I was driving to the grocery store on a familiar street, when on the other side I saw a tiny baby puppy drinking water out of a puddle in the road. I was not even certain it was a puppy, it was so small and in such an incredibly dangerous spot. There were cars speeding by, and I could not believe it was not already hit. I immediately made a U-turn and jumped out of the car, stopping traffic and slowly walked towards the puppy but trying to make sure that if it ran, it ran back into a neighborhood. Well, amazingly this tiny thing let me pick it up without running off. She was maybe 4 pounds and covered from head to toe with ticks. I looked around for a yard that had other pups or momma dogs but did not see any, so back we went to the car and headed home. This little one had more ticks than any other pup I had picked up before, so I took different sessions at picking them off; I thought it was too much to do in one sitting, and besides the ticks, it was evident that it had mange. After a vet visit for an initial overview we began the familiar regiment of deworming and chemical baths for mange. But, like most street pups, they are strong and recover quickly and she soon was free of worms and ticks, but of course we had weeks of care for the all too familiar skin disease. She turned out to be super sweet, and with care her hair came in and weight increased quickly.
We had her for about 3 months, she received her vaccinations and thank the Lord this was one pup that did not get parvo. Indi was my usual amazing “Super Nanny” and got busy playing with her and teaching her proper dog skills. She caught on quickly to basic training and loved her lessons. A woman I volunteer with at our local whale and dolphin sighting organization (SCCN: Southern Caribbean Cetacean Network), decided Mosa would be perfect company for her when her husband was off traveling, and she and her daughter fell in love at first sight. I did several training sessions with Mosa (now named Chica) and her new family and have often gone over for updates and nail cuttings and such. She is loved and is a wonderful addition to their family and we are all very lucky we found each other.
Curacao Animal Rights Foundation (CARF) was founded on May 29, 2008. CARF is committed to protect and safeguard the welfare of stray animals on the island of Curacao.
CARF’s mission is geared towards the following key goals:
• Creating and raising awareness of proper animal care
• Fostering and caring of abandoned and neglected stray animals
• Place of strays through an adoption program to suitable families
CARF relies on a select network of dedicated volunteers who work selflessly for the welfare of all animals. Most strays concern dogs, but cats and other domestic animals in need also receive sheltering and the necessary care.
Curacao has approximately 90,000 strays and about 150,000 (human) inhabitants. This means that there are 0.6 dogs for every human on the island! Theoretically, in six years, one un-spayed female dog and her un-spayed offspring can produce 67,000 dogs. CARF is very proactive in sterilizing both male and female dogs before placement, as well as educating the island about the benefits of sterilization.
Currently five of my colleagues and I volunteer at a local house-shelter for CARF dogs. We are a mixture of dolphin and sea lion trainers and some also have experience in elephants, seals, horses, great apes and porpoises. This residence is a half-way house for approximately 20-25 dogs of varying ages. Our basic responsibilities are to feed, medicate and socialize the dogs. We are all experienced trainers in the power of positive reinforcement and have seen remarkable changes in our dog’s greeting, kenneling and social behavior.
Through my personal experience with my own street dog rescues, I have seen first-hand that a dog who has a foundation of good manners is easier to adopt, quickly settles into a new home, and is more likely to stay in that home. It is also provides a tremendous opportunity to show new owners what positive reinforcement training is all about. As a professional trainer I am very practiced in “catching good behavior” and reinforcing it. That simple rule is the first thing I begin to teach any dog that resides at our CARF house. Our dogs quickly catch on to that game and try to figure out what they can do to earn a tasty treat. It is also something easy to teach a new owner and gets them focused on the dog’s good behavior instead of the bad behavior.
A large part of our training goes toward socializing these street dogs that either have had no exposure or bad exposure to things like people, bikes, cars, noise etc. As street dogs the very reason they have survived is their fast reactions and their ability to either run or fight. Our training helps them to see humans as something they do not need to fear.
I have developed a “Train to Adopt” program for CARF with the goal of socializing and training our adoptable dogs in basic manners such as: kenneling, body handling skills, sitting for attention, down, stay, come, in and out of a car, and loose leash walking. Each of my colleagues and I work with 2-3 dogs several times a week on these foundational skills and later have an opportunity to show off these dogs at our “meet and greet” weekends.
Joy is a dog that is currently laying on the floor next to the bed as I write. She hasn’t always been there, but recently came back into our lives a few months ago.
About four years ago the local workmen at our apartment division came knocking on our door to tell us in a mixture of Spanish, English, Papiamentu and Dutch that there was a small pup that was hiding under their wood pile in back, at their work station area. I went to check it out, and they were correct. It was tiny black-ish puppy, maybe 6 weeks old, and hardly had a stitch of hair on its body because of the mange. I told them I would take it and shortly after had this mangy little thing in a cardboard box on my front step. After a trip to the vet and confirmation that we were indeed dealing with mange once again, I began the regiment of chemical baths, proper food, deworming vaccinations and handling. At first she was a pistol and did not like me holding or touching her at all, but she was weak and underweight and soon tired out and fell asleep on my lap. We quickly became good friends.
We began calling her “Blackie” for lack of a better name, and simply because I do not like to name my foster dogs (other than sweetie, puppy, littles). I think it is an important bonding moment for a new owner to name their new dog. She grew quickly and learned even faster, catching on to basic manners and socializing with my “super-nanny-Indi-dog." We took her everywhere along with our dogs, and she was becoming a wonderful young thing. A neighbor of mine brought by a colleague and she immediately fell in love with this now-beautiful silky black pup. She adopted her and named her “Joy." A perfect name for a dog that is very joyful. My dogs and I would go on walks with Joy and her new owner and help out with training issues, and even babysitting her and her housemate when the owner went on vacation. What a lucky dog.
Then arrived a shock from CARF (Curacao Animal Rights Foundation), which is a local street dog rescue organization that I volunteer for. The owner of Joy wanted to return her. I was in complete disbelief and utter disappointment. The long and short story of it was that the owner got a new boyfriend and a new dog and somehow this wonderful, joyful little creature no longer fit in her life. All this after having her for three years. Ok. I was at least grateful that she was returned to CARF and that owners did not turn to more drastic decisions. Joy stayed at our CARF dog shelter for a few days, but then I brought her to our house to foster until she is adopted. That is how she came to be laying on my bedroom floor as we speak.
Joy is simply that, a joy. She is a joy to be around and brings joy into each of my days. She has a soft temperament and a soft black coat, and loves for you to sit on the floor and rub her belly. She has wonderful manners and fits into the household very easily. I always laugh when we get ready to go on a walk, hearing her say “I don’t know where we are going, but I can’t wait to get there"! This amazing dog will have to go to only the best new owner; she deserves that. After all, who wouldn’t want more joy in their lives?
Cave Puppies……….Braveheart, Raven and Blackie
CARF: Curacao Animal Rights Foundation
Fostering Second Chances
Lola is a wonderful little angel-dog that seemed to just drop into our lives. Barry came home from work one day saying he had been over to a remote harbor where he noticed local workers feeding a little street dog. He excitedly said she was the sweetest thing ever, and he could not wait for me to meet her. Well, I went over right away and he was correct; it was only minutes before I was in love. She certainly was the sweetest thing ever and unlike most street dogs seemed to love just about everybody. Lola had something special about her; a sweet spirit, a joy, a happiness that is rare. I was smitten. My usual opinion about naming pups is to let the new owner name them, but as soon as I met the little black pup with one ear folded down and the other standing straight up I knew what her name was: Lola. It fit.
The local workers were nice enough to be feeding her sometimes (they are sometimes called “Pot-Licker-Dogs” because they let them have the leftovers), and she was in pretty good shape, but looked like she had the beginnings of some skin problems. They all seemed to enjoy her, but when I asked a few who her owner was no one claimed this four to five month old pup. I also asked who was going to vaccinate and sterilize her and no one wanted to take that responsibility on either. I soon went and picked her up to take her to the vet and begin the process. She got her first vaccinations and sure enough had mange. My plan was that she would continue to live where she did, down at the ship area, and I would go down three times a week to feed her, give her the chemical baths for her skin and also begin some basic training. I continued this schedule for about a month, and would often pick her up and take her for walks with my two dogs. It was soon becoming difficult to drop her off after our fun outings…
The day before her scheduled appointment for sterilization Lola gave me a pretty big scare. I went down to pick her up for a walk and I could not find her. Now, this is a pretty big harbor area with many big construction trucks going up and down the street, and I was horrified to think this little sweet thing could have been hit by a truck. After looking for her for about 30 minutes I vowed that if I found her I was taking her to our house as a foster dog until I could find her a home. Lucky for us she soon strolled up, jumped into our car and our lives, and I am eternally grateful. During this time a good friend of ours, Emily, came down to visit. She was a vet student and was here to spend some time with the dolphins and learn about marine mammal medicine and training. She met our sweet Lola and also immediately fell in love.
About a month after Lola was sterilized and Emily went home I was investigating about finding her a new home. If we did not already have two large dogs in a small apartment she was certainly the one I would have kept; she was and still is so special to me. But, if she could not live with us, then certainly the best place on earth she could live was with Emily in Michigan. Curacao to Michigan, that is quite a change for a little island dog. Emily was also excited about adopting a street dog from Curacao, but our next big hurdle was how do we get her there? It soon became apparent that our new adventure was going to be me taking Lola to America!
Lola already had her vaccinations, micro-chip and was sterilized, so all I needed to do was get an international health certificate and book us a flight! It all turned out pretty easy and early one morning Barry took Lola and me to the airport. From the very beginning Lola was a champ. She walked around the Curacao airport, met the stewardess as I checked in and walked straight into her kennel. As I entered the plane I told the stewardess and the pilot I was flying with a dog and would appreciate it if they would let me know when she was loaded. It made my heart flutter and yet settled me down when I heard over the intercom “Mrs. Brown you will be happy to know that Lola is safely onboard out flight.” Yea. Here we go.
The flight was easy and touching down in Miami was smooth. I picked her up down at the luggage claim and we went through immigration and customs and everyone was saying hello to her as I wheeled her around on a big cart. It was a great American welcome. Now the next part; 10 hours in the Miami airport. We just decided to enjoy ourselves and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to expose Lola to things she had never seen before, like grass! I put a leash on her and we strolled all around the inside and outside of the airport and she was so well behaved that we were allowed in many places, like the bookstores and Chili’s restaurant. She met many people who loved our story of a Curacao street dog going to live in America, and she once again showed me what a people-dog she was. We got snacks and read books, took naps and walked around looking at everything. The time flew by. We were soon getting ready for the next leg of our journey, going to The Twin Cities, Minneapolis/St. Paul, where Emily’s sister lived and where Emily would meet us. Once again we had a super smooth flight, and we were soon in Minnesota snuggled down on a couch and safe and sound.
I got up early and Lola and I started our day taking a walk and exposing her to…..squirrels! Wow, who knew such creatures even existed! She was fascinated. And, later that day Emily arrived with hugs and chewies and tug toys. We spent the next days with Lola getting used to her nephews, who fell in love with her and loved to walk around and show her off over at the local park.
One of the greatest parts of our “Lola-To-America” trip was one afternoon as Emily, Lola and I went for a bike ride and run over by some local lakes. It was a super-super rich area with massive houses and we noticed a yard sale. Well, both of us being small town girls immediately wondered what rich people put in yard sales, so we headed over. As we parked our bikes we noticed a large yellow banner on the wrought iron fence; “Second Hand Hounds.” It was a local dog rescue group. Seriously? This was awesome. So, we walked up and introduced ourselves, gave a quick over-view of ourselves and Lola and asked if we could enter. They loved our story, brought several people over to tell it again and said “Yes! This is exactly why we are doing this! You guys are an inspiration"! They were really nice people doing amazing things. Lola got to work meeting and greeting everyone she saw. She was a wonderful representative of dog rescue and my heart almost burst with pride. Soon we were once again surprised when the front gate lady came up and said, “I hope you don’t mind but I called the local newspaper and photographer and they are headed over here to do your story.” That is awesome, super fun and all Emily and I could do was shake our heads and laugh. So, that’s exactly what happened and Lola posed like a cover-girl pro. We eventually left feeling like superstars; but we both knew who the real star was.
I was only able to get away from work for a few days, and those days flew by and soon I was having a tearful good-bye to Lola at the airport. I was certainly sad, but also so grateful for such a wonderful, loving home and the knowledge that she was going to have many happy and healthy years with people who loved her.
These days I get to see Lola photos all the time because Emily is such a close friend and now part of my family. So, in reality Lola really never left. She is now the queen of the couch and loves to hang out with the kids. She races all over the Michigan biking trails, jumps into the creeks and gives muddy kisses. Lola is a one-of-a-kind and I love it that we have this story together.
There are many, many street dogs in Curacao, and it is probably a mixture of education and culture that leads to the lack of sterilization. I have heard many times “it is normal for dogs to have puppies.” A good example is my friend’s neighbor who had a dog that had more than 40 puppies. That is, up until the time he allowed her to take the female to the free spay and neuter clinic. So, it is not too rare to be driving and see momma dogs and pups in different places. That is how we came across our “Snack Truck Pups”.
There are many snack trucks that travel and sell food around Curacao, and there was one that often parked just down the street from us. One day three small pups crawled out from underneath it and were playing in the parking area next to the road. Barry and I, and several of our colleagues, began to stop and feed the little ones in the hopes of getting them used to people. They were getting more settled down and I began to set things in motion and prepare to catch them in the hopes of deworming, vaccinating, sterilizing and finding them homes. I also decided the best thing was to deworm them in their current place and let them drop all those roundworms somewhere other than our tile floor.
I decided to catch them once they were comfortable eating out of my hands, and by this time the momma was losing interest in them as well, making my job much easier. I was soon able to snag a brown female and a black and white male. The last solid black female got away too soon and I would have to wait for another day for her. These pups were not in terrible shape, but did have some skin problems and needed a few weeks of “mange baths.” Once again these street dogs showed us how resilient they are when they began putting on weight and getting their coats in, and they suddenly thought humans were pretty great. That is a big change from the first scary day of a new home, vet visit, baths and tick duty. Indi quickly showed me her valuable puppy raising skills and began to teach them manners and good play language skills. It was pretty common for Indi to have a tug rope and one to three pups would be the other end. I think my favorite was seeing her laying on the floor on the bottom of a puppy pile. I could not thank her enough for her babysitting.
I began teaching them basic manners, all three at once, and learned the value of imitation in training. As soon as one puppy would sit I would reinforce it and the others would bounce up and down and wonder how that happened? Then they would look at their sibling sitting, and also sit, and “Bam” the magic treat would appear. They sure made training fun.
The last black girl I caught was actually the first puppy to be adopted. She went to live a nice family with a little girl and they were planning on moving back to Holland in the near future. They once sent me photos of her racing around a green grass field. It made my heart smile. The brown one soon got the name “Cookie” from the five year old daughter of our marine mammal vet. He and his family saw photos of her and instantly fell in love and she was destined to be a family dog. The last one, the multicolored male I often called “Brother”, stayed with us for about a month longer and eventually went to a neighbor friend of mine who is also dog lover, agility person and fellow trail walker. I often went for outings with her and her first rescue dog, Dona. She decided to name him “Chico” and after he left our home we continued to go on walks and hang out. We had one wonderful adventure with my Inca and Indi, my rescue dog Lola, her shelter dog Dona and rescue dog Jack Black and her new rescue dog Chico. We were one happy rescue-dog family! I sometimes still walk with them and often see him on her facebook site. I also get to hear updates about Cookie and her family life. That lucky girl lives in a house next to the beach and has two fellow canine companions, one a golden retriever-ish dog, and a new street dog rescue that they picked up themselves.
It definitely is not easy find, rescuing, rehabilitating, training and rehoming these pups. It is a lot of work, a lot of getting up in the middle of the night for bathroom breaks, a lot of play-ground monitoring and such. But it is also a lot of laughter, lots and lots of puppy kisses and puppy piles on my laps, lots of Indi racing after one or the other and pups running all around my feet while I am trying to make dinner. But, I would not change a thing. Even when I have to say a tearful good-bye it is also with a happy heart, knowing we were only their starter home. Now they get to go on and be the dogs they were always meant to be.
Lola's Trip to America!
Indi is the dog of my dreams. She is the best dog on the planet, and I am grateful for her every single day. But, her beginning was a tough one and maybe that is one reason I cherish her so much.
One morning after our walk, Inca and I were driving home and I saw a car pulled off to the side of one of our busiest streets. I saw several people standing around the car and a tiny black pup at their feet. I drove ahead a bit and pulled off to the side. I immediately thought of two scenarios: the first one was that the pup had gotten out of the car and they were trying to catch it. The second scenario was much darker; they were dumping the pup beside the road. I watched closely as the car drove off and soon saw the truth. The little black pup was sitting next to a red post office box only ten feet from the road. I shook my head in disbelief and turned the car around. I quietly walked up to the little one who was sitting so nicely, just watching the word go by, and gently picked her up. I sat her in the front seat, where she immediately took on the mixed expression of “What took you so long?” and “I am just where I am supposed to be.” Who knew?
I called Barry and he asked what I was going to do and my normal answer of “I don’t know” came out again, followed by “I just could not leave her there, I had to do something!” Hahaha, same old song and dance. She was not in bad shape, had good skin and definitely had been around people and dogs because she was not bothered by Inca or me. The next day our neighbor said they had a friend that wanted to adopt a dog and they came by to meet the little black pup. They decided they wanted her and would come back the next day. Well, as life would have it, she got horribly sick over-night and had crazy diarrhea the following day. When the prospective new owners called me I told them the situation and that I did not want to give them a sick puppy (they were also first time dog owners), and said I wanted to get her through this and we could be in touch next week. I took the puppy to the vet and unfortunately she was more than just sick; she had parvo.
The word parvo just sends chills down most dog people’s spines. It is such a devastating disease. In most cases you have about a 50/50 chance; you support the dogs system and let the virus work its way out. Parvo is everywhere on this island, as is distemper. We have a large population of unvaccinated street dogs and the weather never gets cold enough to freeze, so it is always a worry.
Each day for the following week was a sketchy one. I had to have her at the vet every day for IV fluids and medication. I tried to make her as comfortable as I could, and shed a million tears on her little pointed nose as I sat up night after night praying for her strength and that she would pull through this. Several times Barry called me at work to tell me the chilling message of “I think you need to get home, this little puppy is dying." But, my prayers were thankfully answered and this strong and independent puppy pulled through. I was always telling her how independent she was, always wanting to get some kisses and then go lay down on the cool tile by herself. As I was nursing the sick pup, the prospective owners went to the shelter and adopted another dog, so that home was no longer available when she got better. To be honest two other homes fell through after that and then one day I named her, Indi, for her being such an independent little soul. Barry soon said “Oh no, you named her, I guess that means we are keeping her." And I simply said “Yes, we certainly are." And that was that.
Indi was tough to potty train, she chewed on every single thing in the house, occasionally ran amuck and into our neighbors open front door, and I loved her from her pointed ears to her wonderful white front foot.
With time and patience Indi learned many things and is still the most adventurous and independent dog ever. As a youngster she had these massive ears and Barry used to say “She’s the only dog on the island that can hear the sun rise"! hahaha, I just love that. She makes me laugh, she gives me confidence and strength on the good days and the bad, and she has let me shed many tears on her beautiful rough collar. She is a dog of a lifetime and I am so grateful we found each other that day.
Kaya was the first pup I picked up off the street. I did not even think about it. The entire event happened quickly, like a reflex action. My husband Barry and I were driving home one evening from walking our dog Inca when a small black blur raced across the road and squished its little body right up against a fence. I yelled at Barry to pull the car over, and before we had even come to a complete stop I jumped out and ran to the fence. This tiny thing bravely growled at me and I did a fast snatch and grab and had her in my arms in a moment before either of us had a chance to think about it. We got back to the car and Barry asked me what I had in my arms, I said “a puppy”! He asked what I was going to do with it and I told him I did not know and then sat in the car. We both looked at each other and drove off. On the way home we began to wonder what I had done, but really, what else can you do? At the time we lived in a tiny apartment, and I immediately began talking to my friends at work about this new little rescue pup, and within 3 days a colleague of mine that worked at the dolphin therapy center decided she was the one for him. She went home with him and they became best friends overnight. He loves to kite surf and mountain bike and she definitely lives “the dog’s life”. He named her Kaya, which is Papiamentu for “street”. Seems like a perfect name for her considering how we found her. We luckily get to see Kaya often and walk and play with the dogs all the time, so in reality she really never left us at all.
The latest new on Kaya is that she and her owner and one additional adopted dog have moved to Holland and now she races in the grass and chases rabbits. Not bad for a tiny girl that had such a busy beginning!
Snack Truck Puppies..(Cookie, Chico, Blackie)
My husband Barry is an avid mountain biker and this takes him all over the island to many off-road areas. One day after a ride, he came to me and said “We need to go back to Caracas Bay, there is a momma dog and about 5 babies that are living in a cave and we need to give them food and water.” So, we packed up and off we went. Sure enough this skinny momma and her five babies were living in a cave by the sea. They were all very skiddish and momma immediately ran off, but the pups hid in the cave and slowly came out to eat once we laid out food and water. Barry and I went back every day for about a week until we could form a plan for catching the pups. We knew we could take several of them, and with them being so young we could socialize, vaccinate, sterilize and find them homes. We returned one day with a large kennel and the pups ran into the cave. I then got on my belly and shimmied under the over-hang and tried to catch some puppies, talk about a difficult job! It was lucky for me that the momma ran off and hid and didn't bother me. Several puppies went to the back of the cave and I could not get my hands on them. But, after about an hour’s struggle, we managed to get three safely in a kennel and head home.
Taking on three street pups is not an easy task. You have to be prepared to not get a full night’s sleep, be constantly taking someone out on the leash for potty training, cleaning up after messes and mistakes, fortifying the house from puppy mouths and general school-ground-monitor. Good thing I had my “Super-Nanny” to help me out; Indi was in charge of entertainment and dog-language skills acquisition. This is one job I could not have done without her backup!
The three pups we named “Blackie” (solid black), Braveheart (because she was the brave one that always came out of the cave to eat) and Raven (she had a white marking on her chest that looked like a flying bird). Blackie was adopted within the first month through CARF (Curacao Animal Rights Foundation), a local street dog rescue organization. Shortly thereafter a colleague of mine came by with his wife to meet the other two and they fell in love with Raven and her stunning markings. Then we were down to one, Braveheart. Braveheart and Indi were big buddies and loved to chase and play and they especially loved our beach family day adventures. She was growing quickly and had received two rounds of vaccinations. One day I woke up to a Braveheart that was not feeling too well and she soon had the distinctive smelly diarrhea that can be easily identified as “Parvo diarrhea.” My heart sank. This sweet pup who had survived birth and first weeks in a cave and had adjusted so well to living with humans, who had received vaccinations and I thought was free and clear had the deadly Parvo-virus.
The next week was a battle, with some ups and downs, but in the end our little Braveheart died. It broke my heart and we buried her under a tree on one of our trails and I decorated her area with bougainvillea flowers. We walk on that trail daily and I now have more good memories than bad memories when I think of her. Up until the very end she really did have a Brave Heart.