Cal From Belize
This rescue story is a hard one for us to tell. It’s hands down our most dramatic, and although Cal made it to the US safely, his brother- who we also attempted to bring, did not.
For Kristi’s 30th birthday we ventured to a small island in Belize, Caye Caulker, our mission was to see the second largest coral reef in the world (we did, it was awesome). Like many third world countries Belize had an abundance of stray dogs, and the locals had mixed views on them. Many were kept chained to the outside of houses and were used as guard dogs, the rest were roaming the small island fending for themselves.
Two puppies caught Kristi’s eye early on the trip, one black, one tan, they appeared to be brothers. They were absolutely a bonded pair, and we later learned the sole survivors of the litter, approximately 9-12 months old. These two pups pranced around the island all day and flashed their charm at tourists, which ultimately aided in their survival. They were cuter, younger and inevitably better fed than most of the dogs. They slept in the sand under tables and sometimes with tourists at hostiles- wherever they could land.
After spending some time on the island (we were there 10 days) we discovered that the stray population was becoming a problem, and the Belize government was aiding in a solution that included poisoning cats and dogs. Island transplants from the US and the UK put together a Humane Society in addition to a small animal shelter to assist tourists in adopting, but the Belize locals opposed this gesture. Volunteer veterinarians were occasionally traveling to the island to perform free spay and neuter clinics, and the transplant locals learned how to inject vaccines and prepare paperwork.
Every morning on the island we ventured out to find the pups, and every day we discussed the possibility of bringing them home. We did as much research on these dogs as possible, talking to locals making sure they didn’t have “owners.” We spent hours bathing them, picking off hundreds of fleas and ticks, and eventually moved forward with the process to transport them to the US.
As a result of social media we already had committed fosters and potential adopters for both puppies. We were able to secure a local rescue, who we foster for, to commit to funding their neuters and help facilitate the official adoption process. We were certain we could help provide these dogs with a safer life in the US.
We named the puppies Cal, for “Caye Caulker” and Iggy, for island. We bought them leashes, collars and vaccinations from the Humane Society, and the local volunteers prepared our flight documents. The owner of the hotel we were staying allowed the pups to sleep in our room, and even picked up a crate while he was in Belize City for us to transport them. He was a Texan and an animal lover- we lucked out.
A couple days before our flight we were acclimating the puppies to being on a leash, being fed regularly, the crate, and potty training- all foreign concepts. The plan was to put both puppies in a large crate under the plane. We thought it best to keep them together because we knew this would be scary for them. The day of our departure we were set to take a puddle jumper airplane from Caye Caulker to Belize City, we would have an hour before we had to put the dogs in the crate and check them in to cargo. From there we would layover in Houston, then fly to Sacramento, where we would meet the dogs at baggage claim. That was the plan…
At our first airport, a tiny dirt runway on a small island, we were met by an angry local family- Mom, Dad, and 5yr old girl. They wanted Iggy to stay. They said he was their daughter’s guard dog, but that we could take Cal- they didn’t want him. They said the litter of puppies was theirs, and that, in fact, the entire rest of the litter had already perished on the island one way or another. They told us they had been on the mainland the duration of our trip and hadn’t noticed Iggy was missing, that he roamed free and fed himself. They told us he was their property.
We cried (sobbed), begged, pleaded, and even offered to pay for Iggy, but they wouldn’t budge. We promised he’d have an amazing life in the US, and that we would get him well (he was sick with worms and Lyme Disease from the tics), but our flight was leaving without us and we had to decide if we were going to take Cal alone.
We can easily say this was the most devastating thing we have experienced in animal rescue, and still cry at the thought of separating those brothers, but Cal was coming with us.
While on the island we met a lady named Janae, who offered to provide us with airline official letters that would allow Cal and Iggy to fly in the cabin with us. We declined her offer because the thought of flying with two untrained island dogs from the Caribbean to California was terrifying, but now the idea of Cal flying alone was worse. Kristi made a Hail Mary phone call to Janae- who had returned home a few days prior, and by the grace of God she had a letter in Kristi’s hand within 20 minutes.
Cal sat in the cabin with Kristi from Belize City to Houston- where she walked him through US Customs using the paperwork provided from the Caye Caulker Humane Society. They continued on to Sacramento, and 16 hours later arrived home on a rainy, cool March night. That day Cal saw pavement, grass, cars and his new mom for the first time.
Our co-worker and friend, Taylor, was one of the committed fosters we mentioned. We introduced Taylor and Cal almost immediately after arriving home, and it was love at first sight. Together we took steps to acclimate Cal, get him neutered and officially adopted. Cal and Taylor (And her BF Alan) now live in Reno, he has adjusted amazingly, has a kitty brother named RJ, lots of puppy cousins, and is living his best life with his forever family. For a look at Cal’s new adventure check out his adorable Instagram page @calfrombelize.
We still think about Iggy all the time. A few months after returning home we reached out to the hotel owner for an update and he gave us sad news about our second island pup. While this rescue was a huge success for Cal it feels bittersweet.