We Will NEVER Be a Dog Boat!

Meet Serena! She’s, clearly, not really wanted.

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.

Now named Molly, this sweet, starving little thing ran right up to us in a derelict boat yard in the BVI. She now lives a happy life with other dogs in a dive shop on Tortola.

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.

Chewie always stayed nearby, eating small pieces of coconut from our hands.
Serena preferred waiting for large chunks to carry off deep into the island, presumably to bury for later.

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.


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 were all smiles their first night onboard.
Chewie made himself especially comfortable during the passage.

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.


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.

Chewie and Nacho are now bonded bros.

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.


Look at that face! She is a very happy sailing dog.

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.

Yeah, she really hates life onboard.

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.

She loves kayak rides, and learned quickly how to jump to and from Pura Vida.


  • 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
    When bad things happen to good leashes
  • 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
John-Michael administered the first vaccine she had ever received.

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.

Contentedly perched where she can spot dugout canoes over a mile away


  1. Fantastic, lucky pup 🐶 The Best Parents ever!
    The story is so heartwarming 💕 tears are flowing~
    Love you 3, XOXOXOXO

  2. I always enjoy your postings and your photos and your incredible care and love given to all, including pets in dangers. Your hearts are so big, so full of love, it really shines thru. Thank you so much. Dogs are the best pets as they love you so much. Someday we want a dog too. Fantastic job!

  3. Great story..You guys are awesome and I can’t wait to see you again…and hug you two…


  4. Kimberly and John Michael,
    Awe !!!! Love your story.Love that you both have such a tremendously large , loving heart for all. (Especially furry animals like Serena). She is one lucky dog for sure and I believe she knows that too. It sounds like yall have a new little family of precious love among the three of you .Enjoy every moment with her and give her hugs and kisses from Aunt Dawn.
    We are so happy for yall to fulfill your dreams but please know that we all love and miss yall from back home.Love your stories. Keep them coming. Sending the sign and bunches of hugs and kisses.
    Aunt Dawn & Uncle Danny

  5. B.J. If you look into your heart maybe you will see how much I’ll always love you. You have a special place in my heart that nobody else can ever fill. I miss you having you in my life. 💔☮💐

  6. It’s as it should be! Your love for Serena and hers for you two will make all the obstacles worth dealing with. She is a precious gift and will bring joy and companionship for many years. ❣🐶

  7. Bob read this first & told me I had to read it….Serena was so cute I had to see her! Dogs can definitely be a pain (like driving back & forth from CO to TX) But ultimately worth it! Glad she adopted y’all!

    Miss you both!
    Love, Aunt Brenda

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