03 July 2017

My canine carry-on, Coco from Cartagena -- how did that happen?

Meeting Coco at the Cartagena airport
I started volunteering at an animal shelter when I spent a few months in Belize in 2014. At that time Judy & Beth, whom I met when they picked me up at the water taxi dock, brought me to my house-sit, and then said to me on leaving, "We'll pick you up at 8 am tomorrow; we're going to the shelter to walk dogs." Um, ok. I like dogs. I like to walk. I like to volunteer. Works for me!

Since then, every visit to Ambergris Caye has had me at Saga Humane Society getting weekly quality time walking some of the most lovable & adorable pooches around. And my consciousness was raised so that I also became aware of Cartagena Paws, an organization in another country I visit often, which helps the all too numerous street animals in that city.

Both Belize's Saga Humane Society and Colombia's Cartagena Paws work not only to help abandoned animals, but they of course want these dogs & cats to have forever homes too. Many times those willing & best able to adopt pets live in the US or Canada, and so the critters lucky enough to be adopted often need help getting to their new homes. This is where travelers like me (& you?) come in handy!

Packing for a Purpose with donations!!
When flying from the US to Belize or Colombia, I usually bring an extra suitcase filled with Pack For A Purpose donations for the local community. That leaves me "light handed" on my return to the US, and so it was a no brainer to volunteer to be a pet escort. Cartagena Paws happened to have the perfect fit for me this trip -- my first opportunity to serve -- as puppy Coco needed to get to his new mom in Maryland at the end of June.

Coco, his four brothers & their mom had been found in an abandoned lot, obviously neglected and in need of help. They all received medical care, vaccinations, etc, and ultimately found families in the US; there were a number of different flight volunteers in June flying them to California, New York, Massachusetts, & of course Maryland.

I met Coco & his foster dad (& foster terrier brother!) at the airport the day before our flight, so customs paperwork could be processed. I volunteered to foster Coco for his last night in Colombia so we could bond a bit before our long travel day -- what a cutie! After getting a huge number of licks from him at the airport, Coco followed my every step in the apartment. I would be at the kitchen sink and he would lie at my feet; if I went the two steps from there to the refrigerator, he got up to follow me; of course if I was sitting anywhere, he needed to be curled up next to me. Adorable!

On travel day, Coco happily got in to his pet carrier, where he would be spending most of the next 11 hours (poor guy!). He was a jewel -- slept nearly the whole time and there was never a peep out of him. We cleared security twice and I carried him with me through the scanner while his carrier went through the X-ray machine; Coco didn't even try to wiggle out of my arms. Because of a customs delay on arrival to Fort Lauderdale, we had a very tight connection and so the poor pup didn't get a potty break but still no complaints (or "accidents") at all!

When we got to Baltimore, my first concern (after meeting his new mom!) was to get Coco outside & out of the carrier so he could do his business; it had been a long day! We went out to the sidewalk and opened the carrier; Coco walked out, looked around, but was seemingly so overwhelmed by it all, that he walked right back in to the familiar & curled up in his carrier. Poor guy!

Coco with his new brother
Coco is now in a loving home in Maryland with two boxer siblings, having the time of his life. A happy ending for Coco!

Now I know that there are some who are probably wondering about a couple of things, as I have heard & had these questions myself.

Aren't there dogs & cats in the US who need to be adopted? Why are we flying in animals from other countries as pets? I volunteer with an SPCA in Maryland, which is always looking for families to adopt their animals, so it is ironic that I have brought a puppy from Colombia who was adopted by a family in Maryland. But I have also heard from friends that it can be much more challenging to adopt a pet in the US. Adopting overseas could be a faster & easier process for some, funnily enough. Others may feel more inspired to help a dog or cat from another country; isn't it great those animals too will also have loving homes? I thought there were good balanced arguments for both sides about this here. One of the 'against' arguments calls for "dealing with the causes [of stray animals], such as neutering, animal control, and owner education." Definitely in agreement and Saga in Belize, and other groups also, do this as well. [2019 note: Cartagena Paws has also started a spay/neuter program.]

Shouldn't we be helping people rather than animals? Shouldn't we be helping both? And in some ways by helping animals, you're helping people too. Belize's Saga Humane Society, for example, has an education program visiting schools to teach kids how animals should be treated & cared for (animal abuse is not uncommon, unfortunately). And by teaching these kids compassion for animals, they learn more about compassion in general, with the goal of having a more compassionate society overall. [2019 note: Cartagena Paws is fundraising towards an education program also.]

Other thoughts/comments welcome!

Interested in being a flight volunteer for a pet? You can read more about it here. There is a list of organizations around the world looking for flight volunteers here, although it is a limited list; there are definitely more such groups out there, including:

*South America: several in this post
*Belize: Saga in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
*Mexico: Tails of Mexico and The Ranch in the Lake Chapala area
*Costa Rica
*Turks & Caicos
*Thailand: Soi Dog Foundation; there are two Facebook groups (one here and another here) for those flying from Thailand to anywhere in the world, although mainly to Europe and the US/Canada.
General flight volunteer needs in this Facebook group.
*Shenzhen, China: Karuna Rescue (needs flight volunteers out of Hong Kong)

Learn more about Cartagena Paws in this Colombia Calling podcast!


Barb(ara) said...

Also, in your travels you may be able to volunteer at a shelter as a dog walker or cat cuddler. In addition to helping in Belize, I also got some dog walking in at the San Miguel de Allende shelter (http://www.spasanmiguel.org) in Mexico this past spring!

Suzanne Fluhr said...

Coco sounds like a wonderful dog. I'm so happy you were able to take him to Maryland. Did he have to go in the cargo hold or did his carrier fit under the seat in front of you?

Barb(ara) said...

Thank you! He was my carry on & fit easily under the seat! I think I would have been nervous had he been in the hold.

Unknown said...

Great Job Barbara. I am so Happy for coco, too.

Unknown said...

Wonderful work, Barb! Hope to see you in CA sometime. Happy Fourth of July!

Unknown said...

I would love to know how this is possible when it's a bigger dog. Does it count as a piece of luggage? Do these organizations provide carriers?

Barb(ara) said...

There is always a fee to bring a pet, even if a small animal that fits under the seat (unless it is an emotional support/service animal). Fees & rules vary by airline & often change, so it would really depend on who, from where to where, & when you are flying I think. In my experience, the organizations have provided the carriers, yes.

Amy said...

Hi Barbara
How did you connect with the lady who adopted the dog from Maryland?

Barb(ara) said...

Hi Amy, Cartagena Paws https://www.cartagenapaws.com, the rescue organization in Colombia, had previously arranged the adoption with the woman who adopted Coco (I'm not sure exactly how they connected -- through Facebook? friends of friends? Cartagena Paws has a good network). The woman then met me at Baltimore-Washington Intl airport when I landed to pick up Coco. If I can help with anything else, feel free to contact me at Info@VacationRentalsCartagena.com Barb