her in as well.
I found Twiggy on the street and she was just skin and bones. I found out that she had feline leukemia, inflamed liver, stomatitis that caused an infection in the mouth, and she was anemic. Twiggy also tested positive for FeLV which is a virus that causes feline leukemia and lymphoma. This is contagious to other cats through biting or grooming.
What made you take on five cats along with each rescue?
Because I can. I have the space and the resources to do so. My nature is to rescue.
What advice would you give to fellow cat owners on how to ensure an amazing life for them?
People think that cats should be like dogs but their minds could not be more different. Dogs are pack animals and cats are more solitary. It’s important to find ways to relate to your cat, get to know them, and serve their needs. Building a relationship, talking to them, playing with them, and feeding them are all important while providing them with the right environment. Another important thing is teeth cleaning; cats need good dental hygiene because of risks with kidney disease.
Can you tell us more about The Balam Foundation?
The organization is split into two branches. The first one deals with strays and pets of people in poverty who cannot afford sterilization. Overpopulation from breeding is a serious problem and there are already so many strays on the streets suffering from starvation and diseases. We run sterilization twice a month in poverty areas where my team of vets and myself go out and perform the sterilization in their homes. Under a tin roof is usually all we get so it’s similar to a war zone because there’s nothing polished about it. It’s surgery on a battlefield. We help any way we can. Since they cannot come to a vet or afford the services, we come to them.
The second branch of the organization is education. I plan to set up an educational program in Southern Mexico to teach children about extinction and endangerment, who then can teach their parents and so forth. My sterilization campaign will also educate through radios. I have a master vet on sterilization who will discuss sterilization.
Can you tell us more about your work with wild animals?
Along with the educational classes, I plan on teaching children about conservation and biodiversity. To begin, I went to Africa and met the cheetahs. It was then that I found my higher purpose. Besides posting cute cat videos, I wanted to do more. I wanted to make a difference, so I used my page as an educational tool. Jaguars are often hunted for money with their claws, teeth, and skin.
They are an endangered keystone wildcat that’s soon to go extinct if people aren’t aware of the effects it has on the ecosystem. The reason people hunt them for money is that they are living in poverty and have no other way to provide for their families. I teamed up with Jaguars Into The Wild where we rescue and rehabilitate them before releasing them back into the wild. Being involved with them, I have raised funds and spread awareness about these pressing issues.
What is one piece of advice you would give to anyone about the extinction of wild animals and the risks?
The risk involved with extinction is ecosystem collapse, which is pretty big. People need to be more responsible with how they consume and spend their money. Wild animals go extinct because of human hunting and losing their lands to commercial farming. The best thing we can do is know where our products come from. Never buy beef from Brazil and stay away from GMO products. I like to use the phrase “Think Global Act Local,” so buying local grass-fed beef from small farms will help greatly. Knowing the product and the company is key to ensuring we protect our wildlife. Being a wise-conscious consumer is essential to understanding how our actions affect wild cats.
How do you want to leave your mark on the world?
I have big ambitions and I plan on starting next year and really hit the ground running with my sterilization crew and education courses. I plan on taking my sterilization crew all over Mexico to help reduce suffering and overpopulation. By 2022, we will get out there and make a long list of the cats we have sterilized. That will change the lives of many animals in the community and beyond.
How will you continue to inspire and contribute to society?
When I witnessed Speedy the dog get hit by a car, it really changed my life. He inspired me to start my own organization. Dora was another rescue dog that came along afterward. These uplifting stories are what continue to inspire me. I attend meetings daily and I plan on starting these programs early next year. By the end of 2022, I hope to get my sterilization team out and continue educating people on endangerment. Poverty is bad and the people suffer but the animals suffer more and I want to change that.
Phaedra is an amazing woman we should all look up to. In order for her to continue spreading awareness, her follower base needs to keep climbing. It’s important for us to learn about sterilization and endangerment towards wild and stray cats. The work she has already done and will continue to do will only further our knowledge into animals’ best interests. In order for our ecosystem to survive, we need to be mindful, aware, and educated on these pressing issues. I will definitely say that Phaedra is a role model to me because I also own a few cats. I have already learned from her and will continue to make a better life for my animals as she has done for hers.
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