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Back to Blighty with a bump! Puppies to Covid-19

We are home and so the adventure had to come to an end. We cant believe where those three months went! It seems like only yesterday we were planning how we were going to raise the funds needed. Can we please say a massive thank you to everyone that donated and supported our volunteering stint. We are so grateful to each one of you who helped us to have an amazing adventure. We healed ourselves, the dogs and puppies and survived a global pandemic hidden away behind 8 ft fences for as long as we did.

It started with a rough crossing on the ferry and ended up with a mad road trip to cross the border. We had to get back into the UK like Indiana Jones before further restrictions took hold during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Ferry Cap Finistere
Cap Finistere, Brittany Ferries

Lockdown Blues

We really hoped to post more about nearby locations, little towns as well as stories of the dogs as we went along. We planned to investigate the area on our down time. This didn’t happen (except for one trip to Mar Menor) as just after our arrival the whole world went into various stages of lock-down. This had a severe impact on the rescue centre. Having not encountered anything like this before no one really knew how to react. Most of the volunteers followed the advice of their countries government recommendations to return asap. Suddenly the centre went from 13 volunteers plus a few staff to just 3 volunteers and a few staff. We were pulling close to 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week most of the time we were there.

With the centre holding over 200 dogs this put an immense strain on the running of the shelter. Seeing as we had our house on wheels – and what it seemed at the time like it would be a short lockdown, we decided to stay and help for as long as we could. We were hopeful we would bridge the gap until the volunteers were able to return again.

We had no idea how severe the pandemic would become but knew we were safe where we were. The kennels were 5 miles from the nearest town and surrounded by fruit and pepper farms. Our groceries were bought in for us and we had all the facilities we needed there to keep us safe. It seemed like we would be more at risk to try and get home as the ferries had stopped running.

What did we learn?

We both have experience of working with rescue dogs in the UK. Volunteering with Tina at GDS has taught us so much more than we ever expected. From medical conditions we don’t see often in the UK such as Leishmania to working with breeds of dog that we had never worked with before such as Galgos, Mastines and Podencos. There was dog training to undertake and also ground works to maintain.

Emma and Fiji, Galgos del sol
Fiji, A Mastine

We don’t know where to start with telling you about our experience but what we do know, is how we want to move forward. It was incredible and we would do it again in a heart beat. We would also recommend others consider volunteering if you ever get the chance.

It has been a healing, rewarding, humbling and educational experience. I was craving something before we left in February, I felt like I hadn’t given enough. I wanted to do something worthwhile and we both found that at GDS. From rearing day old puppies, helping a dog overcome agoraphobia and falling in love with a dog that has a broken back, it has been a real adventure and we feel like we had the opportunity to learn, grow and give back with the skills we have to help the lives of these dogs.

So where does that leave us now? Well, currently day 6 of self isolation. It has been a blessing because it gives us a chance to research, learn and make plans for the future. We will reveal those plans shortly but we want to show you what we have been up to first!

Here is our first instalment – The ups and downs of raising puppies.

On 9th March, just 2 weeks after we had arrived and still finding our feet, Tina had set off on a rescue mission. Reports had come in that a pregnant Galgo had been spotted on some land. Although they had been out to try and find her many times, she had evaded capture. That morning, a call had come in that she had been spotted by a house. She had dug a hole and given birth to a litter of puppies. The mum was very thin and it was unlikely that the puppies would survive without intervention.

A short while later, Tina arrived with the mum and pups and their health was poor. One puppy in particular was looking very weak and cold. Tina quickly passed him to us and asked us to try and warm him up but not to hold out too much hope. Little Pablo fit in the palm of our hands. We gathered heat pads, heat lamps and towels, puppy milk and cotton buds. His face was covered in dirt but he was alive.

We managed to clean his mouth and nose out carefully. He was cold and refused to drink. Over the next two hours we battled to save him. We gave him CPR and mouth to mouth when he stopped breathing. We tried to revive him many times, a few times successfully, but sadly he was just weak. His life was short, but we was loved. He died in our hands despite everything we tried.

Pablo one day old puppy galgos del sol
Pablo, Fighting for his life. 1 day old.

We couldn’t mourn for long, the rest of the litter needed us.

The rest of the puppies were now our priority and over the coming weeks, until the day we left, we were responsible for them. It wasn’t an easy road for them either. Mum was so underweight that she didn’t have any milk and was unable to feed her babies. The vet came and gave her some medication to stimulate her milk production. We needed to feed the whole litter day and night until she was able to take over. This involved many late night room service trips to feed the remaining puppies on top of our day shifts. We worked non stop.

When Nerina (the mum) did manage to feed her babies again we noticed the pups were becoming ill. With wounds appearing on their feet like they had been burned with acid. In places, their skin was peeling off.  It took several trips to the vets to be able to diagnose the cause of the problem. Nerina had a nasty infection and was very poorly. She was passing the infection to her puppies through her milk.

Checking the puppies one morning we found that due to the infection, one puppy had lost a toe. She was at risk of losing her whole foot, if not her life. Treatment was started which meant mum was again unable to feed her pups. Nerina had to be removed from her puppies for a short time. As a mother, she was desperate to get back to her babies. Her health improved and as soon as possible, she was successfully reunited with her litter.

It takes a village to raise a litter!

Hand feeding puppies
Cortina, being bottle fed by Louise

Most of our time spent with them in the early days was medicating, bathing wounds, applying cream and feeding the puppies. Mum was starting to gain weight and was tolerant of us both handling her pups although wary at first. Once she was used to us and trusted us, she soon welcomed the surrogate nannies. Nerina would take the opportunity to go for a walk and relax outside whilst we took over and she could have 3 meals a day in peace without puppies hanging off of her very sore nipples.

Pupdate

Now, the puppies are doing so well. They have changed so much and developed such amazing characters. Being able to work with these puppies from just 1 day old has enabled us to learn so much. Although we have fostered many puppies in our past, we have never had them from this young and so poorly. It was such an amazing moment to go in one morning and see that Mini (aka Mini-Milk), the puppy with the missing toe, had her eyes open. Of all the puppies that were bigger and stronger than her, it was Mini that opened her eyes first. We got to see their ears open, their mouths change shape and their noses elongate.

Now they are playing, excited, growing so fast and learning life experience by annoying each other. It has been such a turbulent journey. They had the first part of their vaccines, which made them feel poorly for a few days and been wormed. Saying that, I think Louise and myself ended up with more wormer on us than in the puppies!

Although the story of the puppies has been full of highs and lows, we know that because of Tina, her dedication and our efforts to keep them alive, they will now go on to lead happy, healthy lives.

Amazing transformation of pups from 1 day to 9 weeks old.


Why did we leave?

Simply put, we didn’t want to. We have already extended our original term and enabled the centre to have our help and support for the time that we could. We had family back home that were all dealing with their own struggles, from lock down related worries to all the things that go on in normal life. Being in another country to them was already hard but we face timed regularly and tried to be present for each of them.

It was becoming apparent that we were really needed back at home and had already started to look at options to return. We were hopeful it would be in the next few months as the already strict legislation’s in Spain were starting to be relaxed. You could get up to a 30,000 euro fine at the time we left for being out unnecessarily if stopped by the authorities.  

Ferries were still not running and the company constantly saying they would be restarting, then cancelling and delaying sailings again. We had started to look into alternative travel and had some hard decisions to make. Either leave the van in Spain and fly home, putting ourselves at risk in an airport and taking only essential items with us OR drive through France and catch the Eurotunnel that was still working.

A hard decision

On the Monday evening, reports that the borders were actually going to be tightening were making the news and rumblings that as of the Friday at midnight, mandatory quarantine at the borders would be enforced. This would potentially involve us being put into the sports complexes and arenas that we have watched being transformed into make shift hospitals over the last few months and was not somewhere we wanted to end up down the line.

We had a tough choice to make. Leave first thing in the morning and drive home, getting us home Friday afternoon if all went smoothly, or wait and be sent to a medical facility both ends of France causing a month delay in getting home. The risk of being thrown into an area with thousands of people from who knows where, that have been in contact with who knows what was unbearable. We have been kept so safe up until now, that we certainly didn’t want to risk being infected at the quarantine facility. We really had no option but to drive home through the tunnel. It was the safest option.

We cried most of the way home, stopping only to plan how we could see the dogs again. So much hard work and effort has gone into building GDS over the years, a lot of hardship, loss, sleepless nights and financial input, to make it what it is today. We have been forever changed and inspired by Tina, Nomi and the team at GDS and want to build something in the UK to make them proud.

Plans are afoot!

Louise and I will explain more in our next update but for now, just know we are home, safe and sound, missing the dogs and so humbled by our experience there. Check out our videos and don’t forget to share our posts to help us reach a wider audience and support our next project.

Once again, a massive thank you to everyone who donated and helped us have the most amazing time, full of hard work and long days but it was so rewarding.

If you can, please donate to our next project – it is a big one, and will be in the canine welfare sector. Paypal Link paypal.me/VanLifeDiary

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