Chilean Dog Rescue: The Final Chapter
Several weeks ago in northern Chile, I got on my motorcycle while a stray dog looked on. The dog had been run over by a car days earlier and was in desperate need of veterinary care, but at the time all I could give was food and water. Sitting in the scorching desert while I prepared to leave, the dog wagged its tail, never breaking eye contact even after I lowered my helmet visor. His silent plea went unanswered because I left him there. Over the subsequent weeks I thought about that dog and eventually mustered the courage to attempt a rescue. Over the past couple of weeks this rescue attempt brought into my life a young entrepreneur, an insurance professional, a search & rescue dog trainer, a public bathroom attendant, a truck stop restaurant owner, a college student, a homemaker, and a survivor. These people have nothing in common with each other, except for their deep compassion toward animals and their willingness to help me on what every reasonable person justly considered a lost, if not crazy, cause.
I had no plan in place before leaving on this 2,000-mile (3,200 km) motorcycle ride to rescue a wounded dog I spotted weeks earlier. All I knew was that Suri and I had to make our way from Ushuaia, Argentina back to northern Chile. The first few days of the journey were expected to be cold, rainy, and windy, so I needed to fix the cover for Suri's cage, since the last cover we used was shredded to pieces by the winds on our way south. While in Ushuaia, I was unable to find viable material to fashion a new cover, so I reached out to Ana Li (the young entrepreneur) to see if she might have something in her store that I could use. With my departure date approaching, I was desperate to find anything, even a shower curtain liner would do in a pinch.
Ana Li not only found the perfect material, but also designed and manufactured a custom cover for Suri's cage. Having this cover made my departure possible because I wouldn't have risked leaving otherwise. I might be crazy, but not crazy enough to jeopardize Suri's safety. This cover also reduced setup time at every stop because it's easy to open, close, and/or adjust. Thanks to Ana Li's creativity and compassion, I was well on my way to reaching northern Chile. During my stay in Ushuaia I learned that Ana Li is a committed animal advocate who has helped many stray dogs and cats whom otherwise would have gone without. Heroes do walk unnoticed among us.
While riding north I had no way of knowing whether I'd find the dog, but remaining cautiously optimistic I needed to begin formulating a rescue plan. The most complicated and expensive part of the rescue is transport -- I learned that from Sunshine's rescue and upcoming travel -- so I had to minimize my own expenses. I took to eating once a day and as cheaply as possible, and went to CouchSurfing for lodging. Finding a CouchSurfing host is not a sure thing, so for several days I had to continue to use hotels and my choices were limited only to those that accept pets. Then I got lucky and found a CouchSurfing host in Santiago, Chile. Ernesto (the insurance professional) not only opened his home to Suri and I, but also lifted our spirits with his amazing rescue story. While living in Venezuela, Ernesto rescued 20+ stray dogs from the streets of Caracas, provided them with a loving home, and helped place each of them in their furever homes. All of this while the country's economy unraveled. I didn't feel so crazy anymore. Eventually Ernesto had to leave Venezuela himself in order to look for economic opportunities in Chile.
My search for CouchSurfing hosts north of Santiago, Chile yielded very few results. I decided to include a few more keywords (rescue, animals, dogs) in my search criteria in order to identify just the right person, if such person even existed. It turns out she does exist and her name is Catalina (the search & rescue dog trainer). Catalina is a compassionate person, has veterinary training and extensive experience rescuing dogs, and as a specialized dog trainer has deep understanding of dog behavior. Not only did she agree to host Suri and I in La Serena, Chile, but also signed up to join me on the rescue effort.
I rented a small car in La Serena and, along with Catalina and Suri, drove the 5+ hours to Chañaral to search for the dog. We arrived at the gas station/restaurant where I had last encountered the dog and Catalina suggested we conduct our search by spiraling outward on foot, and asking everyone we saw about the dog. We started with the gas station and its attendants, none of whom had seen the dog. We searched the adjacent empty lots and truck yards, to no avail. At the truck stop building we asked the public bathroom attendant (whose name I failed to ask) about the dog and he said that it had been taken to a veterinarian. He also shared that he had recently adopted a dog himself that had been in bad shape, and that now his dog was doing well. So well, in fact, that he had difficulty keeping it from escaping from the house to follow him to work. When we asked for more details about the dog I was searching for he suggested we speak with Maria, the lady who owns the restaurant.
I had spoken on the phone with Maria (truck stop restaurant owner) weeks earlier and she had no desire to help with the rescue of this dog. Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, Catalina and I went to the restaurant to speak with her anyway. I was surprised when Maria recognized Suri and I because she didn't seem to remember us when I spoke with her on the phone. Now she also seemed to know all about the dog I was searching for when over the phone she didn't, so I asked her about our phone conversation from weeks earlier. After some back and forth we discovered that the person I had reached on the phone was not her but someone from an establishment across the street. Once we got the confusion cleared up, she shared the details about the dog rescue.
Maria said that soon after I spotted the dog during my ride south, a young fellow stopped by, picked him up, and took him to a veterinarian. She wasn't sure who this young fellow was, but said that her sister would know, so she immediately dialed her number. Her sister gave her some additional details -- the name of a person who might know a person who might know the young man, and a potential street name. We knew then that this wasn't going to be easy, but Maria recognized that I had come all this way for the dog so she looked at me and asked, "you want to see the dog?" When I said that I would, Maria was determined to help and reached out to several other people until she had a street name. Still wearing her apron she got in the car with us and led us to the street where we might be able to find the dog.
We found the right street and she recognized the car that the young man had been driving, so she went to the gate to speak with the people in the house. The lady of the house confirmed that the young man, her son, lived there but had just left to go back to his university. She also said that she knew about the dog, but that the dog wasn't at their house anymore because she was alone and couldn't take care of it. Her son had teamed up with some other lady to take care of the dog, but she didn't know who this lady was. All she knew was the general direction where the lady lived because one day her son had pointed it out while driving by. Maria's detective instincts kicked in and she asked whether she had heard a name or knew what this woman looked like. "Cony, or Tony, or Bony... I'm not really sure," said the lady. "I know a Bony," replied Maria, "What does she look like?" After they matched the description, we had a new name (Bony) and a street, so we got back in the car and continued the search.
We found Bony's house and, as we parked, Maria pointed and exclaimed, "There it is! That's the dog!" I looked around, excited, but there were several dogs in and outside the house and couldn't find the one. During our search around town my mind had been racing. I was glad that the dog had been rescued and that these people obviously loved him. In a desert town with little resources and where there isn't even a veterinarian, they had driven for hours to the nearest town to make sure the dog received medical care. I couldn't wait to see him, so I looked at Maria again for direction and noticed that she was pointing at a toy poodle sitting on a stool. Not the dog we were looking for. It was obvious now that they didn't have the dog, so I wanted to get back out there to search the streets, but my heart had given up hope. I really didn't think that the dog could have survived all of those weeks in the desert, wounded.
Bony (the homemaker) is a passionate animal advocate who has rescued many cats and dogs, so if the dog was still alive she'd be the one who could help. We had come all this way and couldn't give up now. We spoke with Bony about our mission and she shared with us the details about rescuing their dog named Hatsuko. She looked around the front porch to point her out, but couldn't find her. Then she pointed toward a little dog house on the side of her front porch and there she was, hiding. I recognized her immediately and almost cried.
Bony invited us in and regaled us with some of her rescue stories while giving us a tour of the various rooms of the house that are dedicated to cats or dogs. Orly (the young college student) and Bony had done good work with Hatsuko because she looked much healthier and moved much faster than when I had seen her several weeks earlier. Bony explained that she really didn't have the capacity to take another dog, but didn't have the heart to turn her away.
Hatsuko is coming home with us and her name is now Matilda (Matty). Catalina and I took her to the vet and discovered that my theory that her leg had been crushed by a tire was wrong. The vet found several fractured ribs and those injuries combined with the smashed foot are indicative of high speed impact and being dragged under a car for a significant distance. Matty was lucky to be alive.
We're now at Catalina's house in La Serena, Chile, working on Matty's and Suri's paperwork to travel to the US. There are a lot of moving pieces regarding vaccines, health certificates, approved dog carriers, etc. As a dog trainer Catalina has traveled several times with dogs to the US and is familiar with all of this, so I'm extra thankful to have found her. She will travel with me so that each of us has a dog in the cabin. I'm also making arrangements to have my motorcycle shipped to Portland from Santiago, Chile and found someone who can help with that.
This motorcycle adventure looks nothing like what I had planned. I never expected to reach the End of the World with a dog (Suri) in tow, nor did I think it would end with the rescue of three dogs in total. It won't change the world, but it definitely made a world of difference to us and them.