It was before the age of Facebook and Instagram and FaceTime when I decided to go to vet school in a developing country far, far away...
I had no idea what going to vet school in Grenada, WI looked like. Would I love it? Would I hate it? What were the locals like? What would the other students be like?
What I discovered, was one of the most beautiful islands on the planet...
When I arrived for the first time at Maurice Bishop International Airport, we disembarked the plane outside, on the runway. Fifteen years later, I can still remember the smell of the "spice island" and the way that the tropical air felt with a breeze that you could feel and also hear because of the palm trees.
I arrived in Grenada at night, not knowing a single soul... I had JUST graduated from college and was faced with celebrating my 22nd birthday on an island in the middle of the Caribbean with no friends or family and I was ok with it. This was the ultimate adventure... and I am so glad that I did it...
I walked out of the airport that night and saw the lines of reggae buses with drivers looking to take you to your destination. All of them calling to you with their infectious accents-it was overwhelming in a perfect way. And then I saw the school van with the sign for students that would be living in the dorms at Grand Anse beach-that was me! And suddenly, my life was changing just as quickly as I could throw my luggage into the back of this bus and rumble along the road to my dorm room at Grand Anse.
It was dark and late when I arrived in Grenada, so my first impression of the island was limited by my position in the van wedged in between 10 other students and the street lights along the windy road from the airport.
When we arrived at the dorms, it was very clear that this was not actually a dorm, but an old hotel that was converted into dorm rooms. I unpacked my belongings by the light of a very dim ceiling light and made note of the loud air conditioning unit that was dripping water rhythmically onto the floor. This was not quite the 4 bedroom townhouse that I shared with my best girlfriends in Blacksburg. This was the single room with one bathroom that I would share with a stranger from California.
I made my bed quickly and fell into the type of sleep that comes from physical and emotional exhaustion.
Had I made a mistake in coming here? Would my roommate and I get along? Why was I paying so much money to live in this run-down, old hotel? All of these thoughts and more accompanied me as I fell asleep for the first time on the island that I would come to know as a second home.
After a long sleep, I was awakened by the sounds of women speaking loudly, with beautiful Carribean voices and the sound of pots and pans clinking loudly. There was also the smell of food with spices that I was unaccustomed to smelling wafting into the room. And the heat from the equatorial sun was trying to make its way in through the heavy hotel curtains. I stirred and sleepily took in this information and then was jolted awake with the remembrance that, yes, I was in a foreign country! Time to explore!!!! I jumped up and ran to the sliding glass door that I noticed last night, but had not investigated. I pulled the curtain and my breath was literally taken away.
I was right next to, quite possibly, the most beautiful beach I had ever seen. Grand Anse Beach. I had read a little about this place before my arrival, but as I mentioned before, it was before the time of social media, so I was shocked and delighted at what I saw before me. One of the longest stretches of beach in the Carribean, perfect sand, and the magical port capital of St George with mountains as a backdrop were right before my eyes.
And the women and the food? These were the "ladies". They made lunch on the beach every weekday and it was delicious.
And there were dogs. So many dogs.
These were not black labs chasing the ball on the beach as if we were in the Outer Banks. These were different dogs. They had agendas. They were scrounging around for food in the trash cans, the dumpsters, and around the "ladies". They would get as close as they could to these women that were making delicious-smelling food before being shooed away. They were on the beach following tourists and using their adorable faces to charm their way into a snack and, in some instances, into a cushy new life...
These dogs were hardy, they were resourceful, they were determined, and they were tenacious. But I also came to find out that these dogs, known as "Pothounds", were the most loving and loyal and intelligent dogs I had ever known.
As the days went on, I learned that Grand Anse beach had a crew of dogs, a true pack of wild, beach dogs. There was the main dog in charge, "Gramps"-he was born without teeth, there was "Socks" who was dainty and beautiful, there was "Pinky" who was all white and was such a love bug, and there was "Little Bi***y" who was, well, kind of a "B" :)
But the dog in this pack that stood out for me, was the dog that would eventually become my "lifetime dog". It was Chewy.
Wild Beach Dog Chewy on the campus at Grand Anse Beach.
Chewy was tall, he was handsome, he was wild, and he came by his name honestly. He would greet me and my roommate, M (who turned into my very best friend) at the bus stop every day after class with a mischievous look in his eye and his body ready to pounce. He thought it was hilarious to chase M (who was 90lbs soaking wet) from the bus all the way to the dorm doors, gnawing on her hands and arms the whole way. Secretly, I agreed with him that this was hilarious, even though M didn't think so :)
And that is how he got the name, Chewy.
Over the course of the first semester, Chewy and I developed a bond that could never be broken. I would sneak him into the dorm as often as I could without getting caught. He would walk to the grocery store and local bars with us and keep us company... but the moments that cemented our bond happened when I would go the beach every night before bed and look at the incredible place that I was lucky enough to live in and take stock of my day.
There were many nights when I was lonely, missing my family and friends, frustrated with school, sad about relationships, etc. And I would find myself going to the beach and spending time there and feeling better.
Because Chewy was there.
He lived on that beach and when he saw me heading to the spot on the water right in front of the dorm, he would join me. Sometimes he would be playful and want to run and other times, he would pick up on my mood and sit quietly with me. But there was always one constant.
He was my protector on that beach.
He had decided that I was his person long before I even knew that I was. He was so smart...
Anytime a person would walk by that seemed suspicious at all, he would "encourage" them to keep it moving past me... and he did a great job. I never felt unsafe when he was by my side. And then I would say goodnight to him and go upstairs to my dorm room and he would go curl up in a hole in the sand and we would repeat the next day.
This was all wonderful EXCEPT... the semester was coming to an end... and I was heading home for the summer and I started to panic. What was Chewy going to do? How could I leave him now? The Ladies wouldn't be cooking in the summer because the students wouldn't be there and I wouldn't be feeding him... how was he going to eat?
So, I made the phone call (at $1.50/minute)...
"Mom! Hi! You're never going to believe this... I found this awesome dog here that I love and he's basically mine now, so can I bring him home with me in 2 weeks?" ... Crickets.
"I don't think so, Courtney"...
And my heart sank. And I knew that this would be her answer for so many good reasons from my parent's perspective.... how could I convince her that this dog was special? That he wouldn't chew up the oriental rugs? Or try to kill the cats? I couldn't because I didn't know...
What I did know, however, was that I loved him. And every fiber of my being knew that he was MY dog and I was HIS person and that leaving him for the summer would be one of the hardest things I would ever have to do.
And I did it. And it was hell.
I thought about Chewy every, single day of that summer. I thought of him going to the doors of that dorm and waiting for me to come down. I thought of him waiting at the bus stop for M and me to get back from class. And I thought of him searching through dumpsters and trash cans to get scraps of food after having had pieces of my meals handed to him for months.
To say I was excited to get back to the island and find him was the understatement of the century.
M and I had decided to rent a house off campus and Chewy could come live with me!
So, I landed at the airport, got the car that we would be leasing that semester and jetted off to Grand Anse beach to find my boy!
But he wasn't there.
And he wasn't there the next day or the day after that.
Each day I arrived with the most delicious food I could find and searched the beach, the grocery store, the campus, and even further into town.
Every day after class I went. For 2 weeks. And each day I cried. I had abandoned him and he died because of me. I had betrayed his trust and now he paid the price. I couldn't believe that this had happened. I was devastated.
And then I remember it just like it was yesterday. The phone rang and M answered it... she called into my room me to tell me I had a phone call... it was my boyfriend at the time calling to tell me that he had "found my dog"...
I have never moved so quickly in my life. I was in the Isuzu jeep and driving down the road with tears streaming down my face. I was so excited to see him and to tell him I was sorry for leaving him and promise him that it would never happen again!
And I arrived at Grand Anse and felt the full gamut of emotions from elation about seeing him and then heartbreak at the condition he was in. My Chewy, the tall, handsome, strong boy with the beautiful markings was emaciated to the point of being close to death. I could see each bone in his body, his coat was rough and ragged, and his eyes were dull and distant. He was standing there, using every ounce of strength he had, eating chicken that my boyfriend had bought for him.
I ran over to him and threw my arms around him and cried and apologized and he barely recognized me. He was in very, very rough shape.
I still have his medical records from the first time I brought him into the GSPCA. He weighed 37 pounds at the time, which if you knew him at his healthiest, he should've weighed more like 70 pounds. He was Heartworm positive, Ehrlichia positive, and he was weak and tired.
Dr L of the GSPCA was the clinician that treated him and she would come to be one of my favorite people in Grenada and one of the professors that I respected the most. Chewy and I spent some time at the GSPCA getting him back to full health and I am forever grateful for the help and expertise that they provided to treat him for Heartworm disease, manage his tick-borne illness, and also neuter him:)
As a second term student, I couldn't have done any of these things for Chewy without them.
The Grenada SPCA works very closely with the vet school at SGU and students do rotations through the hospital to learn clinical skills, surgical skills, animal husbandry, community outreach, etc. The wonderful people that work there are devoted, kind, and relentless in their pursuit of a good life for these island dogs.
Their job is not easy as much of the population of the island does not view pets the same as we do in the USA. Many of the locals view dogs and cats as pests and they sometimes treat them in horrific ways.
When I was a student there, I saw two dogs that came in for machete wounds-one to the bridge of the nose and one straight through the spine. We also had a disturbingly high number of dogs that were hit by cars as some drivers would actually AIM for these dogs that were trotting alongside the road.
The wonderful people of the GSPCA spend their time and energy trying to change the mindset of the Grenadian people through outreach and education and they do an INCREDIBLE job! My heart is so full when I see locals adopting shelter dogs and cats to take them into their homes and make them a part of their families.
I love Grenada. I love the Grenadian people. And I LOVE the Grenadian Pothounds.
Brian had, obviously, come to know of the Pothound by way of his love for Chewy, but he also had the opportunity to learn about the awesome dogs of Grenada when we went back to the island for me to teach 3 years in a row. Brian got to experience the dogs of Grand Anse beach. He got to see them trotting along the road... and it was so special because he could see firsthand where Chewy was from and what made him so special.
And this is why, after Chewy passed, when Brian and I saw Bentley St George's little face on the GSPCA Facebook page, we knew we had to have him.
We knew that even if there was the smallest bit of Chewy's DNA in him, he would be an incredible dog. And even if there technically wasn't, the DNA of the Pothound was more than enough.
We also knew that Chewy would've wanted us to give another beach dog a home and to keep his legacy alive with a puppy from the island that the 3 of us love so dearly...
So, we messaged the GSPCA on Facebook and they held him for us. And they sent us updates and pictures and they were incredible to work with through the whole adoption process.
Bentley was left in a cardboard box with his siblings outside the door of the GSPCA. And his mom was tied to a car beside them. How could anyone do this? We still struggle to understand this, but we are also relieved that the GSPCA has done enough community outreach that the owners of these beautiful pups knew that they would be cared for in the hands of these awesome people.
And when we arrived and met, L, in person, we felt so much happiness that we had made this decision. She was the adoption coordinator for Bentley's adoption and she lives and breathes the GSPCA. She has a wonderful team around her and we feel so encouraged by their efforts to get these beautiful dogs into loving homes.
I make a lot of jokes and comments about Bentley being a naughty and willful puppy, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Although it seems like Chewy was so well-behaved and calm and easygoing, he wasn't always that way. He was naughty too he turned into the most wonderful dog a girl could have ever asked for...
Bentley is willful and stubborn and, at times, annoying, but he brings us so much joy and laughter. He brought life back into our house when it felt like we couldn't ever live and laugh again.
So, thank you to the GSPCA for being the wonderful team of caring individuals that you are. You will always have our love and support and a piece of our hearts... Always, BCCB...