Rescue Organizations

Our “Pay-It-Forward” in Mexico: Coco’s

Ever since adopting Hogan and learning of his story and about the plight of other dogs back in his homeland of Mexico, I’ve done what I could to help Mexican rescues. Until now, all I could do was donate money or items through a wonderful person I’ve known mostly only on Facebook who visits Mexico several times a year, bringing down donations and bringing back dogs like Hogan every time.

CANDi arranged baggage waivers for us to bring down about 150 pounds of donated items, including dog crates, with Air Transat.

CANDi arranged baggage waivers for us to bring down more than 150 pounds of donated items, including dog crates, with Air Transat.

This winter, however, we decided we’d invest in a much-needed vacation. My husband isn’t the “sit on the beach” type, but we both wanted to escape winter and visit somewhere sunny and warm. I suggested we visit Mexico and volunteer at the Humane Society of Cozumel Island, where Hogan came from, for part of our vacation so we wouldn’t experience the boredom he associates with beach vacations. Win-win: pay it forward for Hogan’s rescue and get some fun in the sun!

Me with Janice, Hogan's first vet

Me with Janice, Hogan’s first vet

Before booking our vacation, I contacted Sandra, the Facebook friend who frequents Mexico to help several rescue organizations. She recommended a place to stay, an airline to book with (Air Transat or WestJet—we flew with Air Transat, and it was amazing!), donations to collect, ways to transport them all, and a whole lot more. She also supplied us with several crates to take down and connected us with other rescuers while we were down there. Sandra was leaving Playa Del Carmen the day after we arrived, so we met up with her and her rescue contacts for dinner our first night there. Among her contacts was Janice, who was the first vet Hogan ever saw and also the person who named him Gohan (see story here). I was so excited (and a little emotional) to meet Janice because she knew Hogan before we did, and she was one of the people responsible for saving him from the streets and getting him to a better life.

From left: Eric, Jan, Stephanie, Karina, Janice, Kelly, Sandra, Wes

From left: Eric, Jan, Stephanie, Karina, Janice, Kelly, Sandra, Wes

We also met Jan and Eric, who run Playa Animal Rescue, and Kelly, the founder of the Snoopi Project. These wonderful people all moved from the United States to Mexico and are devoting their time and resources to helping the vulnerable animals in the city, who are in such desperate need of help.

On our second day in Playa, Janice (Hogan’s first vet) and her co-worker Ulises picked us up with our big bag of donations for Coco’s Animal Welfare. It was very endearing when, on the ride over, I asked about the Christmas music playing (Frank Sinatra, no less) and was told they play it because it calms the animals. How sweet! Janice now works at Coco’s, which is an organization and clinic founded by Laura Raikes and named after her beloved cat. Laura, who moved to Mexico from Wales, began by rescuing cats but soon saw many other animals in need in the area, including wildlife such as raccoons and reptiles. The rescue became so much more than Laura ever imagined. Since 2009, Coco’s spay and neuter program has sterilized more than 18,500 animals, and more than 1,000 animals have been rescued and adopted out through the combined efforts of Coco’s volunteers and other rescue organizations.

Dogs in recovery after being sterilized.

Dogs in recovery after being sterilized.

As a testament to its great work, Coco’s has gained a lot of support over its seven years and, with the help of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and private donations (including a generous donation of land), is currently building a huge new facility that will give it room to help more animals. Currently, Coco’s isn’t a shelter, but it has developed a program for rehoming cats as well as Cachito’s Fund (named after Laura’s rescued dog), which is a foster-based program for dogs needing homes. Currently, there are five cats in residence who are up for adoption (plus Alice, the one-eyed staff cat, who isn’t going anywhere, according to Diana, the super-friendly office manager who is especially fond of sweet Alice). One of Coco’s primary missions is to spay and neuter animals to try to keep the population down, and the three vets on staff sterilize an average of 20 animals a day as well as participating in large-scale spay/neuter campaigns. Coco’s also offers sterilization and support services for local rescues, tends to sick or wounded strays and wildlife, educates the public (especially children) about animal welfare, and offers support to pet rescuers who need help caring for the animals they’ve taken in.


Cachito was in bad shape when Laura met him. He now lives a good life with her.


Alice, the office cat, lost sight in one eye when she was shot. She’s a very sweet girl.

When we visited Coco’s clinic, two veterinary technicians from the U.S. and Canada were on hand volunteering their services for a few weeks. Coco’s relies heavily on volunteers and donations to keep doing the great work it does. The new facility will offer a whole lot more, including residence rooms for visiting vets and vet techs; a conference room, equipped with video equipment and screen, largely for the purpose of educating school groups; separate cat and dog examination rooms; a catio; isolation rooms; and a laboratory. Unfortunately, Coco’s is a little short on funds to finish the new location. If you’d like to donate to this great cause, please click here.

Wes at the new Coco's facility. It's scheduled to be finished in May.

Wes at the new Coco’s facility. It’s scheduled to be finished in May.

The services that Coco’s provides are much needed in Playa Del Carmen and throughout Mexico and the Caribbean. If you love animals and want to help, please consider contributing to Coco’s or another local organization. And if you are travelling down south, you can collect and transport donated items (here’s Coco’s wish list). Before you travel, get more information from CANDi or by emailing Sandra. Air Transat, in particular, provides baggage waivers for humanitarian donations and allows dogs to be escorted to Canada free (more on that in my next post). In future, we’ll always fly Air Transat if we can to support its humanitarian efforts.

Our next day in Mexico was another dog-oriented one. We learned a lot more about where Hogan came from. I’ll write about that adventure soon!

A Cuban Rescue, Part Two

Read Part One of Coco the Cuban street dog’s story by clicking here.

Coco had had her first adventure when she was taken in a taxi to see a vet, likely for the first time in her life. Her next big adventure was a flight all the way from Cuba to Canada.

Once on Canadian soil, the border services folks seemed to imply that I had stolen this dog: “You mean you just took her?” The point was, I suggested gently, that she had no value in Cuba—no owner, no hope for a healthy life, and no worth to anyone. They waved us through, and we were finally on our way home.

Coco loved the other dogs--and the snow!

Coco loved the other dogs–and the snow!

Once home, Coco loved the other dogs, the cat, and the snow! It didn’t take her long to find the couch and soft dog beds, either!

My vet gave her boosters and, after more tests, determined that she had lice and also had parasites of a type that hadn’t been treated at their clinic before, called anaplasmosis. More medicine. Her milk dried up, her skin healed, she started to gain a little weight, and her coat started to fill in. But her bloodwork was still abnormal, and her stools were loose. Another couple of tests later, it was clear she had hookworms. Lots of them. More medicine.

Overall, her health seemed to be improving, although I noticed that she still had some vaginal bleeding. The vet thought it was a false heat, common after having pups. Then, Coco had a bona fide heat cycle. Okay, I thought, all normal. Other foster dogs came in and got adopted. And still, Coco continued to drip. In April, I said goodbye to Buttons, after 16 years together. In May, Coco’s bloodwork had improved enough to spay her: she needed to have the whole lot out, a complete hysterectomy. We sent Coco’s kennel plus five more down to Ingrid in Cuba. (APAC is always in need of kennels and other pet supplies!)IMG_0056

Following Coco’s recovery, we enrolled in training classes at Dogs on Campus. She loved the classes: happy to work, happy to learn new things, and oh so very happy to meet new people. After graduation, we enrolled in agility class.

Coco’s drip continued, though, and I worried she would become anemic. Back we went to the vet: more bloodwork (maybe hookworms again?), swabs, urinalysis, cystoscopy, a gynecological exam, and a tissue sample that went to the lab for analysis.

By now she had weaselled her way onto my bed at night….

Then the bomb: she has a cancerous tumour,  one that can be spread by direct contact: canine transmissible venereal tumour. Treatment involves chemotherapy and maybe surgery. APAC has rescued and treated dogs with venereal tumours that have done well with treatment, so this gives me hope for Coco. It’s (again) the first case the clinic here has treated.

IMG_0016The tumour is usually spread by sexual contact but can also be spread by licking, although the risk of transmission by that route is considered low. I’m nevertheless worried since many dogs have stayed here over the months: foster dogs, dogs overnighting on transport, neighbours’ dogs. My most recent fosters, Sammy (who was with TAGS) and Reggie (who was with Gentle Jake’s), were just fine, thank goodness, and have since been adopted (yay!).

Coco has had three chemo treatments at Millbrook Valley Vet Clinic (and her bloodwork is done at Taunton Road Animal Clinic). In true Cuban spirit, she has been resilient through the ordeal, remaining her usual happy, seemingly healthy self. And, fortunately, with the third treatment, the tumour has begun to shrink.

But Coco isn’t going anywhere: I have adopted her. Please keep your paws crossed for her. I will share an update (and maybe one of Cathy’s famous DNA contests?) soon!

A Cuban Rescue, Part One

This is Part One of a two-part story about the rescue of a Cuban street dog by Julie, who was Hogan’s foster mom. Click here or the link at the bottom of the article for Part Two of the story.)

Last February, my Mom and I visited a resort south of Varadero. It was only my second trip to Cuba, and I chose the location for its snorkelling, which was fantastic. The resort was small, quiet, no-frills, and all of two stars.  There were stray dogs and cats around that our tour operator sternly warned us not to feed (of course, however, everyone did).

Dogs on the resort property

Dogs on the resort property

Outside of the resorts, skinny, overworked horses, bony cattle, and free-roaming cats and dogs are commonplace.  While Cubans do keep dogs as working animals and pets, there is really no general understanding of routine vaccinations, sterilization, or preventative medicine. Hotels have an interest in ensuring their properties are free from curious, hungry, or diseased strays, which are perceived as a nuisance.

We watched a bonded male and female wander the periphery, the male predictably showing up at the dining hall looking for handouts, although the female wouldn’t approach. We heard that the pair once had puppies under the gardener’s shed. No one knew what happened to them. The staff spoke of tourists who sometimes befriended dogs, lamenting that it’s easier for a dog to leave Cuba than for a person to.

IMG_1756There were multiple sightings of an injured dog. Someone reported seeing puppies on the road leading to the resort. All just chatter among concerned tourists powerless to help. Toward the end of the two weeks, a black dog turned up one evening around the dining hall.  She looked like my dog Buttons who, at 17, was in failing health at home.  Maybe that’s why I took an interest.

The dog approached us the next day, tail and body wiggling.  She so wanted the attention of the tourists, but she was crawling with fleas and had open, infected sores from scratching,  visible through her thin fur. Although people didn’t really want to touch her, her persistence and happy demeanour earned her food scraps and fresh water, which was a good thing since she was producing milk and had obviously nursed puppies recently.  A security guard said some Cuban people had taken her pups, leaving her, and that he had watched her come from the ravine (pictured) between two resorts. We combed the garbage-strewn brush looking for the puppies but didn’t find any. She actually led us to a hole under a bridge at the top of the ravine, which we think may have been her den.

A couple of days remained before we were due to return home.  I thought maybe I could catch, vaccinate, and release the little black dog, not that I had any idea how. Discreet enquiries led me to two sympathetic staff members. One knew what to do, but I would have to meet him off-site since he could lose his job if the hotel management found out. Hotel jobs are among the most competitive and sought-after in the country.  I knew that this was no joke.  Another tourist provided a clothesline for use as a leash. Later that evening, I “caught” the dog (it wasn’t hard) and wrapped her in a towel. The staff member met me after his shift and agreed to take her to his home—in a gymbag on a public bus—for the night. He would  bring her back in the morning and meet me on his day off. He would arrange for a friend who drives a cab to take us to a veterinary clinic in the nearest city, 30 minutes away.

She had such itchy skin.

She had such itchy skin.

Leaving my Mom on the beach the next morning, I tucked all of the pesos I had left into my pocket and met the two men as planned. Both were clear: no pictures and no posting their names or faces on the Internet.

They showed me pictures of St. Francis of Assisi (known as the patron saint of animals) in their wallets. We drove to Matanzas, the nearest town, where the veterinary clinic was located. As we drove through the winding neighbourhoods, it was hard not to notice the many loose dogs, seemingly invisible to people, just existing on the streets. At the clinic, people were lined up outside. The cab driver explained our situation, and the vet took us in right away. He gave the dog a series of shots—rabies and other vaccinations. I later learned that the strength of one of them was 5 times more potent than the product we use here in Canada. He gave me medicine that was to be mixed with water and poured on the dog’s skin later in the evening to kill the fleas and dry up her sores.  Total cost: 15CUC, about $15.

Then, I asked about bringing her home. In rescue-speak, this friendly little dog was “highly adoptable.” I was certain I could find her a good home! Problem was, there are no stores in which to buy a collar, commercial dog food, or a crate, and there was no kennel  to be had at the vet. The veterinarian, though, said he knew a lady who could find us one. The two Cuban guys I was with looked at each other and shrugged. I think they knew they were in for a long day. The clinic phoned her. Yes, she had a kennel; yes, she could meet us, but she lived in another city an hour away. Decision made.

At her first vet appointment

At her first vet appointment

Next stop: we had to visit the Ministry of Agriculture to have the dog inspected and arrange for more paperwork. Luckily, this was also in Matanzas, near the clinic. The veterinarian came with us and spoke with the government workers. There was a fee for them to complete the necessary papers, in triplicate, on a typewriter. They would call the airport, where there would be another veterinarian inspection before boarding.

Duly signed and stamped paperwork in hand, we set off in search of a kennel in the city of Cardenas. It was here that I met Ingrid, the Cuban coordinator of APAC Varadero. APAC, a registered charity in Edmonton and an amazing organization, works with Cuban and Canadian veterinarians to run anti-parasite and spay/neuter campaigns to help Cuba’s street animals and try to make a dent in the animal overpopulation.

Ingrid welcomed us into her home (even the flea-ridden dog) and told us about APAC’s work. I remember feeling annoyed that I could have brought so many medical supplies down for her, had I only known.  The group relies on donations of money and veterinary supplies , primarily brought down by tourists, to carry out its work. It’s hard to believe that in Cuba,  just $5 will spay/neuter and feed a street dog or cat! Imagine if all the Canadian tourists simply donated their leftover convertible pesos!

Back at the resort, I paid the cab driver his fare and gave the other guy all I had left: 10CUC and some makeup for his girlfriend. Then I snuck the dog back onto the resort and into the shower to give her a flea bath and the medicinal dip.

My mom wasn’t entirely surprised at Plan B. We called the dog Coconut, or “Coco” for short.  The tour operator representative (who wasn’t so stern, after all) called Air Transat to make her reservation and confirm I could take Coco home.

Between her first car ride, all of the drugs and her first bath, Coco was completely exhausted! It was probably the first time in her young life that she had a good night’s sleep without scratching (the meal  of chicken and rice stealthfully swiped from the dining hall also probably helped).

The next morning, it was time to head home.  I walked Coco on the clothesline-leash,  receiving mixed responses from hotel guests:  supportive tourists wanting to hear how she did and how she liked the snow gave me their email addresses. Others clearly thought I was nuts! At the Varadero  airport, another veterinarian inspected her and stamped her paperwork. She would fly in the cargo hold.

Click here to find out what happened next for Coco.

Inky’s Story: Lost Dog Found

I have fortunately never had a dog go missing, but the thought of it just breaks my heart. That’s why I have joined some local searches for dogs and follow relevant websites so I know of missing dogs. Inky is one of the dogs I searched for in my neighbourhood. She was lost in Ajax in the coldest month of the year, and her posters were everywhere, courtesy of a group called Team Chelsea. Ann Coleman, a Team Chelsea volunteer, shares the story of Inky’s rescue.

On a freezing cold night in February of this year, a scared, timid reddish-toned Lab went missing from her home in Ajax around 7 p.m. As Inky bolted off into the night, she was last seen wearing a choke collar and dragging a green leash behind her.

Inky had only recently been adopted by her new owners when she went missing.

Inky had only recently been adopted by her new owners when she went missing.

Soon after, a call came into Team Chelsea, an organization of volunteers who search for lost dogs in Durham Region and return them to their owners. By 9:30 p.m., Inky’s picture and details were posted on the group’s Facebook page for all volunteers to see, and a mass text message went out for people to make their way to the area to help search for her. Several team members showed up to search the immediate and surrounding areas for Inky.  Parks, ravines, and nearby green spaces are our general looking spots as those are areas where most scared animals tend to head. Since Inky’s owners had had this sweet girl for only about four weeks, we knew she was unfamiliar with the neighbourhood and would continue running scared.

Several hours of searching the area turned up nothing, so the search resumed early the next morning. Many people spent long hours, day and night, searching for the elusive Inky while random calls of sightings came into our gal in charge. One call reported Inky being seen crossing a busy road and losing her collar, which was later found and confirmed to be hers.

With Inky still on the run, Team Chelsea created large posters, which volunteers posted all over the place, and handouts, which were given to people who were out on foot to bring awareness to all that there was a missing pup in the area. The team also notified Animal Control and the humane society. Day after day, many spent hours checking behind plazas and factories, walking through parking lots and green spaces, and the list goes on. The search widened as we looked for this shy, frightened girl. Areas were checked and rechecked.

Inky's "Lost dog" poster

Inky’s “Lost dog” poster

A couple of weeks after Inky went missing, a call came in from a gentleman who had seen an Inky poster and recognized the pup as the one that had made a home for herself at his place of employment. He said the dog in the poster had been coming and going to the yard and living in an overseas trailer (fortunately not destined to go anywhere) for a couple of weeks. Employees had been feeding her, and she came and went at her own pace. This was great news!

After speaking to Inky’s owners, Team Chelsea was given permission to sit quietly in the yard until the business closed for the night (11:30 p.m.). A couple of volunteers sat quietly in their cars at two different angles, watching and waiting anxiously in hopes that Miss Inky would show up, and after a few hours, there she was! She came around the corner looking nervous. She paced back and forth at the opening of the trailer, acting unsure that it was safe to enter. We think she knew we had been on her turf earlier as we had baited her makeshift home with nice smelly enticing food and added extra blankets for her. She continued to pace the area and wouldn’t go inside. It was approaching 11 p.m.—almost time that we would have to leave. After a discussion with Inky’s family, it was decided we would go so as not to spook her and risk scaring her off from her safe spot for good. With heavy hearts and tears, we drove away with Inky watching us leave. What a gut-wrenching feeling it was to have to do that, but we hung on to the hopes that she would go inside and settle for the night. It was freezing outside and snowing. Employees assured us she would likely go inside the trailer after we left and be there in the morning since that seemed to be her routine. They said the early morning staff would check right away and call us if she was there.

Inky captured!

Inky captured!

The call came not long after 6 a.m.: “She is in!” they said. “We have her blocked.” A mass text message went out to volunteers to attend a.s.a.p., and those who slept through it got a phone call! With hearts pounding, volunteers raced to the area and coordinated the next move. Two volunteers went into the trailer, and Miss Inky made a beeline for the door (which we’d blocked off from the outside). Before she got a chance to attempt an escape, a gently noosed leash was slipped over her head, and she was secured! It was over! Inky was going home! She was brought out of her safety zone and placed into a crate full of warm blankets.

Her anxious family was waiting outside for their baby. From the crate in her family’s car, Inky made eye contact with her mom for the first time since they had adopted her. It was a submissive “I love you, Mom” look—a look none of us will soon forget. Inky went to the vet’s shortly after for a checkup. Other than having lost a few pounds and having minor paw irritation from the snow and ice, she was in pretty good shape, all things considered.

We all learned a lot from Inky: the importance of having the right tools in our cars to lure (treats), search (flashlights), and secure (leash/collar) a dog…or any pet for that matter. And getting to the area as soon as possible after a pet goes missing is critical, as is never giving up.

The search for Tanner has been active for a long time. If you live in Durham Region, please keep an eye out for this beautiful boy.

The search for Tanner has been active for a long time. If you live in Durham Region, please keep an eye out for this beautiful boy.

The Team Chelsea Facebook page was originally set up in 2011, when a Bernese mountain dog named Chelsea went missing in Whitby and her owners wanted desperately to find her. Chelsea hasn’t yet been brought home, but volunteers remain hopeful that someday  she will be spotted and returned to her family. In the meantime, the page has attracted nearly 1,450 members, and volunteers have located and rescued more than 400 dogs. Team Chelsea is always in need of more members who can take immediate action to help find dogs as soon as they go missing. Funds are also needed to cover vetting costs including spaying, neutering, vaccinating, and microchipping of pets that are found but unclaimed (details are on the Team Chelsea page). Every little bit helps.

No matter where you live, if you are an animal lover, please keep an eye out for roaming pets. Join Helping Lost Pets and local groups like Durham Region’s Team Chelsea so that you can get updates about local animals missing. Keep a slip leash and treats handy. But even if you can’t catch a lost dog or cat, your reporting a sighting and taking a picture if possible may be the difference between life and death for that pet!  

My First Rescue Transport

I spent my morning shopping for the recommended items and setting my car up for my first transport!

I spent my morning shopping for the recommended items and setting my car up for my first transport!

A little over a month ago, I signed up with Open Arms Dog Transport as a volunteer driver. Every week since, I’ve received a notice about transports from the States (Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, usually) needing drivers for 19 individual legs (or so) over the course of each weekend.

For the first time, I was able to sign up for one of those legs. Tonight I drove from Pickering to Newtonville with a little Yorkie rescue from a puppy mill. Evey is estimated to be six or seven years old. To think of the sheltered life this poor girl has had all those years, living in a cage with little human contact, day in, day out—not to mention how many litters her little body has gone through—breaks my heart.

Evey is a cuddler!

Evey is a cuddler!

However, it fills me with such joy to have played a small part in getting her to a new life of sniffing and walking on grass; sleeping in a warm, comfy bed; being cuddled by people who love her; interacting with other dogs; having toys to play with; running through snow; enjoying treats and training; getting medical care when she needs it; and, heck, even just having a name!

Such a sweet little girl

Such a sweet little girl







Over the next few weeks, Evey will experience so many firsts. She was a little stressed on our short drive (about 45 minutes), as she probably was on every drive she endured en route to her new foster home in Ottawa (with Loyal Rescue, the rescue my mom adopted Misha through). But within a few minutes, she settled into the crate and lay down for a while.

I am so excited for Evey! Both Cora and Dusty got to TAGS, and then to us, through rescue transport volunteers. Thank God for those volunteers! I couldn’t imagine life without either of my beagle babies or my Hogan, and it feels wonderful to have helped Evey get a small step closer to her forever family. Good luck, little girl! You now have a whole lot of people in your corner, and I’m proud to be one of them!