Five years ago, when we set sail from New Orleans, we made a vow to ourselves that ¡Pura Vida! would be dog free. We love them all, but made the difficult decision based on reading about the complications and expense of clearing into new countries, the need to ferry them ashore several times a day, and the dearth of veterinarians in many places. We also looked forward to having a home devoid of pet hair for the first time in decades. We rarely regretted our choice, even after meeting several cruisers who made having a boat dog look easy. We decided, instead, to devote our efforts and expenses to assisting island rescue groups, at times saving abandoned pups ourselves, and finding forever homes for them.
This is how we came to know Serena. Serena and her companion, Chewie, were left to starve on a small island in the San Blas/Guna Yala by their owner, the island caretaker. Aside from a few sailors who occasionally used the island for get-togethers, they had no company. They had no food but for what these kind sailors provided, which was not a daily offering. They had no water unless it rained. They had shelter, and they had each other, and nothing more.
When we first made their acquaintance it was because one sailor reached out for help on the San Blas cruisers page. We answered the plea, and took turns with others feeding them rice and leftovers, and did what little we could to secure local assistance in removing them from the island. That effort proved futile. As the sailing season came to an end, and Covid-19 forced others to flee, John-Michael and I became their most reliable support, making a home base near their island, and enjoying watching these pups come out of their shells as they got to know us better each day.
A NEW HOPE
After a few weeks I requested more help online, and was offered homes for both dogs if we were able to get them to Linton Bay, on the mainland of Panama, fifty miles and an eight hour sail away. Sailors, Alex and Carla, were seeking a furry companion or two for Alex’s dad. They had already rescued at least one pup, and were vouched for by friends. We decided to go for it. These doggies trusted us by this time, excitedly greeting us at the dinghy when we went ashore, and even allowing us to pet them a bit. They’d permit us to remove their food bowls before completing their meals, and would take coconut right from our hands. We knew they could be rehomed.
After several days’ training by feeding them inside the dinghy and then taking them for short rides, they were adjusted to our close company, and ready to move aboard. They let us lift them by hand onto the boat, and settled in for the night. It’s almost like they knew a better life was ahead. By dawn we were on our way!
They sailed like pros, secured in the cockpit, sleeping most of the way to Linton Bay. We couldn’t believe how easy it was! Alex and Carla eagerly greeted them that first night and plans were put in place to get them to the vet and their new homes starting the next day.
ALL WENT ACCORDING TO PLAN, UNTIL IT DIDN’T
Until we arrived in Linton, neither dog had a name. I wanted their new owners to have that privilege. Now deemed Chewie (for his resemblance to the Wookie) and Serena (to encourage this anxious pup to relax more), they trotted off to be Panamanian pups as John-Michael and I said our sad goodbyes. It soon became clear, however, that this particular placement was not a happy one for them, so another was sought, then another. Daring escapes were made, landlords were not pleased, and stress was running high for humans and canines alike. Alex and Carla decided to try making a buddy of Chewie for their dog, Nacho, and they asked us if we could foster Serena until a proper home could be found.
We happily agreed, eager to help Serena acclimate to being a normal dog, knowing this would be temporary. We think Serena had other plans all along. In no time, we were attached, still working all angles to get her adopted, even ready to fly her to the US, but realizing she had already found her true home.
A BOAT DOG IS BORN
After almost a month of marina life, it was time to return to the anchorages of the San Blas. We scrambled to get as many supplies as we could before setting off – food, treats, meds, leashes, harness, life jacket, chew toys, brushes, fake grass mat, nail clippers. Now, just over a month later, we can assuredly and happily announce that Serena is ours, and we are hers.
It has not always been easy, but the benefits outweigh the trials…so far. We have yet to sail with her to a new country, or have her fall overboard, or fret about a dog sitter so we can travel by air, or deal with an injury or illness, but those challenges will be dealt with in time. For now we’re just happy to watch as she becomes more and more comfortable on her boat, and to pick dog hair from our food once again.
- Approximately 3 years old and 25 pounds (11kg)
- Has had as many as 3 litters
- Knows basic commands
- Relaxes easily when the boat is underway
- Will eat anything
- Has no idea what to do with a chew toy or stuffed animal
- Never jumps on the furniture except outside, but…
- Still manages to get her white fur all over our blue boat
- Detests the water, but is a fantastic swimmer (We know this because…)
- Terrified of abandonment, and will swim back to Pura Vida when friends take her to the beach without us, also…
- Chews through leashes in seconds if she thinks you’ve left her
- Not a lap dog for more than 30 seconds
- Truly does not care when I clip her nails!
- Protective to a fault
- Has a fierce bark, especially when little boats come near (Sorry, friends!)
- Has a face that will melt your heart when she wakes up and realizes we’re still here
More to come on Facebook and Instagram regarding this loving, crazy little beast who has already brought so much excitement into our lives, convinced us to kayak more, is constantly teaching us about patience, and reminding us of the delight in being needed.