This Bahamian dog got a second chance from a group of strangers.
On August 15, 2015, eight months into my year abroad, I was walking on Gordon Beach at the southernmost tip of Long Island, Bahamas, an 80-mile long and maximum four-mile wide out island in the middle of the Caribbean archipelago.
An injured brown and black mutt--or "potcake" as the islanders call them--was also on the shoreline, in need of immediate assistance. Together, with a group of five other strangers and friends--a mix of locals, ex-pats and visitors--we gave this skinny, injured pup a second chance.
Lisa Benjamin and Philip Thompson of Nassau first noticed the dog did not have an owner nearby and was dragging his hind legs. They got my attention and that of my sailboater friends, Bess and Billy Storm. We had been walking along the turquoise waters biding time before a cultural festival taking place in the island's capital of Clarence Town, 20 miles north of Gordon Beach.
Within minutes, the motley rescue crew started brainstorming how to get this dog the care he needed. We scooped him up, offering him water and a few snacks, being careful not to overload his system as he had obviously been without food for several days.
Utilizing my background as a zoologist and veterinary assistant, I assessed the dog's condition. I confirmed that he did not have any mobility in his rear legs and had suffered some abrasions, in addition to being grossly underweight.
While Benjamin and Thompson rang friends at the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau, the country's capital, a local Bahamian named Dennis wandered over to offer his assistance.
The Bahamian sentiment toward dogs as pets generally contrasts that of most European and American households. Instead of being pampered, many of the dogs live outside as sentries, sometimes making them unapproachable. But this canine was still a puppy at heart, and, promisingly, was able to wag his tail despite paralysis in the back end.
With limited resources on a remote island of less than 3,000 residents, no animal rescue center has been established on Long Island. The fate of a pup in Gordon's state is usually in the hands of the police, who, at a loss, turn to shooting the animal to put it out of its misery.
But Gordon the Lucky, as this dog would quickly be dubbed, had the fates on his side that day. And despite his discomfort, he was lovable, never once snapping at his rescuers.
After discussion with the Bahamas Humane Society (BHS), it was thought that Gordon had likely been hit by a car. Based on his level of malnutrition and the condition of his wounds, Gordon had probably been suffering for a couple weeks, sheltering in nearby mangroves to avoid baking in the record-breaking summer heat.
BHS agreed to assist with getting Gordon to Central Animal Hospital in Nassau as long as the dog could be transported to the populous island, an hour plane ride away. Benjamin and Thompson were due to return to their island home the next day, and Dennis, the local Bahamian, agreed to house the dog in the meantime.
A crate was donated by another local Bahamian couple, Gloria and Greg Culmer, and picked up by the Storms. Gordon was in the hands of the veterinarian within 48 hours.
An initial misdiagnosis suggested Gordon's injuries were not reversible, slating him for euthanasia as he was therefore deemed unadoptable. However, a second veterinarian, Dr. Sands, re-examined the x-rays. He diagnosed Gordon with a fractured leg and a gap in the vertebrae.
While Gordon would need to undergo months of physical therapy and bed rest--a tricky feat for a tail-wagging, rambunctious canine--Dr. Sands remained optimistic that recovery, though not guaranteed, was possible.
Animal lovers poured in their encouragement, writing emails and sending phone calls to the hospital in hopes that it would help Gordon's outlook. Benjamin and Thompson largely covered the costs of Gordon's treatment while re-homing situations were examined. BHS believed Gordon's future was dependent upon his adoptability in the event that his rear leg paralysis remained.
But this group of strangers, in addition to the people who heard his story, were determined to give Gordon a second chance. Michelle Hope Rickman and her husband Jason were in the process of selling it all to relocate full-time from the corporate California world to laid-back island life.
The couple has a soft spot for animals, their menagerie at the time already including two cats and a bird. Jason also worked in medicine, specifically with spinal injuries, so Gordon's story hit close to home. After some deliberation, their hearts melted with the photos and updates of Gordon's progress. They wanted to give this dog a forever home, even if he didn't make a full recovery.
About four months later, Gordon made the trip back to his native island, flying over the turquoise blue paradise in his adoptive mom's lap. Though he reportedly wobbles from time to time, no amount of unsteadiness slows him down. And, true to their love of animals, the Rickmans have now added two more to their growing animal kingdom.
Canines Pups and Big Blacky were in need of a new home when their owner passed away on Long Island. Islanders banded together donating treats, finances, and services to get these pups sterilized, vaccinated, and medicated.
While their stay with the Rickmans was intended to be temporary, three months have passed quickly, and they seem right at home frolicking in the yard with Gordon and the cats. Michelle refers to the canine trio as "new siblings and BFFs."
Many of the roaming Caribbean dogs are mutts. Traditionally, these mixed breed pups were fed potcake, gelatinous leftovers from the bottom of a pan of the classic Bahamian peas and rice dish. Over time, the street dogs earned the title of potcake, with numerous potcake agencies set up throughout the island chain, including Operation Potcake, a low-cost spay/neuter program based in Nassau that visits the smaller islands with a small team of vet staff and volunteers.
With the help of these non-profit organizations and a band of well-intentioned individuals, Gordon is leading a comfortable, carefree life, making friends with everyone he meets. He is a sparkling image of the happy ending when humans #adoptdontshop.
A lot of effort went into saving this dog's life, but every second was worth it. All of us rescuers hope that Gordon's story can act as a beacon of hope for abandoned dogs, reminding humans that everyone, even helpless puppies, deserves a second chance.
Images via Stacey Venzel and Michelle Hope Rickman