The adventure begins the moment one decides to make the journey. I have known for years that I would someday find a way to go to Spain and spend time at the Scooby animal refuge in Medina Del Campo. It wasn't until early 2005 when I began emailing Carol Macherey of Operation Scooby that I understood how realistic the goal was. It was with Carol's help that I began planning my greatest adventure. I picked the veterinary friends I thought would be the most interested, talked them into going, bought the tickets, made the hotel reservations and began collecting medical supplies, it was literally that easy!
On October 13, 2005 the four of us found ourselves at Denver International Airport at 5am with nearly 350 pounds of medical supplies checking in for our transatlantic flight. Much to our amazement, we weren't charged for the oversized, overweight bags. And on top of it, our helpful ticket clerk was able to change our itinerary giving us a direct flight to Philadelphia then onto Madrid, bypassing our previous layover in Chicago. We were even allowed to accompany the medical supplies through security, ensuring that they were all Okayed for travel. Of course, none of us thought to look at the departure time on our tickets! After all, the ticket agent had told us the flight departed at 9:12am.
So you can imagine the horror we all experienced when, with three of us scattered about DIA and only Jason sitting at the gate, we began getting alarmed phone calls from Jason at 8:20am urging us to get to the gate NOW. I can honestly say that the moment I looked down at my boarding pass and saw that the flight time was 8:45am (and I was still riding the train from terminal B to C), was the closest I have come to wetting my pants in my adult life. Those who know me can attest to the fact that I live by the motto �run only when chased". Well, the hounds of hell nipping at my feet couldn't have done a better job at getting me to the gate post haste. The four of us lunged down the boarding ramp and onto the airplane, quickly finding our seats. Then came the announcement over the PA system that our flight was being delayed as much as four hours due to rain on the East Coast!
The plane's captain was a chatty fellow who went on and on about why the flight was delayed, and said �flights with passengers with international connections usually take precedence; unfortunately, we have no international travelers with us today." We all looked at each other and began to get up simultaneously to inform the flight crew that we had an international connection. We told them of our connection, as well as our rescue mission to a small township in Spain where we were going to perform much-needed veterinary services for the Scooby Animal Refuge. We also told them we had with us tons of medical supplies that could not bear the heat of an airplane sitting on the tarmac for hours on end. After considerable communication with the flight tower, the captain announced that, not only were we being allowed to leave almost on time, but that our flight had been granted �Lifeguard Status", which would expedite our flight straight through to Philly, even bumping other flights out of their landing order! Imagine, these dogs, the galgos, who mean nothing to so many of the people in the country of their origin, can move a plane during a storm here in the United States. Fortunately, the remainder of our journey to Spain was relatively uneventful. We had a long layover in Philly and we ate dinner, and then reported PROMPTLY to the gate.
October 14, 2005: It was at 9:50am that we landed in Madrid, Spain. Despite our apprehension about the size (and contents) of our medical supply bags, we discovered that customs was amazingly easy. We deplaned, came through customs and immigration (which consisted of smiling and holding out our passports), and claimed our baggage. The airport even supplies luggage carts free of charge! From there it was a cake walk, you either go through the �Items to Declare" or �No Items to Declare" door (you can guess which one we chose), and then you're off to ground transportation!
Because of my over-enthusiastic requisitioning of supplies, we had (in a panicked frenzy) called Fermin the night before asking if there was any way to arrange a ride to Scooby, at least for the supplies. Fermin, the ever-resourceful genius that he is, was able to arrange for a man with a van to meet us at the airport. My three colleagues had chosen to spend the first day of this incredible journey sightseeing in Madrid, so I went with the van and supplies to Medina, and to the only sight I wanted see - SCOOBY!
The van ride took a little over an hour and a half. Finally, we took a left up a steep gravel driveway that ran straight for about 100 yards, then turned right in front of a building fronted with kennels. The kind gentleman driver, who knew not a word of English, pointed and spoke the one word I had been waiting so long to hear... �Scooby". For those of you who do not know me, I have a bit of a zoo at my house in Colorado. Among the characters I call my kids are a Samoyed, two chows, a German shepherd, and a handful of greyhounds. You can't even begin to imagine how much at home I felt when we pulled to a stop in front of a large front yard containing a Samoyed, a chow, a German Shepherd mix, and a bunch of galgos! I was home!
Maria Jose, one of the caretakers and a truly extraordinary lady, came out to greet us. She gave me a whirlwind tour of the clinic, bathrooms, and kitchen. We then unloaded the supplies, all the while being followed by entourage of galgos and one very special little terrier. The van driver then took me back into Medina Del Campo where I checked in at the Hotel La Mota. The people there, though not fluent in English, made every attempt to help me and understand what I was saying. I went to my room, unpacked, showered, and called Maria Jose to come get me. At 2:30pm I returned to Scooby and began to unpack the giant load of drugs, catheters, gloves, masks, suture, bandage material, clippers and blades, and other miscellaneous goods. I spent about five hours unpacking, cleaning, and preparing for the next week's work. Maria Jose drove me back to the hotel that evening, where I collapsed from exhaustion.
Saturday, October 15, 2005: Jacob and Jolene Head, two of my colleagues, had arrived in Medina late the night before. The three of us set out to Scooby that morning to meet Fermin, the dogs, and to begin our work. We got off to a slow start that day, and spent the first half of the day chasing non-galgo hunting dogs around their pens marking them on their heads with Xs and Os according to what they needed done. We also prepared the surgery suite, and welcomed Jason Cordeiro, the fourth member of our team, when he arrived at Scooby from Madrid midday. We performed a few spays and castrations that first day, and spent a lot of time figuring out how to best expedite the process. After about 10 surgeries, we cleaned the surgery suite and rode back to the Hotel La Mota for the night.
Sunday, October 16, 2005: Much to everyone at Scooby's chagrin, we started the day early and began working on the puppies residing at Scooby (including the much-adored seven dwarves). Things were going well and moving right along. Jacob and Jolene were working on spays, while Jason and I worked on the castrations. Jason and I had just left the surgery room when our first tragedy struck, one of the puppies they had just spayed arrested after surgery. We were coming back into the room just as Jake and Jolene discovered the pup's condition, and we all jumped in to perform CPR. Sadly, we lost the pup, a bassett hound mix. The mood took a somber tone for the remainder of day, despite Fermin's reassurances that these things happen. All of us felt the loss of the dear pup. We managed to pull it together, though, and completed around 17 surgeries that day. We also treated our first bite wound victim, a young brindle galga who had been bitten numerous times in the hind end.
We worked into the evening and then returned to La Mota. We were just becoming acquainted with the differences in Spanish culture, and hadn't quite come to understand the concept of a siesta, the odd hours kept by stores and markets, and the alarmingly late hour at which dinner is served at restaurants. We had a lovely, though exotic, dinner at the restaurant attached to the hotel. Eating dinner in Spain is an entirely different process then it is in the USA. Restaurants typically open at 9pm, and dinner is a multi-hour event. When a menu written in a language we didn't speak further complicated the eating process, it became a bit of an adventure. We managed to muddle through, despite our inability to know what we would be getting! The food was exotic and delicious, and we finally paid our bill and returned to our rooms at 12:30am.
Monday, October 17, 2005: We were up and running early the next day once again. We had previously had the pleasure of meeting Jeff and Jenny, an English couple wintering at Scooby. We were all very alarmed when Jenny brought us a 16-week-old Pyrenees mix pup in grave shape. I tried as hard as I could to place an IV, but she was so badly dehydrated, hypothermic, and hypoglycemic, that she arrested and died before I could gain venous access. Once again, we worked through the morning with heavy hearts.
We completed 18 surgeries that day and, despite the sadness, managed to pull ourselves back up and spend some time in the afternoon sitting on the patio with some of the lovely residents of Scooby. I also spent some time wandering through the dog paddocks that afternoon, watching the dogs play, run, dig and eat, and just thoroughly enjoy being alive. Jolene took me down to one of the farthest paddocks where I spied a handsome small rough-coated galgo. I think I knew the minute I saw him that he would be the one going back to Colorado with me. I ran to find Maria Jose to ask her to pull him out of the paddock for me. As soon as I took his leash he became my boy. We went back to the patio, and I was astounded to see that this boy, whom I named Inigo, continued to follow me all-day and even waited for me outside the surgery suite.
We returned to the hotel that evening, changed clothes, and wandered independently through Medina Del Campo, and were surprised to find that almost everything was already closed! We were thwarted in our efforts to order food when the pizzeria we called failed to answer the phone. We were all too tired to go back out, and I resorted to eating crumbled poptarts for dinner.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005: This was Rico's big day. Rico, a galgo pup of maybe 5 or six months, had broken his left foreleg before coming to Scooby. As a result, his leg was twisted slightly and not of much use to him as anything but a crutch. We all knew that amputation was probably the only thing that was going to prevent Rico from having a great deal of discomfort as he got older. It was with that in mind that we set out that morning to perform the amputation. Jake performed the surgery, which went flawlessly. We also decided to neuter Rico while he was under anesthesia, which added quite a bit of time to his surgery, because he was cryptorchid! (Meaning that only one of his testicles had descended requiring Jake to do a little bit of 'searching" to find the other one). Rico recovered well and was up and running around the next day! Rico is a delightful little guy, as mischievous as can be. They actually had to install a secondary lock on the kitchen door on Monday because the little thief had figured out that he could open the door by jumping up and hitting the handle. I caught the little guy eating my lunch more than once!
At one point in the afternoon, Jolene came and got me from the surgery room to look at the dogs. I walked out onto the patio and instantly noticed the absolute silence. As far as I could see was a sea of sleeping dogs, some on their backs with their paws in the air, others laying on their sides, but not a single dog was awake! Apparently, even the dogs of Spain realize the wisdom of taking a siesta!
Jenny once again brought a puppy to me to care for, the sister of the puppy who had died the day before. She was definitely sick, but not as bad off as her sister had been. I placed an IV catheter and started fluids. I checked the little pup's blood glucose and was alarmed to see that it was too low to read on our glucometer! The puppy had been vomiting and had diarrhea from a very heavy infestation of worms. I gave her a number of medications and left her on fluids. We also were brought a very badly bitten victim of a pack attack. Sadly, this poor sweet galga's wounds were too severe to put her through repairing them. Even if we'd had all the pain drugs in the world, her recovery would have been questionable. She was a sweet and beautiful fawn girl, and I wept as I euthanized her.
We performed quite a few castrations that day as well as a few spays and the amputation. Jason and I spent some time that evening visiting with Jeff and Jenny and then returned to the hotel. We went to a little pizza place just outside of Plaza Major called Pizza Roma and enjoyed a really awesome cheese pizza.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005: We were delighted to see Rico doing so well when we arrived in the morning. As soon as he was put back with his fellow patio dwellers he got right back in the swing of things. As with the other mornings we checked our patients first thing and were pleased to see everyone doing well. The sick puppy I was treating was doing okay, no better, no worse, so I continued with her treatments and IV fluids.
We spayed a pregnant hunting dog (a sad thing to have to do, but with so many dogs already needing homes, it was the right thing), and performed a few other dog spays and neuters, and also castrated a bunch of kittens. We had to euthanize a very sick cat, and treated a number of other cats for various problems. Two of our team members called an early day and went to visit the famous Castillo Leon, while Jason and stayed to continue working on spays and neuters.
Jason and I left Scooby at about 7:45pm that evening to go into town. I wandered through Medina Del Campo and visited a lovely leather goods store, then walked over to Pizza Roma for a take-out dinner. Jason went back to Scooby to spend some time with Jeff and Jenny.
Thursday, October 20, 2005: Our last day. Our teammates left for Madrid in the morning, and Jason and I decided to get a later start in the day and work through the night, as we would be leaving for the airport at 1am to make my 7am flight. We performed a number of kitty spays and neuters and spent the afternoon and evening checking on all of our previous patients. We wrote instructions for their further care, cleaned up the surgery suite, bathed the dogs we would be taking with us, and spent time with the friends we had made.
Maria Jose is an amazing lady. She works nonstop caring for 500+ dogs and cats, and yet manages to see each one as an individual, unlike many others who become jaded working in shelter settings. Her compassion is not only admirable, it is something to strive for. I only wish I had been able to spend more time with her.
We were fortunate enough to spend some time with Fermin that evening. He is an incredibly busy man, I can't believe he even finds time to sleep. Despite the late hour, Fermin joined us in the kitchen and talked with us about Scooby, the state of animal welfare in Spain, and many other things. I have been reading Fermin's letters for many years, but I never knew how great the man was until I actually met him. He has a gruff exterior, but inside the man is a very comapssionate, very impassioned individual. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Fermin is that he doesn't seem to lose hope. �Don't worry, be happy" were words he spoke to us many times. Despite the tragedies that happen so frequently, Fermin seems to take more from the positive things that transpire than from the negative.
Unfortunately, the time came for us to leave. We packed our suitcases, 2 dog crates (Jason had decided to take a galgo mix puppy home), and 2 dogs into Jeff's small sedan, and set out for Madrid. The drive was without event, and we arrived unscathed at the Madrid airport. We unloaded, assembled the crates, walked the dogs, and waited for the ticket desk to open at 5:30am.
Friday, October 21, 2005: And now the adventure begins. My flight on British Airways was scheduled to depart at 7am. Jason was scheduled to fly out with Jake and Jolene on US Airways at 1pm. As US Airways doesn't allow pets as cargo, Jason's dog, Peekito, was travelling with me. So there Jason and I stood at the British Airways desk, sad to be leaving Scooby, but ready to see our families and homes, and most definitely ready to sleep! Unfortunately, the airline had other things in mind for us. The crate we had gotten for Inigo from Scooby was too short, he was unable to stand and fully raise his head, so we were not allowed to board. We waited to speak with the manager who was going to try to help us, but unfortunately, they could not allow him to fly.
A wonderful BA clerk, Soledad, made it her mission to get Inigo on a flight. She talked with other airlines, called her husband, spoke with dozens of people, trying to get an airline that would take him, or a box that was big enough. It was at some point during this that I finally lost it. I simply was not going to leave my sweet Inigo behind! Only once was the suggestion made by one of my teammates that I have him shipped later. Most people who know me can attest to the fact that I am nothing if not stubborn, and no one was more determined to get him home than I was. Therefore, I would not be leaving without him! What was one more day away from home, compared to losing Inigo? So I decided to wait until the next day to fly.
One of Soledad's coworkers was able to find a KLM Airlines person who was willing to sell a jumbo crate for an ungodly price. Fortunately, I was able to get the crate from them, and then make alternate plans before paying for it! Jason, a truly awesome friend, changed his ticket to fly the next day as well so that I wouldn't have to stay in Madrid alone. We took the dogs and all of our luggage to the lower level of the terminal to set up camp. I was too antsy to sleep, despite my desperate need for it (remember, I'd been up since 9am the day before). I wandered the airport trying to take care of various things, and waited for it to get to a decent hour in Colorado so I could call home with the delightful news. I also decided to call Scooby and beg for their help. Once again, these incredible folks came through and said they would bring a larger crate.
Jason slept with Peekito in his crate off and on, and I paced nervously, I finally laid down for about an hour, then woke up and decided to try to clean myself up a bit. In case you ever wanted to know, the hand dryers in bathrooms actually do a very good job drying hair! At last, midnight rolled around, and I went upstairs with Inigo to meet Fermin, who had with him the most enormous crate I had ever seen! Fermin helped us put the crate together, then sat down with us for coffee. We spent a little time chatting with him, and then he had to leave
Saturday, October 22, 2005: We both took a catnap and woke up just in time to run the crates and dogs and suitcases back upstairs to the ticket desk. Soledad was there waiting for us. We whisked the dogs off to the far end of the terminal, sedated them (OOPS) and I jumped in line to go through security. Ironically, Inigo's new crate was too big to fit down the baggage belt and had to be specially loaded.
Soledad was also at the gate taking tickets, and she got tears in her eyes when she told me that both dogs were on the plane. We hugged, and then I was down the ramp and onto the plane. I am fairly certain I was asleep before the plane began to taxi.
The plane landed in London 2 and a half-hours later, and I was immediately in the customer service line to find out how the dogs were doing. The clerk helping me called the quarantine area, and then proceeded to get an alarmed look on her face as she conversed with the person on the other end of the line. I felt my stomach drop to my toes, certain that something horrible had happened. When she got off the phone she informed me that Peekito would not be allowed to fly if his sedation did not wear off that sedation, in fact, was not allowed. He had four hours to come out of it!
So I found myself wandering another airport terminal, near panic. I tried to get my mind off of the matter, but nothing would work. Finally, I was able to check in again on the dogs (after wearing quite a path in the floor from my pacing), and was informed that both dogs were awake and cleared to fly! So with that, I went to my gate and waited to board. Upon seating myself on the airplane, I asked the flight attendant to make sure both dogs were on the plane. When I got the affirmative, I practically slid into a coma, waking long enough to eat, and then went right back to sleep, all the way to Denver.