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Saturday, 7 September 2013

Isla - The Story of Love

Ingrid, a Cuban co-ordinator for APAC-Varadero  found a young puppy and her mother sometime in June 2013. They were both homeless Cuban street dogs. Both got spayed and the mother was soon adopted. The puppy stayed with Ingrid. She named her Isla (“island” in Spanish)
Shortly after finding a puppy, it became obvious that there was something wrong with her. She did not walk properly, dragging her hind legs while trying to move around. At first, we all thought it could be due to malnutrition or some kind of injury, and that Isla would heal and improve in time, while given a good veterinary care and Ingrid’s love. Well – she did improve slightly and she was a very lively and a happy puppy, but she did not regain the control of her back legs. We realized we had a problem.

Ingrid with Isla
Little Isla would never be adopted in Cuba. There are no resources to care for a handicapped pet, and even if there were, keeping a crippled dog alive is beyond comprehension for the average Cuban. Ingrid took a puppy to Havana to find out more about Isla’s condition. The x-ray images revealed that Isla’s lumbar vertebrae were abnormal either due to an accident or a congenital defect. It seemed that a surgery might be the only way to fix it. Of course in Cuba, this type of operation on dog is not possible.

We posted about Isla on our Facebook and asked for advice. Within a short period of time, several rescues and individuals offered their help, including a donation of the wheel cart from HART (Humane Animal Rescue Team in Edmonton). Dr. Barry MacEachern (a volunteer doctor of  Hope for Wildlife) who has been involved in APAC’s work in Cuba, offered to arrange a surgery at the Atlantic Veterinary College in PEI - if we could bring Isla to Nova Scotia.

By this time, it was already late August. Most airlines have a heat ban during the summer (meaning no animals can be sent through cargo) as well as size limits for the cabin travel (the kennel has to fit under the seat, 8.5 inch space). Time was in issue as the fear was that Isla may not be operable if left in her condition for too long.
Once again, our friends from CANDi (Cats and Dogs International) and Air Transat came to the rescue. We have been working in partnership with them for three years now, and have saved many animals because of their help. The animals transported on the Air Transat flights are given exceptional care and attention, as the company follows the unique compassionate tourism policy adapted together with  CANDi. Air Transat Cargo staff on the ground also goes the extra mile to make sure the animals transported are safe and comfortable.

At the Varadero Airport
Our little Isla was booked for the last summer flight from Varadero to Montreal, free of charge. The cargo company serving Air Transat in Montreal closes its office at 10 pm, but the airline made sure that someone was available to help with receiving Isla the same evening (the flight was arriving at 9:20 pm). Safe and sound, our little puppy spent an hour in the arms of the Air Transat employee, while our volunteer was dealing with customs and all paperwork. Finally, shortly after 11pm, Isla was free to enter Canada.

Isla with an Air Transat Cargo employee
She spent a night with our volunteer in Montreal and the next day, thanks to help from Pilots N Paws Canada, she flew to Halifax where Dr. Barry MacEachern picked her up. Everybody was impressed with our little Cuban – she has been a perfect dog all the way through her journey. She patiently waited for the flights, was great in a car, slept peacefully and was friendly with all people she met. Everybody loved her.

Volunteer pilot from PNPC with Dr. Barry and Isla in Halifax
Unfortunately, after several tests at the Atlantic Veterinary College, it became obvious that surgery will not help Isla. She was born with only 5 lumbar vertebrae instead of a normal 7, and the surgery cannot change it. She has some control over her leg muscles and the back-end muscles, and she will require a long therapy to get better and be more mobile, including physiotherapy and acupuncture. Dr. Barry MacEachern will make a plan for Isla’s rehabilitation. Isla feels no pain and most likely she does not even realize that there is something wrong with her. She is full of life determined little dog, who brought so many people together – strangers became friends thanks to her. We believe that her determination and confidence are the result of love she has been receiving from the day she was found. Hasn't she been discovered by Ingrid and brought to Canada by our trusted friends, she would be most likely dead by now – kicked around because of her handicap, killed by other homeless dogs, starved slowly due to her limited mobility.

We know that she will receive the best help possible while under Dr. Barry’s care and that one day, she will make a wonderful pet to someone who will deserve her.

Isla with Dr. Barry MacEachern
We are grateful for all help received, especially to CANDi and Air Transat who brought our puppy to Canada, giving her a second chance of life – Darci Galati, Carrie Martin, Pierre Bassene, Javier Ferreiro in Cuba, and Kristine Perez in Montreal (who coordinated the after-hours help for Isla).

Bringing Isla to Canada would not make sense without Dr. Barry MacEachern whose generosity and kindness will now shape her future. We also thank everyone in-between – our volunteer Kiki Cliff who drove from Ottawa to Montreal to pick up our puppy, Judy and Wayne Anderson who offered their help, and to the pilots from Pilots N Paws Canada, who flew our puppy to Halifax – at no cost and after several attempts due to the weather problems.
For those who may ask why we did it all for one dog, the answer is – because we could. Because each life deserves to be saved and protected, because seeing so many people moved and brought together to do something good brings back faith in humanity.

"Perhaps the only failure is a failure to try..." - Deborah Moggach


  1. ohh so cute. She got so lucky that someone took take care of her.

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  2. I just wonder what happenned?Please can we have an update on her story? To all those amazing people that work together to save these animals you are all fantastic! Thank you x

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  4. This is very useful post for everyone whose teach pets and train them for handicapped pet. Thank you so much this post.

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