When we left our comfortable household lifestyle in Arizona we had three dogs. Taking three dogs on the road with us seemed crazy. But we did it for two years in a Volkswagen Vanagon and had a wonderful time. Our dogs experienced the best that life had to offer. And every time to van door slid open, it was a new world to explore.
Then we were stalled in Arizona as we dealt with the family estate and built out the new truck camper. And finally it was time to hit the road again. We now had three OLD dogs to travel with us. And it was still wonderful. But traveling with old dogs means bracing yourself for aging, illness and death. We lost our old girl, Seri, in Mexico to heart disease. We lost our small dog, Mango, in Guatemala to spinal paralysis complications. And that left old Zeb hanging out alone with us. We smothered him with love an attention but we had a hunch that he was lonely.
Geneva longed to have another small dog on board. Mike insisted that the next dog would be a female. He also wanted to wait until we had completed the shipping process across the Darien Gap. But Geneva started looking on websites, talking to rescue groups and watching ads for adoptable dogs in Nicaragua. Mike was losing ground on one of his two “demands”.
A dialogue began with a group called “Fundacion Rescatando Huellas” (click HERE to open a new link to their Facebook page) They posted photos of a few available dogs and Geneva inquired about them. She received a response that urged her to come for a visit. The only way to know what dogs were available was a visit to the farm where the dogs were located. What could go wrong with a visit to a farm housing a bunch of adoptable dogs???
Following Google maps we drove into a small village, then down a dirt road, then down a dusty, narrow trail. Finally the path narrowed too small for the camper and we had to back out to a parking space. We would have to walk in to the farm where the dogs lived.
We walked past tin shacks, cardboard homes and numerous sad, starving family pets. Then we heard the barking and saw the cloud of dust ahead of us. We had found the farm. A wonderful young man opened the gate and welcomed us in over the din of barking. We explained that we were seeking to adopt a young female and showed him the photos of the two dogs we were interested in. He apologized that both were already adopted, but we should look at the others. He waved us to the fence and there we found two sets of dogs in separate fenced runs. One was mostly males and one was mostly females. He explained that there were about 100 adoptable dogs on site. We pointed at one and he looped her with a rope and brought her out. She began jumping all over both of us, attempting to land in our arms. Zeb became jealous and pushed her away. She was large, long-haired, unspayed and too strong for us to manage. Meanwhile another dog had wandered out of the unlatched gate and was watching us from a distance.
The helpful man put the large dog back and brought the smaller dog over to meet us. She warmed up quickly to Mike. Zeb really acted like he wanted to play with her. She was friendly with us and very calm. We asked about her age, health, spay and history. It was a struggle in our pitiful Spanish, but we learned that she was about two years old, spayed and came from the streets. He also said she gets along with all but aggressive males and she likes cats and humans. We hummed, we hawed. We pondered walking away with no dog at all. But the eyes on this girl were mesmerizing us. We caved in and adopted her. We agreed that we could bring her back within one week if things were not working out. We made a hefty donation to the organization and we attached her to our leash (yes we came prepared) and walked the dusty path back to the truck.
During that first walk we could visibly see her perk up. It was if she recognized that she had been chosen from 100 dogs and life was getting better. She watched how Zeb interacted with us as we walked. She sniffed him. She sniffed us. But she did not check her surroundings. She was very focused on us and what we were doing. When we got to the truck, she did NOT want to get in. We loaded her onto the dog bed area and she seemed terrified.
Gradually she relaxed enough to look at us in the front of the truck. Then she looked over at Zeb, who was exhausted from meeting dogs and walking down the dusty trail. Then she barfed! And then she barfed more. Yup, this dog was car-sick. Great.
When we arrived at our campsite for the night, Zeb looked like this! So we let him rest as we cleaned up the new dog, the barf, the dog beds and ourselves. At this point I will describe her situation to you a little more clearly.
When we first met her she had at least 50 ticks on her. They were in her ears, all around her neck, between her toes, everywhere. Some were large, fat females and some were tiny, fast males. She also had visible fleas on her abdomen area. Her ears were really dirty inside and she was dusty. But what really broke our hearts were the scabs and scars. She had two bite wounds on her rear haunches (perhaps a dog fight) and a stricture scab around her neck (from a too-tight rope). She had a scar from a slice across the top of one front leg. And on each of her rear hip pointers the fur was visibly new as it filled in the typical abscess wound that starving dogs develop from laying on their bony hips. Bathing her and finding these wounds made Geneva search for more about her history. On the rescue group website she found these photos of her right after she was brought in from the streets. She was thin, scared and weak.
We had some work to do with this young girl to convince her that humans would not hurt her again and build trust. Of course multiple baths, ear cleanings and wound dressings were not helping our cause much! She really seemed to resent being cleaned up and treated. Her first night with us was exhausting. We were tired and sort of grossed-out from all the parasites. She was just plain crashed. We all slept well, but unsure of what the next day would bring.
The next morning she seemed confused. She wanted to hang out near us, but stayed at the far end of her tie-out leash. She seemed to be looking off into the distance and weighing her options. Then the time came ….. in the middle of her third bath in 24 hours her harness clasp slipped and she wriggled out of it. She ran up the street where we were parked. She dashed into the thick woods nearby. We chased her. We called her. We brought Zeb along and some food and water. Mike pushed through the stickers and into the woods. And then after about ten minutes she circled around and came into view. She remained about 100 yards away, but was watching us closely. So we turned around and went back to the camper. Slowly and cautiously she followed us. Then we sat down and she walked right up to us. We reattached the tightened harness and tie-out and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Apparently she had made the decision that staying with us was the best choice available.
Exhausted after that experience, we fed the two dogs and they fell asleep together on the camper floor. This new young girl and this wise old guy had agreed that we were offering a pretty good package.
Bonding with her happened pretty quickly. She discovered the comfort of the couch within about three days. Once she felt the smooshy cushions, she was not returning to sleep on the floor. Then she learned that if she sat with us on the couch, we would scratch her behind the ears and around the neck while we were reading. She liked this new routine quite well. Her scabs healed. We won the battle with the ticks and fleas very quickly. And she began to learn the routines of our household. Here she is sitting at the door asking to go outside. She is perfectly house trained. She got better at riding in the truck. And we got better at predicting when she would barf so we could get a towel under her in time!
It was time for her first vet visit. And we were in for a few surprises! First we learned that she is quite nervous about veterinarians. Mike seemed to calm her and make her feel safer, so she clung pretty tightly to him throughout the visit. The vet began asking questions about her history that Geneva did not have answers for. So we contacted the rescue group. We learned that she had been picked up from the streets of Jinotepe. She was never officially owned by anyone. She had internal parasites and highly contagious form of cancer called Transmissible Venereal Tumor or TVT. This disease can be passed from the sex organs to the faces of dogs just through direct contact. The treatment is chemotherapy and she had been through a series of treatments prior to her being ready for adoption. But the treatments weakened her immune system, so she had a serious E.Coli infection in her bladder. She began medication for that, and hoped for the best.
Here are some photos of the laboratory that did her urine testing. We gathered a sample and delivered it here in the morning. Results were ready by afternoon and we hand carried them to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. The lab work cost us about $7.00 usd.
More on her health status in a later blog post. But for now she is doing great and learning English faster than we are learning Spanish. She adores Zeb and plays bite and wrestle with him for hours. She loves to seek attention from Mike and lay close enough for him to scratch her. And her favorite hours of the day are the early mornings when Geneva lets her sneak up on to the bed and cuddle up with us for a while.
We really struggled with the name situation. When we adopted her, they had given her the name Celeste. This is the Spanish word for “light blue” in reference to her unique eye color. But that is not a name that either of us were fond of, and it is hard to shout that name to a dog that is running away through the woods. So we reflected on our long line of dogs named after geographical significance (Seri, for the indigenous group near where we lived in Mexico. Tico for a dog adopted after living in Costa Rica. Kino, named after the village where we lived in Mexico. Cabo, named after our favorite Mexican dive location, Cabo Pulmo) With all of these dogs in our history and with a nod to her former life on the streets in Nicaragua, we named her Nica.
Nica was NOT returned to the rescue group after a week. She has firmly set a paw-hold in our hearts and will remain as a member of our traveling pack. And that, my friends, is how we adopted a dog from a rescue group in Central America.