July 20, 2011

Southern Dog's Northern Exposure

by Judith Bechtum, DVM

Neyra has exchanged her Amazon Rainforest digs for a rambler in central Minnesota; her life as an 'unadoptable' shelter dog for life on a fifty-acre farm with Gracie (an 85-pound Lab cross), six assorted
house cats, three tough barn cats, three horses, 10 chickens, and John and Judith. Her favorite pastime has gone from hiding in the dirt corner of the shelter to chasing squirrels in the oak woods. Who would have guessed that she really loves burying her nose in the snow sniffing out squirrels and mice, that she could adapt so well to the cold and snow, and that she could become (as someone who knew her in her past life says), "so confident" and lively?

Neyra at Amazon CARES No-Kill Shelter
I met Neyra in October 2010 at the Amazon CARES No-Kill Shelter on the banks of the Itaya, a tributary of the Amazon River that runs past Cabo Lopez in Iquitos, Peru.  It took over a week for Neyra to allow me to approach the corner of the shelter she'd chosen for her refuge.  We had been on a sterilization campaign for Amazon CARES and were very busy in Iquitos that week; the only time I really had for myself was early morning, before Joel and his moto-taxi brigade arrived to carry us to the Amazon CARES clinic and our day's work.  Wandering around the Rio Itaya banks and the shelter grounds, taking photographs and soaking in the Amazon forest, I noticed the small gray brindle dog trying to be invisible in the corner of the building. She wouldn't come when called and with her ears down and her belly to the ground, she wasn't inviting interaction.  Several visits later and some cookies from an Amazon village, Neyra started to come a few feet toward me when coaxed.

As an older (7 or 8 years), reclusive, fear-biting dog, Neyra had little chance of adoption. Amazon CARES had captured her on the street five years earlier, spayed and treated her for parasites and released her back to her neighborhood. Later, they discovered that she seemed to be staying in an area where perhaps her previous owners had lived. So CARES relocated her to the shelter, where she had lived for several years.

I had struggled with the idea of adopting an Amazon dog, but knew we had more than enough pets at home. The logistics were problematic, too, since I had two weeks in Cusco, Peru before I headed home to North America.  But maybe it was fatigue, or wonder at the cornucopia of truly nice dogs in Iquitos, or perhaps  it was the resemblance Neyra had to Alice and Spec, two older female dogs who had come my way over the years in Minnesota...I talked to CARES Director, Molly Mednikow, about adopting Neyra.

If Neyra could talk, is this what she would say?   "I had a wonderful life with my human family in Iquitos; I loved to be scratched, to ride in the moto-taxi and walk on a leash, to have my belly rubbed. Something happened, though, and I lost my family. Then I lived alone, always worrying about my future and always frightened. I didn't trust anyone, and I had no friends until Amazon CARES found me. They were nice to me and fed me and were gentle, but they had many dogs to care for and still I felt alone. One day, the woman from Minnesota talked to me. Soon she gave me treats and coaxed me out of my hiding place. She asked Gustavo if I was tame enough to pick up. Molly was pleased that someone wanted me to be part of their family, and even though I had to fly in an airplane to Atlanta and try to learn to be housetrained and was very stressed and frightened, she put me on another plane to Minnesota.

Neyra and her new friend, Grace
"For the first few days my feet got cold and I shivered. Judith tried to dress me in booties and a coat, but I was very intimidated and wasn't sure I could trust her. Her big dog, Grace, was very welcoming and we played and she taught me to look for squirrels and to run and pounce in the snow. 

Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland
Neyra, the Snow Dog
"The house cats frightened me, so I rushed them and growled, but Judith said NO! and I have learned to accept most of them. The horses are big, but not frightening. The chickens are VERY interesting. I am not totally housebroken, but I get treats when I do well and I LIKE treats. Judith and John's friends and niece all think I am cute and allow me time to come to them for scratching. Life is not so bad in the frozen Northland!"


  1. Neyra, for the short time we took care of you in Atlanta, I got attached to you with your sweet face, captivity eyes and innocent soul. We are happy (very) that you found a wonderful family and a forever sweet home. This is totally priceless to me... There is no such a heartfelt moment like this one - Seeing you happy.

  2. A beautiful happy new-beginning for Neyra! You have a very loving and generous new mommy to take care of you forever now. Bless you and bless your new mommy for loving you & taking a leap of faith with you! Thanks for sharing this wonderful and heart-warming story!


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