I’ve succumbed to the fact that each day on my island, brings something entirely unexpected...plans are futile here...because on any given morning, by 10:00am, even the best laid out plans, will have invariably been altered by the chaotic breath this island breathes. You might plan to catch a school bus at eight and it never show; email a family member and the electricity goes out; perform a laparoscopic surgery and the only CO2 tank in the hospital runs out during the operation; take a shower and the water completely stop—hair covered in soap suds; enjoy a peaceful day at the beach and on the walk there, happen upon an overturned car with passengers trapped inside. And, instead of these types of things being a deviation from the norm, they have become my norm. So, when I received an unexpected knock at my door early Sunday morning, two weeks ago; I should have expected anything; but instead, my heart was caught by surprise, and as I’ve been learning since, “love comes in Ovaltine boxes”.
The knock coming from my door was excruciatingly loud and urgent; the kind of knock that makes you sit straight up in bed. I’d been up late the night before studying and treating sick, stray animals that I’d take in, so I reluctantly, but hurriedly, threw on my robe and opened my door. Standing before me was a young, local, man, with an orange box, and something inside, covered by an old t-shirt. I invited him in, and he explained to me that he’d walked to my house because he heard I was “the white lady veterinarian”, and could help his puppy. I gently peeled back the dirty t-shirt covering the lump in the box, and a small, brown, wiry, puppy, was lying in a ball with her left eye, protruding from its socket. Instantly, a knot formed in my throat as my heart and head weren’t able to reconcile the gruesome visual before me. I asked him what happened and he explained that a larger dog had bit the puppy during feeding time, and its eye popped out. I asked if his puppy had a name and he said, “no, just dog”, and the knot in my throat got bigger. I examined the puppy, noticing she was a little girl, and gently picked her up and held her close to my chest. She immediately nuzzled close to me and began wagging her tail; a good sign, but all-the-more, heartbreakingly, sad.
I explained to the gentleman at my house that I wasn’t a veterinarian, and that I was just a medical student that happened to do a lot of volunteer work with the local Vincentian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (VSPCA). I offered that I could do my best to get in contact with a local vet, but that the odds of a vet on the island answering their phone on a Sunday were one in a million at best. Worse, at this point, I knew what I just said to him, was alarmingly true, and began to panic as I had no idea what I was going to do with this sweet, nuzzled-in-my-chest, little puppy that kept wagging her tail, (panic also set in as I had Peter Parker—a stray dog I rescued 4 days before that had to have his leg removed, laying on my porch; I had another puppy Bambi, less than one pound, with Parvo and Tick Fever, laying in a shoebox on my couch; my two healthy, once stray, six month old dogs recovering from their spay surgeries a week prior, another hairless doggy at the kennel named Pumpkin that I rescued from a local grocery parking lot, in need of fungal bath treatments and daily walks; multiple litters in the countryside that needed to be vaccinated and treated for Parvo and worms in the upcoming week; a spay/neuter clinic I was scheduled to volunteer at the following weekend; NOT TO MENTION a medical school unit exam looming in the days ahead).
I called my partner in crime, Leslie (VSPCA Board Member and perhaps St. Vincent’s greatest humanitarian) who unfortunately happened to be in the mountains for the day with Icelandic Volcanologists and couldn’t come over to help. So, she and I began phoning every vet on the island, over and over...but no answer. As Leslie continued calling, I did the only thing I’d learned thus far in medicine (aside from putting the eye back in with muscle relaxers, pain meds, and surgery); and placed sterile, wet, bandages over her eye, wrapped her head, and tried to keep her as calm as possible. The young man left as he said he had other things to do, and finally, at 4:00pm, we reached a vet, Dr. Audain, and he immediately came over. Dr. Audain and I performed a small surgery on my kitchen table in an effort to save her eye, but he said he wasn’t sure if it would work; and that for the next five days, I needed to administer intramuscular injections of anti-inflammatory medications every 6 hours, as well as antibiotics. And as quickly as he stitched up her eye, he left...me standing with a now, sedated, little, brown, lump in an Ovaltine box. And as he drove off, he said “oh by the way, that wasn’t a dog that bit her, someone had to have hit her really hard and caused her eye to pop out”. For the third time that day, the lump in my throat re-formed, as I couldn’t imagine how anyone could hurt something so small and precious.
As the week progressed, details of the puppy’s home life emerged and were shockingly grim. She indeed had been abused, but not by the young man that had brought her to me; but instead by his five-year-old brother. The same five-year old-brother who had already purposefully killed two other puppies (one by locking it in the trunk of a car and the other by slamming the head in a van door) and had set their current pet on fire (who the family now calls “hotdog” because they think it is funny). Pressing for more details as this obviously isn’t usual behavior for a young boy, we discovered that the boy has been knowingly and repeatedly molested by his mother, and has a variety of other behavioral problems at school with other school children and teachers. As the VSPCA learned of this information, we of course immediately reported it to authorities, but sadly, as I’m discovering on small islands in the Caribbean, they are reluctant to move on social issues; especially in cases where animals are involved. There’s an unspeakable lack of value and regard for life in general here, so it’s difficult enough to help a human, let alone an animal. To add to the unsettling situation, the mother (whom is rumored very confrontational) of the boy being abused, came to my house multiple times the following week, yelling through the window, demanding that I bring out the puppy; but I never responded. Finally, after coming up with a strategy, the VSPCA made a decision to tell the woman that the puppy died, so she would leave me alone, and so that we could continue to care for the puppy appropriately.
So, how about the good stuff? I’m happy to share that our little girl, is doing amazingly well. Despite her injuries and previous life, her tail hasn’t stopped wagging, there’s a glowing gratitude from her good eye, and she has the most contagious personality I’ve ever encountered in a puppy. She’s become the heart throb of St. Vincent’s VSPCA and her story literally went viral worldwide, via the web. We posted her pictures with Animal Aid International, and they raised the support to cover all of her veterinary bills in less than five minutes...as they do with so many other cases (they are an AMAZING organization). The first night she was with us, Leslie and I bathed her in a pot of warm water, cleaned her ears, and literally hand-picked, over 300 ticks, off of her small body. By day two of sitting in my lap studying with me, my classmates and fellow VSPCA comrades, named the little love sponge from the Ovaltine box, Winn Dixie Biscuit.
Unfortunately, Dr. Audain’s fear came true at the end of the first week, and despite treatment, Winn Dixie had to undergo an additional surgery to completely remove her eye as the damage was too extensive. She has also fought a systemic skin infection and a build-up of fluid in her abdominal cavity from the severity of the infection from her eye wound. Never for a moment however, could you have ever guessed she was abused or injured; as we’ve been the recipient of her numerous nose kisses, she’s snuggled with half of our student body, been babysat by professors on their desks, slept on my chest every night, and been my faithful study partner each night. She’s also gone for her first swim in the ocean, loves her monkey squeaky toy, eats home-cooked liver and rice for breakfast and dinner, and brings a smile to everyone she meets. Her spirit is infectious, her resiliency is captivating, and she is the cutest, bravest, 10-week-old, island-pirate, there has ever been. For a puppy that has been abused, a puppy with one eye, and a puppy with a long road to go; she possesses a remarkable amount of love and sprite in her little, grateful, heart. And best of all, Winn Dixie will travel First Class to the United States, December 11th, to her new Kansas home to meet her forever human!!!!
I share the story of Winn Dixie with you, not to advertise just another sad commercial about animal abuse (because we all know it is rampant; not only in the developing world, but in the US as well) but instead; to encourage you in this season of Thanksgiving, to be thankful for inconveniences—inconveniences that might come as an early morning Sunday knock at your door; inconveniences that seem like dirty lumps in an Ovaltine box; inconveniences that are less than a pound and cannot muster the energy to get out of a shoebox; inconveniences that are hairless and bear resemblance to something once, but still beautiful; or inconveniences that take on the appearance of an old, smelly, arthritic, 3-legged stray dog, named Peter Parker. Because it’s in these archetypal moments—the courage in your spirit to answer the knock at the door, the willingness of your heart to love something that cannot give you anything in return, and the readiness of your hands to mend something someone else has broken—that a little boy’s life might be positively changed forever; that a hardened heart of a scholarly professor might be softened; that an innocent heartbeat halfway across the world, might find their forever human; and that policy change at the highest levels of government might take place because you said “no more”. So as you navigate this season of Thanksgiving, embrace the inconveniences of uncertainty, allow it to lead you places, and be brave as it challenges you to exercise both your heart and your mind, in creating your own path towards happiness. After all, I never would have known that love comes in Ovlatine boxes.
Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving at CampMakery!
What are some unexpected inconveniences you are thankful for? We’d love for you to share by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!