Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Liz from Belize - Our First International Rescue!

As some of you know, LOYAL recently welcomed our first international rescue, Liz, into our foster program all the way from Belize.  Below is Liz' story written by Vicky, the woman that rescued her, and who hopes to welcome her into her family when she is ready. 

AGAINST ALL ODDS – One dog’s Journey from Belize to Canada

"February 24, 2011 was a lucky day for Liz, but an even luckier day for those of us who have since had the opportunity to know this gentle, soulful dog.

On Feb 24th 2011, I was on the small island of Caye Caulker, off the coast of Belize, volunteering for an amazing, inspirational woman, Madi Collins. Madi founded, and single-handedly runs, PAWS cat sanctuary and works tirelessly in many other ways to help the dogs and cats of Caye Caulker. On this day I was to help her with a dog survey, going door to door, to get an estimate on how many dogs live on this small island and to make people aware of the Madi’s free spay/neuter program. There is a serious stray dog/cat problem on the island and in the past the authorities have responded with routine strychnine poisonings of the island’s animals. Madi is developing an alternate solution (based on education, licensing and spay/neuters) to present to the authorities and our survey would provide valuable background data.

We had been touring the island in our golf cart (there are no cars on the island) for many hours, had talked to hundreds of island residents, met twice as many dogs and were going to call it a day. We were tired and emotionally drained. The sun was setting and we were on a small deserted lane that ran along the mangroves where the crocodiles live. I was told that the crocodiles come out at dusk to feed…. So now seemed like a good time to turn around and go home! But we could see a side street up ahead and agreed to do one last check for dogs. As we turned down the bumpy lane we could see a small shack in the distance with what appeared to be a large white dog chained outside. When we approached a woman came out of the dwelling and Madi started talking to her in Spanish. I cautiously approached the chained dog but could quickly tell she was friendly. She came towards me as far as the cable tied around her neck would allow.  I knelt down beside her, she gently nuzzled me and we quietly sat together enjoying each other’s company and touch… How sad that a dog so eager for human interaction should have to live her life tied outside the house. The dog wasn’t your typical ‘Coconut Retriever’ dog, she had a long fluffy coat and she looked like a huge poodle mix… or maybe a wolfhound mix… not designed at all for the intense tropical heat of the island. I thought how beautiful she was despite her filthy, matted coat – she was beautiful both physically and in spirit. In a few short minutes I was bonding with this dog and knew I was going to have a very hard time leaving her there, on her short chain. Then Madi turned to me and said “You won’t believe this Vicky…” she explained that the woman, the dog’s owner, was from Guatemala, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was returning to her homeland to get treatment. She was leaving in a few hours on the island water taxi and had just been praying to God that someone would help her dog as she could not take her dog with her…. And then Madi and I showed up out of the blue! I said to Madi that this was surely meant to be and I would arrange to get this dog back to Canada.

Before I left Canada I had been in touch with a few rescue groups to see if they would be open to the idea of taking the occasional dog from Belize. Animalert, All Breeds Canine Rescue, Animal Rescue Foundation, and LOYAL had all agreed to support me in my efforts so I was hoping one of them would agree to find a foster in Canada for this large white dog. Already I was to be travelling back with a small puppy, Rosalita, who had been dumped in the PAWS compound the week before. The wonderful group, All Breeds Canine Rescue had agreed to take Rosalita.

The PAWS sanctuary is not set up to house dogs so we told the Guatemalan woman that we would return first thing in the morning to pick up her dog and from there we would take her directly to the vet on the mainland. I whispered to the big white dog that whatever happens I will not abandon her and to just be patient for one more night.

The next morning we returned to that bumpy lane along the mangroves and sure enough the woman had left her home and the big white dog was still chained to the house. I had decided to call her Liz, Liz from BeLIZe! With no arguments Liz jumped into our golf cart and we drove to the water taxi that took us to Belize City and here we got a car taxi to the veterinary hospital. Liz took it all in her stride, completely trusting that we were there for her.

 At the vet hospital Liz was groomed to get rid of the awful matting and bathed to get rid of the literally hundreds of ticks and fleas that covered her body. As a matter of routine we did a test for Heartworm and Tick Fever. At the time I did not realize how ubiquitous these two diseases are in Belize. It takes just a few minutes to get results back from the snap tests and the vet, Madi and I all waited in anticipation, watching the test indicators for color change… blue circles started to appear… positive for both diseases. I was devastated. I knew nothing about Tick Fever, but it didn’t sound good, and I did know how serious Heartworm can be – so surely none of the rescue groups in Canada would want to take Liz now? I asked the vet to hold off on further vaccines etc until I could think this through and figure out what we were going to do. Madi and I found an Internet café near the vet clinic and with tears rolling down my face I starting emailing the rescue groups in Canada. Would anyone help with a dog with Heartworm AND Tick Fever? In less than a minute I got an email back from LOYAL rescue – the amazing, resourceful Brenda Bunn – “Just get Liz back to Canada” she said, “LOYAL will help”. She was familiar with Heartworm and Tick Fever and furthermore her vet specialized in treating these tropical diseases… Then emails from the other three groups popped into my inbox, all with words of support and encouragement… now tears of joy were rolling down my face!

Madi and I ran back to the vet and told her to go ahead with all the vaccines and get the international health certificate ready, Liz was going to Canada!!

That didn’t turn out to be as quite as easy as it sounded! We made endless phone calls and sent copious emails to every airline and cargo company we could think of … but apparently all airlines that flew from Belize City either did not transport dogs or required that the dog be travelling with an owner. I was due to fly back to Canada from Belize in about 10 days, taking Rosalita the pup in-cabin, so it seemed Liz would have to wait until then and return with me, travelling in cargo.

We took Liz back to the PAWS sanctuary where she stayed in the sanctuary clinic at night and spent the days with me. She joined me for my early morning coffee at my favorite outdoor café, we walked the island together and while I was busy with other sanctuary chores she sat quietly outside the door to my accommodation. She befriended all the sanctuary residents, human, canine, feline (and one duck!) and brought a smile to one and all. Liz and I became completely bonded to each other during that time together at the PAWS sanctuary and I felt as if I’d known her all my life.

The day I was to leave Belize was approaching and every day Madi and I had been on the phone and email to my airline trying to confirm details of Liz’s journey to Canada with me. We were bounced from one official to another each with a different story on how, or even if, Liz could make the journey with me. Finally, the day I was to leave Belize arrived and the airline had left it until the eleventh hour to give us details of Liz’s journey. They told us that I could take Liz in cargo as far as Houston but my flight from Houston to Toronto could not take cargo. They would make an exception in this case for Liz to travel alone on a different route but she would have to make several flight changes without me, including an overnight in New York. This journey would take several days with no guaranteed arrival date or time in Toronto. Madi and I had to make a quick decision … this tortuous route was not an option and would have been far too risky and stressful for Liz…I would have to leave Belize without Liz.

We weren’t going to quit yet, we were determined to get Liz to Canada one way or another and as safely as possible. It had always been our initial thought to try and get Liz back to Canada on a direct flight so she didn’t have to endure the stress and possible risks of changing planes. So Madi and I brainstormed over email, her in Belize and me now back in Canada... Belize borders Mexico and the island of Caye Caulker is not far from the Mexican border. We discovered that the closest place to get a direct flight to Toronto, Canada would be from Cancun, Mexico. But how do we get Liz to Cancun and then from Cancun to Toronto? As luck would have it we came across a group called CANDI (Cats and Dogs International) - a non-profit organization that saves the lives of stray cats and dogs in the Caribbean and Mexico and is supported and funded by the tourism industry and travelers. We emailed the founder of CANDI, Darci Galati, a resident of British Columbia, and told her Liz’s story. Darci explained that as airlines don’t allow dogs to fly in cargo without a human passenger also on the plane, they arrange for tourist ‘escorts’ for rescued dogs from Mexico travelling to rescues, shelters and homes in the US and Canada… she could arrange an escort for Liz from Cancun to Toronto but she had no idea when this would happen as she currently didn’t know of anyone flying this route. We may have to wait a long time. It seemed hopeful but all the while Liz was in limbo and her treatment for the Heartworm and Tick fever were being delayed. I was seriously considering throwing all caution to the wind, going bankrupt, and taking a day trip to Cancun just to bring Liz back myself! Then within minutes of my email discussion with Darci another email from her popped into my inbox. She said I wouldn’t believe it but she had just got and email from someone willing to escort a dog on a flight from Cancun to Hamilton the next Saturday and would Hamilton be any good for me. ABSOLUTELY! Hamilton is even closer to me than Toronto!!

Yes, it was all meant to be.

Madi, with her usual determination and resolve, made arrangements so she could leave the PAWS sanctuary for a couple of days and take Liz to Cancun herself. They got the water taxi from Caye Caulker to Chetumal in Mexico and then a bus to Cancun. There Liz met the fabulous, Terri DeSantis, who ‘escorted’ her to Hamilton – a quick non-stop flight. Terri had made all the arrangements to get a Mexican Health Certificate for Liz and even happened to have a huge crate for Liz for the journey.

Liz and I were reunited at 1am on a snowy Sunday morning, March 13th 2011. I hugged and hugged her and she wouldn’t stop licking my face. She didn’t seem at all anxious after her plane ride. She wasn’t even uncomfortable when she walked out of the airport and into the cold Canadian air - however she did look at me quite quizzically when she stepped in the snow! Welcome to Canada Liz!
LOYAL had arranged for Liz to be treated immediately for her Heartworm and Tick Fever with the veterinarian, Dr. Maser, who runs “Coconut Retriever Rescue”. Dr. Maser himself rescues dogs from the Caribbean and had taken an interest in Liz’s story. He is an authority on treating tropical diseases and he would be able to provide Liz with the best possible care. But it was 2am now and there was still a three hour car journey from Hamilton airport to Dr. Maser’s clinic. The roads were also treacherous and snow covered, so Liz and I booked into a hotel. She slept curled in my arms the entire night.

Kudos has to go out to the Comfort Inn, Burlington, Ontario where Liz and I stayed after we left Hamilton airport The wonderful staff welcomed Liz with dog treats and cookies - we had stumbled upon a very animal friendly hotel. The staff at the hotel were even providing food, shelter, spays and neuters for a feral cat community living on their property.

The next morning I drove Liz to the Cavan Hills Veterinary Clinic. I was happy that Liz could finally get the treatment she so desperately needed and I was excited about how everything had turned out for this sweet dog who was now so special to me. Serendipity had been on our side ever since that day we turned down that one last bumpy lane along the mangroves. Everything seemed to fall into place as it should and so many incredible individuals and rescue groups had been there for Liz, just when needed. This was a perfect example of what amazing things can be achieved when everyone comes together with one shared goal – to help an animal in need. And although it was heartbreaking to have to say goodbye to Liz again I know I will see her again. It is meant to be."

Liz is being fostered by a LOYAL Rescue foster home, and when she is out of the woods medically, she will be available for adoption.  We are so happy that Vicky found Liz all the way across the world and was able to bring her here to Canada for a new life.  As Vicky said, it was certainly meant to be, and we are so pleased that Liz is our first international rescue.  Welcome to Canada, Liz!

For more information on how you can help dogs in need, please send us an e-mail or visit our website.

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