Nelson and I: The greatest holiday story ever told

Here is Nelson standing on the lake, wondering where the lake has gone.

The night Mischou died, of heart failure, in my arms, I said over and over: “I will never have another dog. This hurts too much. I can’t ever do this again.”

I have never lived without a dog. All my adult life, my companions have been senior rescues, which means we only have a few years together. There is a partnership one has with a dog that is unlike the relationship with any other pet. We tell each other everything, we walk and eat and play with each other. We are a pack.

Yet I kept saying it, for nearly a year: “I will never have another dog. It hurts too much. I can’t do it again.”

In the late summer, I sat on the porch and I walked our gravel road alone and … something was missing. I knew what it was.

“Maybe I can do it again,” I said. “Maybe if the dog is younger, we’ll have more time together. Maybe … maybe it’s worth it.”

A side-effect of the pandemic-pup phenomena is that there are blessedly few dogs for adoption in parts of Canada. Because we live with a 10-year-old human and two cats, many adoption agencies would not consider our home. My “maybe I can” got louder, but the more I looked, the sadder I became. There was no one for us.

My wife has been through this with me before. She said: “The right dog for our family will come when it’s time. Try to relax, and wait.”


It happened in the most unexpected way, which is how fate works.

Scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, as one does, I paused at the post of a friend from Mexico.

“Early next month when I fly back to Montreal, I’ll have the opportunity to accompany one or more of these sweet fur babies back to their furever homes, on behalf of Re/Vida Rescue,” she posted. “That means I need your help finding them some loving homes.”

I flipped through the photos. Lula. Chad. Robert. Nelson. Oh, Nelson. Something in the tilt of his head, his strange little chicken feet, his eyes. I elbowed my wife gently, holding up my laptop. “Look at Nelson.”

There are millions of dogs living on the streets of Mexican cities. Rescue organizations like Re/Vida save as many as they can, giving them veterinary attention and finding foster homes until they can be flown to Canada to start new lives. Re/Vida is volunteer-run and enjoys a network of helpers. I knew they were legit, but still, a dog from Mexico? To adopt without meeting him first? It seemed bananas. But I kept going back to the photos.

Nelson.


Having been in communication with rescue organizations in Quebec and being heartbroken many times over, I was cautious but acted quickly. My friend and Sandy from Re/Vida were the same — cautious but acting quickly. What followed were two weeks of incredible support while our application was processed: Facebook messages, WhatsApp conversations and the freedom to create a relationship with Nelson’s loving foster couple, who took the time for a Zoom call and sent daily photos and videos.

Then there is the paperwork: There are forms to fill out and flights to be booked. Volunteers spend hours on the phone finding flights and “flight angels.” A transportation crate must be acquired and they are often in short supply. There is a cost: for the flight, the adoption fees, the crate, an amount to offset the flight cost of the angel. The amount is comparable with the fees one would pay adopting locally. Our family was blessed by a dear friend who sponsored us.

The flight was set for Nov. 5. It was like waiting for Christmas.

Our meeting and first few days were magic. Magic can have consequences, of course, and we all had to adjust. Adopters must respect the 3-3-3 rule: the dog will be overwhelmed and probably stressed in the first three days; there are likely to be behaviour issues at three weeks, as he settles in and realizes this is his safe space; by three months you are a family.

Listen, it hasn’t all been roses. Around Week 3, he turned into an obstinate teenager who tested every boundary. The kitchen is a place where one often hears “Nelson!” or, more likely: “DOG!” We all take time outs, go for a walk, chew a bone. Well, one of us chews a bone.

Lots of laughter in this house — sometimes on top of the laundry.

Nelson is sleeping on my feet at this moment. He’s too big for this, but he leans in as close as he can and his floppy ears perk up when I say his name.

I look at his big dark eyes. One of his ears is inside out, and there’s a little something inside me that can’t stop smiling. I can do this again. It’s worth it.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

“Your child should read aloud,” said the teacher. “Rescue dogs love to be read to,” we said.

Of the other dogs whose pictures I flipped through on that fall day, Lula found herself in Calgary. Chad is in British Columbia. Robert is in the Montreal area — he’s living with us while he waits for his forever home. He’d so much love to live with you. Here are other ways you can help:

ADOPT: Mexican street dogs are amazing companions who, because of their early lives spent in the company of other strays, are great with other dogs. Most are affectionate and good with children. Re/Vida supplies detailed portfolios so each dog’s personality, strengths and weaknesses are evident before the process begins.

FOSTER: Often dogs arrive in Canada without a forever home. Fosters are desperately needed. Although most flights head to the West Coast, Montreal could soon become a destination.

BE A FLIGHT ANGEL: If you are returning to Canada from Mexico, you can accompany a dog. Re/Vida will take care of everything from booking the dog’s flight to arranging a crate. A family will meet you on the other side, so the commitment is minimal — you can do this!

DONATE: Many street dogs have high vet bills because of their sad pasts. Each dog is spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. Adoption fees alone cannot cover all the costs. Anything you can spare will be greatly appreciated and will directly benefit one of these amazing creatures.

To find out more and get in touch, visit the Re/Vida Facebook group.

Here is Robert, who is in desperate need of a forever home. It could your home.

 

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