A passion to care for animals
Debbie Masters trained horses for much of her life, she never expected a Brazilian mastiff would get the best of her.
But one day, during training, nine-month-old 130lb Athena, a dog she got from a dog warden, was full of energy and knocked her over.
“I broke my leg in four places,” the 73-year-old remembered. “This was 2002. It was just a freak accident. Dr [Joseph] Francioni, [the orthopaedic surgeon], said, ‘Isn’t it ironic that you were never hurt all those years riding horses, but you were hurt training a dog?’”
She was laid up in bed for a month and on crutches for another six months, a metal rod in her leg running from the knee on down.
When she was better she returned to training Athena, and they went on to win dog obedience titles.
Her love affair with animals was cemented at 14 when she got a job exercising injured horses at the old Shelly Bay Racetrack in Hamilton Parish. Her parents, Winifred and Fred Tite, weren’t entirely pleased as “one or two jockeys had been badly injured” but her work was fairly tame.
She spent the time after school walking the horses on the beach, riding them bareback into the water to swim.
She spent many years working as an administrator — with LP Gutteridge, Chevron Oil and the customs department — but in 2005 decided to follow her passion. At Ettrick Animal Hospital she was able to be directly involved in animal care.
“I helped to look after the animals that were sick or boarding there. I did that for quite a number of years.”
Having volunteered with the SPCA for many years, Ms Masters joined the charity in a formal capacity. As a welfare officer it fell to her to help find homes for abandoned pets, investigate animal cruelty and advocate for better animal rights in the community.
In 2006 she spoke out when a circus, The Animal Extravaganza, brought bears and tigers to the island, saying it was “morally and ethically wrong” to use wild animals in that way.
One of the “hazards” of the job was that she often took her work home with her. Over the years Ms Masters has adopted dogs, cats, guinea pigs, a parrot and even a goat — all because they needed homes.
“Misty was a pygmy goat,” she said. “She was house trained and would wander in and out of the house with my three dogs; sometimes you’d see her lying out in the yard with the dogs. You could put a leash on her and take her for a walk. The neighbourhood children loved to come and see her. She lived for 25 years.”
Mrs Masters was divorced with two children when she met David Masters in the early 1990s.
“His son lived across the street from me,” she said. “David was dog sitting while his son was away. At the time, my son Jeffrey was grown and out of the house but my daughter Sabrina was still at home with me. One day Sabrina said, ‘Isn’t it a shame he doesn’t have anyone to cook him breakfast?”
Today she laughs thinking of how her daughter set them up. They quickly found they shared a passion for animals, particularly horses.
“He was a really nice person and we had a lot in common,” she said. “He’d also been married before, and he had three children.”
They married on September 25, 1992.
They frequently drove a carriage led by Barney, a retired racehorse Mrs Masters rescued from a slaughter house sale in Pennsylvania. For the Agricultural Exhibition they’d sometimes borrow one of the late William “Cheese” Ray’s vintage carriages.
Ms Masters recalls the 1994 Agricultural Exhibition, where she and her husband won the Atom Water Trophy for pleasure driving as a highlight of their marriage.
Mr Masters died in a motorcycle accident in February 2000. He was found badly injured on Pitts Bay Road just outside Bacardi. At King Edward VII Memorial Hospital he was unable to say what had happened, and passed away a few hours later from his injuries.
Mrs Masters tried to go carriage driving again after his death but it just wasn’t the same.
She continued working with the SPCA for nine years. Although now fully retired, she still pops in occasionally to say hello.
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them