A chance encounter with a stray dog in the Dominican Republic led to new friendships and valuable lessons.
People often ask me why I rescued a dog from a foreign country when so many abandoned dogs are in the United States. It’s a fair question when millions of dogs in the United States are up for adoption. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 6.3 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide annually. Of those, about 3.1 million are dogs.
When I first saw Blanca lying on the hot sands of the Dominican Republic, she was malnourished and thirsty with eyes caked in sand. Little would I know how much this stray dog would come to impact my life and the lives of so many others. The lessons I learned from Blanca’s courage and tender temperament far outweigh the opinion that animal rescue is reserved only for a person’s home country. In the end, a living soul in need, no matter where it is found, deserves help.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
But rescuing a dog from overseas comes with tremendous responsibility. Perhaps the better question to ask is whether rescuing a dog is the best thing for you and the animal? The lessons I learned from Blanca’s rescue might help you decide.
Meeting My Fur Baby on the Beaches of Punta Cana
In May 2014, I traveled to Punta Cana to stay at the Melia Caribe Beach Resort, as part of a work trip. Most mornings, I walked through the resort’s gardens to its main restaurant, but on one particular day, I decided to take a different route along the beachfront. As I got to the restaurant’s oceanside entrance, I nearly stepped on a dog lying in the sand. The dog’s beige-colored coat blended in with the sands’ brown tones, making the animals seem more like a mound than a living creature. As I knelt, the female dog—whom I would come to call Blanca—lifted her head with eyes half-closed from napping in the sun.
The dog resembled the other stray dogs I had seen in the Dominican Republic (what locals call “Dominican Terriers” because of how they look alike with their long snouts and floppy ears). More than Blanca’s cute appearance, what drew me to this dog was a feeling that I simply couldn’t leave her behind. You could say that in an instant, our souls bonded.
Noticing how skinny she was, I went inside the restaurant and returned with some ham and a bowl of water. I looked around and saw Blanca sitting next to a woman lounging on one of the resort’s beach chairs. As I walked up, the woman turned to me and said how sweet the dog was as I put down the food and water and watched Blanca start eating.
Wanting to help more, I left to find the resort’s concierge, Pablo. Thinking Blanca might need medical care, I asked Pablo to contact a local animal rescue. After searching on the resort’s computer, I found Rescatame. Rescatame stood out because they were very active on their Facebook page, posting about their work in Punta Cana to spay and neuter stray cats and dogs. I asked Pablo if he could call them and find out if someone from the rescue would come to the resort and examine the dog. While he called, I went back to the beach to check on Blanca.
Within minutes, Pablo ran up to me, saying the rescue knew the dog (they had spayed her a few years earlier) and would be by the next day. I decided to take the dog to my room and have her sleep there until the rescue arrived. Because this was the first stray dog I had dealt with, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it in my room. I left water out and let Blanca have free reign. When I came back from dinner that evening, I found her sleeping on my bed.
When Sylvia Mendez from Rescatame arrived the next day, I intended to pay for any medical bills and ensure Blanca got the care she needed. I also wanted to find out if a foster volunteer in Punta Cana could care for Blanca while I helped the rescue find an adopter. Thinking I was the adopter, Sylvia brought a dog crate to take Blanca back to the rescue’s vet and get her the proper shots and airline paperwork. I looked down at Blanca and made the snap decision to take her home with me.
What Happens After You Decide to Adopt
Sylvia advised me to call my airline and find out if there was space for the dog in the plane’s cargo hold. Luckily, Delta had room for the dog and was flying animals in cargo until May 15, when they’d stop for several months due to the heat. I paid Delta the $200 pet fee and secured the dog a spot on my flight home. Sylvia took Blanca to the vet, where she spent the next two days getting the necessary shots and exams required by the airline and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Pablo offered to come to the airport with me on the day of my departure. Because I didn’t speak Spanish, Pablo helped translate as I checked Blanca in for our flight and shared her paperwork and shot records with the airline. I asked Rescatame if we should give Blanca a sedative; after all, this beach dog was going from the sands of Punta Cuna to an airplane cargo hold. “A Dominican dog is tough and brave,” they said and assured me Blanca would be just fine. With a connection in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Blanca arrived in Chicago six hours later.
My Little Dog Came With a Worldwide Fan Base
While rescuing Blanca, I posted photos on Facebook to keep friends and family updated on her trip home. Kendra Pantaleo, the manager of my local PetSmart, where I had taken my other dog, Boo, for the in-store events, reached out. It turns out Kendra had met Blanca six months before I had. She had stayed at the Melia Caribe Beach Resort and had photos of Blanca running on the beach. That was just the beginning of finding out about Blanca’s worldwide fan base.
As Blanca settled into her new life, people from all over the world started to contact me. They had met Blanca on their vacations in Punta Cana and could not stop thinking about her. Nadine Bode and Daniel Schafer from Germany had nicknamed Blanca “Sandy.” There was also a New Jersey family who had known Blanca during their two-week stay at the resort. Blanca made such an impression on the New Jersey family that in 2015, they flew to Punta Cana to adopt her, only to find out she was with me. In their email to me, they explained how they could not stop thinking about Blanca and her gentle demeanor. When they found out I adopted her, they cried tears of joy and some sadness—they felt happy that Blanca was in a good home and heartache at missing the chance to adopt her.
I also heard from a woman named Lexi Wilcox who told me that Blanca was born in a friend’s backyard to two stray dogs and lived at a gas station before making her way to the beach at the Melia Caribe Resort. Lexi had named her “Corrina,” and given Blanca the collar and dog tag she was wearing when I found her. The tag read: “I am a stray. I am friendly. Please feed me.”
Those special human bonds didn’t stop when Blanca left the Dominican Republic. That certain “somethin’, somethin’” about Blanca remained just as powerful in Chicago. “I fell in love with Blanca the moment I saw her on the streets of Chicago,” recalls my neighbor, Nancy Thrall. “Blanca has the most beautiful way about her. She is so full of love that you never want to say goodbye. She makes me want to be with her, love her, protect her, and help make her happy every moment.”
If You’re Planning to Adopt, Have a Plan B
I took a chance on a stray from another country that had never lived in a house. Sure, I had questions like, would my dog get along with this newcomer? Would Blanca adapt to living in a house?
In the event that my home was not the best fit for Blanca, I contacted a rescue in Chicago and confirmed that they would take her in and help with her adoption. While I knew I wanted to take Blanca away from her life as a stray, I knew I needed to have a Plan B in case my home wasn’t the best fit.
The First Step? Check With Your Airline
It’s essential to check with your airline regarding rules and regulations for flying animals. Some have in-cabin weight limits, others might only fly animals in cargo during certain times of the year to avoid extreme temperatures, and most will charge a pet fee. Not all animals are physically fit to fly in cargo, so working with a local veterinarian is crucial. While the vet cleared Blanca for air travel, I certainly worried about her during our trip.
INSIDER TIPIf flying is a concern, there are organizations like Pilots for Paws that will transport rescued dogs.
Check Government Regulations Before Bringing Your Fur Baby Home
Check the CDC website to see if there are any countries the United States considers “high-risk” for rabies. Also, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website to learn more about their requirements and look up specific state animal import rules. In my case, I relied on a local rescue to provide the necessary shots and paperwork that the airline, CDC, and the Dominican Republican required. Once I got Blanca into the United States, U.S. customs reviewed her shot records and paperwork. Once the dog is safely in the United States, schedule a visit with your local vet so they can check its health records. In my case, my vet re-did all of Blanca’s shots out of an abundance of caution.
INSIDER TIPThe CBP recommends contacting the anticipated port of arrival to confirm applicable requirements before importing a pet. Visit CBP Locate a Port of Entry for contact information on CBP ports of entry.
Be Patient With Your New Pup
My other dog, Boo, proved one of the biggest helps with Blanca’s transition to a domesticated lifestyle. I rescued Boo in 2012 from Chicago’s Anti-Cruelty Society. Blanca leans on Boo for companionship and how to react to certain situations, like being on a leash or playing with other dogs in the dog park. Of course, I had no idea how Blanca would react to her new life. One time, after leaving Blanca in my bathroom for a few hours—thinking it was a better option than letting her roam free unsupervised—I came home to find she had destroyed the towels, shower curtain, and other items. I think the confinement of the bathroom proved too stressful for Blanca. Going forward, Blanca is now a free-range dog inside the house—no crating or being locked in a room. I also spent a lot of time acclimating Boo and Blanca to each other and hired a dog walker and trainer with Dex’s Friends to work with Blanca on-leash walking and commands.
Keep Your Pet Social and Remember to Give Back
It was important Blanca acclimate to Boo’s social calendar and learn to be social with other dogs. We have meet-ups with other Dominican adopted dogs at a 44-acre off-leash dog park in Lake Forest, Illinois, called Prairie Wolf. Soon after I rescued Blanca, both she and Boo tested to become Canine Good Citizens. They now volunteer with groups like People Animals Love (PALS) and Sit Stay Read, where kids learning to read or play musical instruments gain skills and confidence by reading and playing aloud to dogs.
The Best Decision I Could Have Made
Like all the people who have reached out to me about Blanca, I, too, felt an instant connection to her calming presence. Since I was six months old, I’ve traveled to dozens of countries and hundreds of cities both in the United States and abroad. During most of those trips, I’ve encountered stray animals, all of which deserved help. But with Blanca, it was different. I just knew I couldn’t leave her behind.
People have said Blanca found me, but maybe we found each other. Perhaps we were just two souls in need of one another. She found in me the safe and loving home she needed. I found in her the inspiration for bravery and the motivation to never give up. My life is better for adopting Blanca, and I think hers is too.
Blanca has a beautiful place to live and loves her Mother, Lisa and loves Boo. I can remember when Lisa brought Blanca and Boo too visit the first time, Lisa asked Blanca in English if she had to go out to potty, Blanca didn't move, Lisa asked her in Spanish if she had to go out to potty, oh my gosh, Blanca was ready to go out and potty. I will never forget that. At that time Blanca didn't understand English real good, but Blanca knew Spanish. Blanc and Lisa were meant for each other
Thank you for this wonderful story.
I only adopt "throw away dogs"- I'm a Dame guy.
I have rescued/adopted 5 so far and they have bought me so much happiness and joy, that they make my house a home. I haven't adopted from abroad, but maybe one day.
These "throw away" dogs in my opinon, appreciate given a chance at a good life, that they are the best companions ever.