I can’t take credit for this concept. I actually was inspired by a forum post on Tripadvisor, but it is something that I hope to continue beyond our visit to Vieques, in particular when visiting locations with less infrastructure and support than the United States of America. On our 2013 anniversary trip to Puerto Rico, my husband and I took a bag of office and pet supply donations to the Vieques Humane Society in honor of our third dog, a blind puppy named Bumper.
Bumper was a blind dog that was found on the streets of Houston by the local SPCA. I am surprised that she lived to be a few months old as she had no vision. Her mother likely passed away on the streets or left her to survive. Luckily the SPCA found her and took her in. When she was rescued she did have eyeballs, but the shelter vet team decided to remove them to prevent future problems and to make her more adoptable (the eyes were a little scary they said). And so Bumper was cared for and loved by the staff for a few weeks as they prepared her for adoption. She was so beloved that they decided to feature her in media in several ways, including on Facebook where I saw her for the first time. Dave went to meet her after work the next day and we found out that she was going to be featured on the news as well. She was about to be a famous girl! However, the shelter liked the idea of our adoption because we have two dogs already (Coach and Madden) which is helpful for a blind dog to have a seeing guide buddy. It also sets the example to act like an independent dog. Dave and I talked about the concerns of having three dogs, but her sweet disposition won us over. We also knew that we were up for the challenge of training her. To this day, I do not think she could have had a better home.
I was so excited to meet her when I got home from work! She was so lovable and wanted to nuzzle up close, most likely as reassurance that you were close since she could not see you. She had been a bit babied in the shelter and wanted to be held all the time, so we worked on her independence by getting her comfortable with our house and our yard. We bought bells for Coach and Madden, so she could hear them and follow, as well as a bevy of housewarming goodies and necessities. It was an exciting and love-filled few days with Bumper. My family came over to meet her and we made plans for her to meet all her dog cousins, as well as plans to take her on family vacations and introduce her to swimming for the first time. What a life she was in for!
But, unfortunately, she got very sick after a few days of living with us and we took her into the vet who informed us that she had parvo, a very deadly strain. I found out later that this same strain resulted in the death of 50 puppies at a separate nearby shelter. We were advised that at her young age and in her already sensitive health from the eye surgery that she would not survive. And to this day, I am heartbroken about this. It is still difficult to think about honestly — I have cried for more hours than we had her. She had become a part of our family very fast, and she was just so sweet and special- so appreciative to have a second chance — but that just was not enough.
This all happened as we were planning to celebrate our fifth anniversary in Vieques, and it was hard for me to be excited about the trip, because I was honestly heartbroken. Then, I came across a forum where a traveler mentioned that she was going to bring some collars and leashes with her to donate to the local shelter in Vieques and I found inspiration in this. After the passing of Bumper, we had a few vocal people tell us that we should raise a big stink for the Houston SPCA because Bumper was not given to us healthy. And in truth, we did put our other two dogs at risk for parvo if they had not been vaccinated. We had to bleach the house and yard from top to bottom and wash all clothing in hot water that had been in contact with her. Not to mention, we spent a lot of money on the veterinary care and housewarming for her. I did have a conversation with the shelter representatives about all of this and expressed my disappointment. But after researching parvo, I doubt that there was much that could have been done. It is a cruel disease and it can show symptoms suddenly. I did not want to criticize them, because Bumper was given an amazing opportunity to have a family and a normal life thanks to them. I am sure that many shelters would have just put a blind puppy to sleep and not invested the care that they did.
I am appreciative of the work of these animal welfare organizations. We adopted our second dog, Madden, from one such organization in Austin, Texas too. And when you go to Vieques and you see the wild horses and dogs roaming the street, then you quickly realize the challenge that they face is much greater than anything here in the states.
So how do you make a donation to an animal shelter while on vacation? In general, when booking your hotel, ask about a local reputable animal welfare agency (or other organization) and get a suggestion from a local. Then look up their website and Facebook page. On the Vieques Humane Society webpage, they had a wish list of items. Not only did they need collars and leashes, but also basic office supplies like pens, pencils and markers. Before purchasing, I sent them an email to confirm that these items were still needed and also arranged a time to drop them off. I found out that they have a weekly volunteer dog walk too, which sadly we did not arrive in time to assist with (but will plan for on future visits). Then, I went to Target and spent as much as our modest budget could handle and I put it all in a carry-on bag. This carry-on would hold all my souvenirs on the way home so it works out nicely.
Along with our donation, I wrote a note to the Vieques Humane Society and included a photo of Bumper in it, thanking them for their work and for giving animals like her a chance in the world. I know it was a modest donation in the scheme of things, but I hope it helped. I know it helped me feel better and I hope that Bumper was looking down from heaven with healthy eyes smiling on us.