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!

Misha’s Adorable Mix Revealed

As rescued dogs typically do, Misha came to my mom as a mystery mix. She was guessed by Loyal Rescue to be a Cairn terrier mix and was listed as such. Some of my mom’s friends and neighbours had guessed Misha to be a Dandie Dinmont terrier (which I’d never heard of!) or a Cairn terrier mix, as Loyal had thought.

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100


After we got Hogan’s DNA results, I figured Misha, similarly, could be a mix of many breeds—one of which I felt certain would be Chihuahua (judging by her snout). What I never would have guessed is that Misha is a designer dog! She is a first-generation mix from two purebred parents—one a Chihuahua (nailed it!), the other a rat terrier (never would have guessed it!)—called a rat-cha.

This is a rare black Chihuahua. (The snout is definitely Misha's snout.)

This is a rare black Chihuahua. (The snout is definitely Misha’s snout.)

This is a long-haired Chihuahua. Considering Misha's wiry coat, there must be long hair in her ancestry.

This is a long-haired Chihuahua. Considering Misha’s wiry coat, there must be long hair in her ancestry.

A rat terrier with short legs (they're usually long-legged, I think).

A rat terrier with short legs (they’re usually long-legged, I think).

The more I look at this picture, the more I think Misha's breeds make sense.

The more I look at this picture, the more I think Misha’s breeds do make sense.

It’s mostly because of Misha’s coat and colouring that this breed mix surprises me. Her bark resembles a Chihuahua’s bark, and her energy doesn’t quite match that of a rat terrier, but it comes close. She’s also got a funny little run that apparently is Chihuahua-like. So there we go. Misha is a rat-cha!

Misha’s Breeds

Misha’s DNA results are in! She’s a first-generation mix, meaning both of her parents are purebred! Just for the fun of it (no prizes for this one), does anyone have a guess of her two breeds? (A real guess-the-breed contest with edible prizes is coming up soon, so this is just a practice run!)


Christmas 2012

We had a fantastic Christmas this year with not just three dogs but four since my mom adopted her little Mexi-mutt Misha from Loyal Rescue in August. None of the dogs have learned to open their Christmas presents yet (our Roxie was a pro at it!), but Dusty and Hogan gave it a pretty good shot, as you’ll see in the video at the end. Here are some pictures of our Christmas highlights.

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Misha, my mom, and Dusty

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Hogan, Dusty, and Misha chewing their new elk antlers (that’s not really Misha’s, but she had to have something to chew, too, so we pulled an extra one from the cupboard). The dogs’ new cheap agility equipment is in the background, too.

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Dusty and Hogan’s new elf toy looking on while Dusty has a chew.

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Misha likes her new bed!

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Cora’s come a long way! Despite the commotion, she spent some time with us in the living room!

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Turns out Hogan likes Misha’s new bed, too.

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Looking for one last cookie before Misha goes home. Who could resist those faces?

Four-Dog Nights and Days

Misha wondering if those big teeth are real.

My mom recently spent four days in the hospital, and while she was recuperating, our three-dog home became a four-dog home.

When Mom adopted Misha, I told her that any time she went away or was otherwise unable to take care of her new dog, we would step in and help. I fell in love with Misha as soon as I saw her picture on Loyal Rescue‘s Facebook page, so in many ways, I looked forward to the first time Misha would stay with us. (I certainly didn’t want her visit to be a result of my mom’s hospitalization, though.)

Dusty trying to get Misha to play in the backyard. (This looks less friendly than it was!)


What I hadn’t really thought about when blanket-volunteering for the dog-sitting task was the possibility of my husband being away on business while we had four dogs in the house. Four is a whole different ballgame than three. (But, as I was reminded tonight, three seemed like a whole lot more work than two when we adopted Hogan, yet we acclimated quite well.) As much as I love dogs, I think I’ve determined even the occasional 4:1 dog-to-human ratio is a little too skewed for my liking.

Anyway, Misha has, of course, met Dusty, Cora, and Hogan on many occasions, but she’s always been a little nervous around them. Her first day here was no different. She steered clear of all three and got into the mix only when Dusty and Hogan were barking at a common outsider. In fact, barking at both imaginary (e.g., potential squirrels in the backyard) and real (e.g., the doorbell) intruders is what seemed to bond them.

We have had our trials, though:

  • Cora and Misha took turns growling at each other one day (Cora growled only once; Misha, twice) but eventually tolerated each other quite well, even curling up together one day.

    Cora and Misha on the love seat (their tails are interlocked!).

  • Walking our three by myself is a chore (really, walking Dusty is a chore—the other two are usually quite easy); walking four by myself was just not happening. Enter dog-walker extraordinaire, Nick, and very good friend Johanna. Thank God for them over the past several days!
  • For the first couple of days, we had to chase Misha and pick her up to get her in the house from the backyard. She was really timid about coming through the door. (We still have to pick her up to get her into the garage after our walks.)

    Misha, afraid to come inside.

  • Our long flights of stairs intimidate Misha. While she’s done just fine outside, she takes a long time to make it up or down the indoor stairs. I’ve taken to just carrying her (after chasing her around the kitchen island and finally catching her).
  • Misha is an extremely slow eater, so for several minutes after Dusty and Hogan finish their breakfast or dinner, I’ve had to protect Misha’s food while the boys hover like vultures and she lazily eats (while sitting!). She’s a pretty good protector herself, though, snarling if they get too close.

    Misha calmly sitting to eat. (What you don’t see is the two boys on either side of her wanting her food.)

  • Misha, although female, is a marker. I’ve had to clean up more than one pee spot, so she’s had to be crated overnight and whenever I’ve left the house. Crating appears to be something she knows and is comfortable with, fortunately.

A friendly game of chase.

Dusty tried on several occasions over the first couple of days to get Misha to play, and he did succeed in engaging her in games of chase outside, but he really wanted her to wrestle or play tug-of-war inside. Hogan is a great playmate for Dusty, but he’s not nearly as tireless, so having a backup playmate really appealed to our basset boy.

Finally, on day three, this happened:


Two terriers from Mexico living the high life.

It was great seeing Dusty playing with both Hogan and Misha, although Hogan seemed to have mixed feelings about it, occasionally raising a lip in Misha’s direction. Every time he did that, Dusty, ever the peacemaker, nipped at Hogan, redirecting his attention to the wrestling task at hand. Judging by his wagging body and tail, Dusty was thrilled to be ganged up on by the terriers.

By tomorrow evening, our household will return to a three-dog one. While I know I’ll miss Misha’s cuddles, I think I’ll relish the relative peacefulness of our evening routine: Dusty glued to my side on the couch, Cora high-fiving me for belly rubs, and Hogan tentatively climbing up me to give kisses. Wouldn’t change it for the world!