Getting a rescued dog

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

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

Alice

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 Picnic in the Park

Hogan and Dusty enjoyed watching the seagulls and the squirrels. (They barked only at the squirrels.)

Hogan and Dusty enjoyed watching the seagulls and the squirrels. (They barked only at the squirrels.)

Yesterday we decided to do something different, so after work, we packed up the dogs, their food, some wieners, buns, and salad, and headed down to the Ajax waterfront. After a decent walk, we unloaded the car, set up a big pen for the dogs (and us), lay out a blanket, and played a game while waiting for the Hibachi to heat up. The dogs seemed a little confused at first, but Hogan quickly settled in, and the other two eventually followed suit. It was a nice break for us from the everyday, and I think the dogs agreed!

Hogan never takes long to get comfortable anywhere.

Hogan never takes long to get comfortable anywhere.

Cora didn't want to be far from the cooler!

Cora didn’t want to be far from the cooler!

Cora and Dusty supervised the cooking of the hot dogs.

Cora and Dusty supervised the cooking of the hot dogs.

Dusty spent a good part of the evening just looking handsome. It's his most important job in our house.

Dusty spent a good part of the evening just looking handsome. It’s his most important job in our house.

Hogan moved from the blanket to a spot under the chair for a while.

Hogan moved from the blanket to a spot under the chair for a while.

My pretty girl

My pretty girl

My boys

My boys

All packed up and ready to go...till next time!

All packed up and ready to go…till next time!

Cora: Less Fearful than Ever!

I haven’t updated on Cora in a while, but I keep meaning to. Time slips away all too easily.

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly "scary" person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly “scary” person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Last summer, we took our scaredy-dog off the clomipramine she was on for anxiety. We slowly lowered her dose by 10 mg every week, and since we weren’t seeing any less anxiety with each tablet less, we figured it was okay to take her right off them.

In the past six months or so, Cora has made great strides. She is so close to appearing to be a “normal” dog that some people who had never met her before have been surprised to learn of how she cowered in her crate on the day we first saw her at an adoption event at PetSmart; how until very recently she hid in her “safe spot” in our house the entire time we had guests; how it took her well over a year to approach people whom she saw in our home regularly (including my mom and friends we played cards with weekly); how her fear was so incredibly bad at times that our “eat anything” beagle girl wouldn’t even take a treat from some people….

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

 

 

 

Yeah, she’s not really that dog anymore. We’ve had Cora for three years and one month, and she has finally emerged from her shell, although somewhat tentatively. There’s no denying that she is still cautious, but in recent months, Cora has joined her brothers, Dusty and Hogan, at the door when the doorbell rings, nearly always comes out of hiding within an hour or so of guests coming in, sniffs strangers on our walks and has even let some pet her, and, most surprising, has found her voice! We’ve heard Cora bark while awake only a handful of times in three years (we can definitely count her barks on our fingers), but two weekends ago, she barked three times in normal situations in which a dog would bark. It was shocking to hear her voice (which sounds so much like Dusty’s)! She hasn’t barked since, and because the boys both bark too much, we can’t say we’re terribly disappointed she hasn’t taken up the habit. Nevertheless, I will never discourage that in her.

She still has her "safe spot," but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

She still has her “safe spot,” but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

So it has been an eventful several months in our household. Cora is a very happy girl now. She is in her twilight years to be sure, but she still has so much life in her, and it’s been incredibly heartwarming to watch her seek it out from deep within, dust off the bad history with big sweeps of her tail, and make the most of what she has left.

And we couldn’t be happier to be the ones sharing this glorious time in her life with her!

Life is looking bright....

Life is looking bright….

To read more about Cora’s journey from fearful dog to normal dog, click on the “fearful dog” link below.

The New-Dog “Guilt”

 

Our pretty girl

Our pretty girl

The very month that I began this blog, I started to write an article about the guilt I felt adopting another dog (or in my case, three dogs) after having lost our beloved Roxie.

The blog went up in September 2011. That post still hasn’t been written.

Every time I tried, I cried. And, really, I ultimately found it hard to dig that deep.

She was so tiny when we got her.

She was so tiny when we got her.

Today it is easier, I think, because there is no longer any feeling of guilt. We certainly didn’t try to replace Roxie. (In fact, we couldn’t have adopted three dogs more different from her!) And when we got Cora, Dusty, and Hogan, deep down inside, I told myself that I wouldn’t love them as much as I loved Roxie. That I couldn’t love any dog as much as I loved Roxie.

What I have learned in the nearly three years of having my dogs is that one love isn’t really comparable to another or measurable against another. I cannot say with certainty that I loved Roxie more than I love these three—they most certainly have my heart today. But I did love Roxie differently.

Our family six months after Roxie joined us.

Our family, complete.

Roxie learning to go down stairs.

Roxie learning to go down stairs.

Roxie was the dog who completed our family. My stepson was five when we got her. They grew up together. She was the dog I had when I chose not to have children of my own, when I decided my stepson and Roxie satisfied my maternal instinct and that I had to look no further for that sort of fulfilment. Roxie became my surrogate baby. She loved to go for walks, chase toys, tear out stuffing, and hunt for hidden hot dogs (her favourite stuffed toys), but she also loved to be carried and cuddled and coddled.

Justin with Scratch and Roxie.

Justin with Scratch (my parents’ dog) and Roxie.

At the age of four, she was diagnosed with degenerative disks in her spine. We were told that if we kept letting her do stairs, jump on furniture, chase a ball, etc., she’d be paralyzed by the time she was ten. Roxie at that time was a Frisbee dog. She loved nothing more than catching a Frisbee mid-air. We decided that quality of life was for her; quantity was for us. Roxie deserved a quality life, and that’s what we gave her. (Enter monthly chiropractic treatments, because we really didn’t want to give up quantity, either!)

Roxie just enjoying the outdoors.

Roxie just enjoying the outdoors.

She was the best gift-opener!

She was the best gift-opener!

For nearly eleven years, we played fetch with Roxie from the time we got home from work till the time we went to bed. She had energy coming out the wazoo and almost every night would wake me at 3 a.m., pretending she needed to go outside but, really, she just wanted to play some more. Who needed a baby when my pup did the 3 a.m. wake-ups?

She loved our neighbours' pool and jumped into it from the ground one day, surprising all of us.

She loved our neighbours’ pool and jumped into it from the ground one day, surprising all of us.

Around the age of twelve, Roxie, our non-stop-playful Jack Russell terrier, started to slow down. By thirteen, she couldn’t do the stairs anymore, but she still loved to go for her walks, and we’d often still walk three kilometres or more a day. She was fifteen when we made that awful decision to let her leave this world and her pain behind. She went for four very short walks that day.

Age 13, still enjoying the snow!

Age 13, still enjoying the snow!

Our Frisbee-loving girl

Our Frisbee-loving girl in her prime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We still grieve for Roxie; in fact, I am having a hard time seeing my computer screen through my tears as I write this. Roxie will never leave our hearts. But I think our hearts just grew bigger when we adopted Cora, Dusty, and Hogan. There is plenty of room in there for four dogs. In fact, there is room for a whole lot more. I know I would—and someday will—grieve the loss of any of these dogs just as deeply as I have grieved for Roxie. No dog can replace another, but every one can leave a mark.

Once she stopped being able to do stairs, Wes built her this ramp. It was carpeted, lighted, and covered from the elements. One side was Plexiglas so she had natural daylight.

Once she stopped being able to do stairs, Wes built her this ramp. It was carpeted, lighted, and covered from the elements. One side was Plexiglas so she had natural daylight.

Her hair got crazy once in a while between haircuts!

Her hair got crazy once in a while between haircuts!

As for guilt? What is there to feel guilty about? Roxie knew love. Whole-hearted love. Unconditional love. Perhaps unreasonable love in the eyes of non-dog people. I have not taken anything away from her by loving Cora, Dusty, and Hogan. I have simply honoured her memory by demonstrating that the joy she gave me in her fifteen years was absolutely worth the pain of her inevitable loss. By adopting again, I said to Roxie, “I’d do it all over again, baby.” And that’s what I’m doing.

Roxie as I'll always remember her--bathed in sunlight, cherished, happy, loved beyond reason.

Roxie as I’ll always remember her–bathed in sunlight, cherished, happy, loved beyond reason.

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!