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In June of 2014, I was fortunate enough to visit the hidden gem of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. It is a magical little place sitting peacefully along the Caribbean Sea. They have a phenomenon known here as “Free Dogs”, in other words, dogs which roam the streets, businesses and beaches without a home. The sad notion is that most of these dogs are abandoned by zealous travelers who move here, get a puppy, and then leave for their country, leaving the dog behind to fend for its life.

Scruffy at the beach

I was sitting at a beach bar, particularly paying close attention to this little brown dog who was such a mess. The dog had lost its hair, starving, and being shooed out of places by people. No one wanted this dog around. I watched as the dog was kicked, thrown stones at and finally gave up on a bed made of sand on the beach. I was sure the dog was going to die. I never forgot this dog.

Scruffy cooling off

The process of saving this unwanted dog is a long one, which involved many people who stood up and sacrificed much to ensure this pup would live. Enter a kind woman name Katie Gonzales. She was the first person to notice Scruffy fading away slowly. Katie was visiting Puerto Viejo from the states on a regular basis. She could not get this dog off her heart. As Katie says “I was looking for Scruffy everyday during December and January, trying to feed him. Then when I went back in March, I became so nervous about his condition, I reached out to other dog lovers from Puerto Viejo through Facebook. I needed advice.” What she got was an overwhelming response from a rescue group called “dogs 9”. Together they all agreed to pay to save this dog. She took Scruffy into her own care. He was lifeless. The vet diagnosed tick fever, dehydration, malnourishment, and fleas had overcome his fur coat. If untreated, the little pup would die. For 23 days Katie nursed this dog back to health against her landlord’s wishes. Scruffy was exhausted and she spent countless hours to get Scruffy energy and life again.

My” biggest question for Katie was “Why? Her response was “if I don’t help him, who will? Someone needs to help him, he cannot help himself”. Many times Scruffy would pull from the leash to go back to the beach, the only life he has known. But for Scruffy this was not an option. Unlike other free dogs, he was not an alpha, or even a survivor. Just a walk on a leash challenged his will.

The sad fact is, many people saw Scruffy everyday, even giving him their own name for him; but no one, not locals, not tourists, paid attention as he laid there dying. After Katie’s selfless intervention, she had to return to the states, leaving her Scruffy in the safe hands of “Dogs 9”.

Scruffy meeting a friend

Getting Scruffy To a Safe Life

Let it be known it takes more than one person to intervene on a dog’s behalf at times. The angel chain in this story is an amazing confirmation of what humans can accomplish with determination. Enter Melody Peyton, a visitor from the states. After Katie left, Melody became the foster for Scruffy.

Jump ahead six months, now living in Puerto Viejo, the first thing I did was look for this dog. I could not find him. I assumed he had finally surrendered and passed on. Then one day while walking I noticed a woman named Melody Peyton with a similar dog on a leash. I spoke to her of how this dog reminded me of another one, yet this one had hair and weight on its little body. The dogs name was ‘Scruffy’. Turns out, this was my beloved free dog from last summer. Angels do exist.

Melody and Katie decided Scruffy needed a forever home, to ensure the pup would live a long and loving life. Through fundraisers, a ‘gofundme’ account, and financial contributions from many concerned dog lovers, they raised enough money to fly Scruffy with Melody. The airport even lost Scruffy at one point, sending the dog ahead without Melody. Melody herself went beyond normal expectations and created a beach in her back yard, complete with sand and water, so Scruffy would adjust. At first, Scruffy was shy and withdrawn with the other dogs. He looked at dog treats and toys indifferently. Melody spent countless hours working with him on his new life. A life guaranteed to be filled with attention, love, and good care.

The story doesn’t end here…Katie who is absolutely in love with this dog, will fly across the states to bring him home.

There are many lessons to be felt here. It is with great hope the reader will put this in their heart.

  • Dogs do not have a voice.
  • When you pass by a stray, know you may be the last one to see that dog alive.
  • You do not have to be a dog lover to save its life, just a person to initiate the saving process. Pass the information quickly to the angels who will intervene.
  • Humans have the greatest potential and power to change the ills of the world, and should feel morally responsible to do so.

Scruffy at the beach

Every Stray Dog Could Be a Scruffy

The problem is universal and international. Abandoning an animal to the streets because it no longer fits with your life plan is selfish. This puppy you fell in love with has little chance of survival or getting a home. Scruffy was lucky, thanks to souls who could not stand by and witness the tragedy. Unfortunately, there are many Scruffys, wandering streets searching for a day scrap, and sleeping in hidden corners. They spend their lives running from ill- willed strangers, but following the kind ones, hoping they will take them to a forever home. It does not take your whole life to stop and extend help, if anything; it makes you a better person. As Katie said, “If I don’t help, who will?”

Scruffy at the beach

What Humans Have Done With Their “Best Friends”

As a part of international awareness, I believe it is important to take a good look at these current pictures of an ongoing problem on our little beaches alone. If this is happening here, imagine the bigger picture. These dogs depend on strangers and garbage for food, fights each other to the death, and eventually gives up because there is no place of refuge. Please, do not get a puppy in a foreign country and then leave it behind. More often than not, the outcome is a slow and painful death. Better yet, adopt a ‘free’ dog, their loyalty and appreciation is for a lifetime.

Scruffy at the beach