A look back on our last PR Trip.
By Chrissy Beckles.
This post has been a long time coming… I really did not feel ready to write about our last trip to PR until now.
It was a heartbreaker that started on Saturday with the rescue of Hope and Charity – two tiny pups one of whom had been horrifically injured. We have been documenting their fight to live on our Facebook page. And then came a beautiful dog we named Naomi. I am sharing the post I wrote the night of her rescue. It is raw and I still tear up when I think about her. Naomi was failed by humans her whole short life. We should have been able to change that and we could not. Weeks later I still feel we let her down…
We are rescuers. That’s what The Sato Project does. We take those who are abused and abandoned, neglected and sick and we help them. We rescue those others deem trash and we turn them into treasures.
It’s 11.30pm now here in PR and we just came from having to euthanize a beautiful dog. Yes, that was how we spent Saturday night. A poor angel that had obviously been neglected for a long time, had never been vaccinated, tested for any kind of serious disease, given flea, tick or heartworm preventative, de-wormed or treated for parasites. We had to watch Naomi take her last breath. To whisper in her ear that she was very loved. Yes, she had a name. Naomi. Please remember it because we know that we will NEVER forget her. Naomi got a name and had more love and care in 3 hours than she had during her few years of life. Every dog should have their own happily ever after. Naomi did not get hers. We rescued 7 dogs today. All the others were puppies. We vowed ‘No dog left behind’ in 2013 and when we saw Naomi and her pitiful condition we did not hesitate. We knew her prognosis was grave. Naomi had severe neurological damage, could not eat properly and was being eaten alive by fleas, ticks and lice. But we wrapped our arms around her and made her a promise. We promised her that we would do our best. We would not fail her as others had. But we could not save her and we are devastated. I am angry. I want to punch harder than I have ever punched before. Bianca’s clinic was long closed. So we used the main ER vet clinic on the island. I want to scream at the robotic vet and her tech at this emergency clinic to replace their ‘compassion chip’ and tell them “So what that we just rescued this dog hours before? Does it make her any less special? Does it mean you should handle her roughly?” Sophie is in shock; she is drained, frustrated and sad. I am just f***ing mad. Naomi was never cared for, shown love or compassion until 4.00pm 1/12/13. Six hours later she was dead…
The night we rescued Naomi we also took 4 teeny tiny puppies we named the Ewoks – because they looked exactly like the characters from Star Wars. As I was putting Naomi into a crate in the car and darkness was falling Sophie called my name. It was in a tone I now recognize after working a year together – the call meant
‘Oh crap Chrissy, look at this’.
I peered around the back of the car to see a tiny ball of fluff sat on top of a pile of garbage. We had quickly checked the pile a couple of hours before and seen nothing… a few choice curses came from me and I walked over to the tiny pup. He ran into the garbage and I peered into his hiding hole – and 4 pairs of eyes stared back at me. More cursing. I gathered them up and Sophie snapped pics. They were fluffy, tiny and absolutely adorable. We quickly made some calls and our volunteers Ivette and Victoria came and took the Ewoks for the night.
A night later we returned to the beach to feed the dogs and one young beautiful black lab was sat and would not come to us. He wagged his tail and I approached him. I put some food and water in front of him and he ate but still did not move. He was sat in a weird position – almost hunched over as though he was in pain. Then he tried to stand up and he could not. There were some men sat nearby and we asked if they knew anything about the dog – they told us he could not walk.
It looked like to rain so we asked if we could put the dog under the shelter of their ‘store’ and return for him in the morning? They agreed and we moved ‘Raphael’ as we named him to shelter. We left food and water and were about to leave when I looked at Sophie and she was crying. We were both still very upset about Naomi and I knew what was going through her mind. ‘Get me a crate, Sophie’ I said ‘He can come home with us’. We put Raphael in the crate and took him home. We are lucky enough to have amazing supporters, Sherrie and Dave who let us use their beautiful house that is near to Dead Dog Beach. We quarantined Raphael and made him comfortable with a towel food and water. We were both exhausted but Sophie and I kept waking in the night and going to check on Raphael. As we opened the door to his little area his tail would thump and we would breathe a sigh of relief – he was still alive. The next morning we took him to the clinic and he still could not walk… his prognosis looked grave.
Bianca took x-rays and we readied for our first transport of the week. Raphael was made comfortable and we took the lucky pups to the airport.
The next day we walked into the clinic and opened Raphael’s crate – he walked out to greet us! A miracle had occurred! Or so we thought. He only walked a few steps and then resumed his sitting position. His x-rays revealed a staple in his colon but no signs of trauma to his legs, hips or spine. It was a mystery. We discussed our options with Bianca – they were not good for a dog who could not walk especially a lab. But we were determined we could do something – Sophie suggested a set of doggie wheels! We made the decision to keep trying with Raphael. He was happy, he was eating, he just could not walk…
Next came Martinique.
A few months back we rescued a tiny little pup off a new beach near Dead Dog Beach that we had begun working on. He won the hearts of many, including ours. Martin had obviously been born on the beach but we did not see his mother. Martin came running up to us and did his now famous little salsa dance at our feet and we scooped him up and took him to Bianca’s clinic. Martin completed his vetting and was fostered by one of great volunteers, Elia. There were many tears when he left for New York and even more when Martin went to his forever home. It was another happy ending for one of our pups.
When we rescued Martin his sister was also at the beach but would not approach us. She was very shy and just kept running away. When this happens we have to make the effort to earn the dogs trust and hopefully rescue them at a later date. We returned to that beach on Saturday last week to feed the dogs there and assess the situation. We had found Naomi… We saw Martin’s sister that night and we fed her – she was still quite shy but her tail wagged and we put her on our list for rescue during our stay.
We visited that beach each day to feed the dogs there and Martinique as we had named her, was nowhere to be seen. It sometimes happens that a dog will disappear for a few days – they may go in search of food at a different spot or be hiding when we go with food. Sometimes a dog will never come back …and the terrible feeling of guilt begins.
I am a big believer in messages from the Universe (it may be my own ‘gut’ feeling but I like to think that these messages come via the karma system – what you throw out there comes back). Most of the time I listen. The times that I have not, well that was when not so good things have happened. On Thursday night Sophie and I were coming home at 10pm at night. We were staying near the new beach and for some reason I made a diversion and drove there on our way home. By doing this I am breaking one of my very strict rules – do not visit the beaches at night. It is not safe for the dogs let alone two girls. But something was telling me to go. So we pulled up under one of the main lights and in front of us laid Martinique. There was a man walking around whose intentions did not look so good so Sophie kept a hand on the horn and her phone to call the Police just in case the man would try something. I got out to feed Martinique. She was curled up in a tiny ball and she jumped up to run when I approached her. I laid some food and water in a bowl and placed it near her. Instead of running Martinique sat and began whining. I am sure most of you have heard a dog or a puppy whine before but this was different. It was low as if she did not want me to hear her and it was heartbreaking. I looked at Sophie and explained what she was doing with tears running down my face. I tried to give her some food but it seemed she could not eat. That was when I knew something was terribly wrong… I saw something on her neck but could see exactly what it was because it was dark. I asked Sophie to pass me my phone out of the car. I have a very strong spotlight on it (thank you iPhone!) and I shone it on Martinique’s neck.
It was covered with blood. Thick, congealed and dark. Her entire neck as far as I could see – from ear to ear underneath her muzzle. It was a horrific sight. I am pretty sure I swore very loudly. We could not leave her there and we had a crate in the car. Any feelings of being scared at being on the beach so late at night just disappeared. We had to rescue this dog. I asked Sophie to keep her Martinique in her sight as I built the crate. I should consider trying out for a Nascar pit crew because it is the fastest crate I ever built. Martinique could not eat the dry food we had but we found some soft treats and Sophie was able to hold her attention with those, hand-feeding her. I approached Martinique and begged her not to run and told her that I would not hurt her. She seemed to understand. She let me stroke her head and I put my arms around her and scooped her up. This poor little doggie was stiff. She was so frightened. We put some towels in the crate and pup her in. We then both sat in the car and swore profusely through our tears.
I tried to clean Martinique’s neck as best I could and we gave her some chicken that she managed to eat. It looked to me like she had possibly been attacked by another dog – the wounds looked deep and serious. I want to give you a visual of how this poor girl looked as I tried to help her. We did not take a photograph because it just seemed so intrusive and it was not the time to be sticking a flash in her face.
Imagine a big crate with dark towels in it and a sandy colored dog sat at the back of the crate with her head bowed. Completely shut down. Just bowed over in pain and suffering. It is an image that is burned into my brain and I will never forget it. A small little angel who had just given up….
Again we both got up in the night to check if Martinique was still with us. But she was. Martinique did not look great but she was a fighter.
We took her to Bianca the next morning, early, as we were transporting dogs to NY that day. The girls at the clinic bathed her and cleaned her neck – it turns out Martinique had a very bad skin infection that had been obviously been causing her a great deal of discomfort and so she had been scratching it and making it worse.
Martinique’s life could have been very different. Her brother Martin has been living in comfort and safety and surrounded by love for the past 3 months. And that haunts me. Should we have tried harder to rescue her? What could we have done differently? The universe does work in mysterious ways and I think it was sending us a message that Thursday. This was our chance. Now or never. I’m so happy we listened…
Martinique still has a long road ahead of her. Bianca is concentrating on her infections first then Martinique will begin her vetting protocol. We will do whatever is needed for this precious girl. To make up for lost time and to ensure that she gets the same chance as her brother did.
A week after we returned from PR I received this video from Bianca titled ‘Miracle dog’.
This was a trip where on the last day I completely broke down and questioned what I was doing. I felt shattered and damaged – we all were. It was just one bad day after another. We sent 19 dogs to their forever homes this week and we rescued another 23.
The shining light of the 11 days? The reason we will continue to go back for more? We received a call on the Monday that we had to get dogs off the beach by the next day. The department of Sanitation was threatening to go and take all the dogs to a local shelter because they were getting ‘too close to a food stand on the beach’. Ridiculous? Absolutely! But the threats from Government departments are usually serious and so we had no choice. On Tuesday morning Sophie, Ivette, Sandra and I staged at the beach at 8.30am we had literally an hour to get 7 dogs – all big. Our team was a well oiled machine that morning. We were poetry in motion. The dogs seemed to know that something was going on and nearly every single one allowed us to just put a leash around their neck and walked dutifully to the car. Seven dogs in 30 minutes! A new Sato Project record. As I wrote this post Sophie reminded me of that moment. I had almost forgotten it… it was buried deep in the layers of grief and torment of the rest of the days. But it was 30 minutes of triumph and we changed the lives of another 7. Although our hearts will probably never heal we continue our commitment to these incredible dogs – we will fight for them and vow that no dog will be left behind on Dead Dog Beach…