From how far away are you willing to rescue a stray dog? From across the county? Across the state? Perhaps you'll even adopt one through Petfinder.com, which lists hundreds of thousands of homeless animals rescued from kill shelters all over the United States. Many travel to their new homes in New England via livestock trailers that make scheduled stops along the interstates in a process resembling a modern-day underground railroad.
But even Artie, the cockapoo mutt I rescued via Petfinder.com from a Nashville, Tenn., kill shelter in 2008, had a short trip home compared to Carmen. Next week, the 5-year-old street hound (pictured above) will make the journey of her lifetime from her native home in Mozambique to Jay, Vt., where a local couple are eagerly awaiting her arrival.
The intercontinental canine connection is the work of Claudia Neto, a Rice Memorial High School grad now living in Mozambique. Two years ago, Neto and her partner founded that country's first and only known animal rescue organization, called MAPS, or Mozambique Animal Protection Society. To date, they've "rehomed" nearly 100 dogs and puppies and 90 cats and kittens, mostly to expats living in the southeastern African nation.
"Carmen had been stuck at the shelter for over a year, seemingly with no hope of a future," Neto writes via email from Mozambique. "When I shared her story and situation on Facebook, a friend in Vermont found a couple up in Jay, Vt., who were willing to give Carmen a forever home." Thus began the arduous task of figuring out how to get her there — in particular, covering the expense, estimated at nearly $2000.
Like most street animals, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, Carmen comes from a background of abuse and neglect. She was rescued from a university clinic in Mozambique where, according to Neto, dogs are routinely taken off the streets of the local townships to allow students to practice surgical and other medical procedures.
"They keep this low profile, as it's a shocking practice and especially when they really don't look after these animals while in their care," Neto writes. "[The dogs] are usually skinny when they arrive, but after some time in their care — if they survive the practice surgeries — they are emaciated. Locked in filthy cages for weeks and months with no exercise. Cut open and stitched up, with little to no aftercare and certainly no comfort."
Every Sunday, Neto says, she would sneak into the clinic to check on the dogs, since no staff bothers to show up on weekends, when their food and water bowls generally go empty. "It's a disgraceful situation and a reflection of the general cultural view held of animals here."
After the weeks, possibly months, Carmen spent in the medical clinic, Neto was finally given the green light to take her to the shelter for rehabilitation and eventual adoption. However, after more than a year in her shelter, Carmen was still there, with no one expressing interest in her.
"We couldn't understand it," Neto says. "She is a graceful and sweet little lady and not unattractive."
Understandably, Carmen began demonstrating signs of "kennel trauma": circling her pen, bounding off the walls forcefully, etc. It soon became clear that she couldn't stay in captivity much longer. Thus began Neto's last-ditch effort to find her a home — overseas, if need be. A Facebook post advertised Carmen's plight, and Neto's willingness to help with the international transit.
On April 18, Carmen and Neto will board a flight from Maputo, Mozambique to Johannesburg, South Africa, where they'll catch another 16-hour flight to New York's JFK. From there, they'll hire a car and drive to Vermont and, after a couple days of R&R in the Burlington area, they'll head to Jay to meet her new home and family.
What's involved in transporting a dog internationally from Mozambique to the United States? Despite the severe overpopulation of strays in this country, Neto says that the U.S. actually has one of the least complicated import processes for overseas pets. Depending on the country of origin, she says, all that's required for Carmen are certificates that she's free of rabies and screwworm. Evidently, no quarantine is required — provided that upon her arrival at the U.S. port of entry the veterinarian gives her a clean bill of health. No import permit is required.
That said, Neto explains that getting an export permit from Mozambique was a "lengthy and costly process," as was the in-transit permit for South Africa, where they'll have a brief layover. In addition to the all-clear paperwork on rabies and screwworm, South Africa also mandates a general health certificate, microchip identification and pages of veterinary checks and information.
The export permit from Mozambique is especially puzzling since, as Neto points out, "On the whole, Mozambique has a cultural view of animals that leans towards indifferent." There, dog fighting, backyard breeding and dog thefts are all common, as is the practice of eating canines and felines. In fact, Neto says that many people in Mozambique are utterly afraid of animals, particularly the younger generation.
Neto has since left MAPS and is now building a new organization called PATA Mozambique. ("Pata," which means "paw" in Portuguese, stands for People for the Aid and Treatment of Animals, or, in Portuguese, Pessoas para Apoio Tratmento de Animais.
Neto says she is now selling fair-trade dog bandanas made out of a distinct Mozambican fabric called capulana to raise funds and awareness for the many homeless and desperate animals in Mozambique. For more info and cute photos of Carmen, check out Neto's ChipIn page here.
Photos courtesy of Claudia Neto