As you may have seen in my pictures from Fiji, our family recently grew by four legs. After all, when traveling, why buy another t-shirt when you can bring home a live souvenir instead?
Feeling accomplished after leading our first Bula Wellness Retreat, James (the boyfriend) and Sarah (my retreat co-host and dear friend) and I had a few days scheduled to just relax. Sitting poolside that evening enjoying a few Fiji Bitters, the topic of conversation turned to our pets… as it often does… and so out came the phones to show pictures.
(Enter Ally, an amazing lady who works at Koro Sun Resort, and is a BIG animal lover. Ally had been taking leftover food down the road to a mama dog who just had her third litter of pups.)
As Ally ooh-ed and aww-ed at our pet pics, she mentioned that the puppies down the road sure looked a lot like our two dogs, and that there happened to be only one puppy left, the runt of the litter, who needed a home…
Me: wide-eyed, monkey-with-hands-covering-mouth emoji: “Babe!! Don’t worry, we won’t just freak out and adopt any dog, it has to be THE RIGHT dog for us. It would be nuts to try to get a dog back from Fiji. We’ll just go see him for fun!”
James: concerned look on face.
Sarah: jumping up and down in the background squealing “PUPPIES!”
The next morning we walked with Ally on her daily food visit to the dogs. The mama dog Bubbie was waiting patiently at the top of the hill. As soon as Ally gave a shout out to the puppy she was calling Roly Poly, he came out from a bush, butt-wiggling tail-wagging toward us, and I was toast. I started crying. I knew he was our puppy. It had to happen.
We knew this was a potentially ridiculous and difficult task to take on, that wasn’t even guaranteed to work out. But it was one of those moments. A moment with a choice; to be safe, and possibly smarter, and definitely easier… or to dive into the crazy pool head-first because it makes you feel so much more alive.
Would it be easier to sit on a sun-drenched beach for a few more days by ourselves? Would it be smarter to look for an older dog to adopt, who possibly lived on the same continent where we lived? Would it be safer to not fall in love with this little Roly Poly puppy? Possibly… but in that moment James and I talked about how we WANT that life of crazy decisions, wild rides, and a big ol’ family full of paws.
It wasn’t an easy process, but we wanted to take it on. Thankfully Ally had gone through all the steps a few times before, sending two other Fiji dogs who needed homes back to the USA with new parents in just the months before.
Because the thing is, dogs in Fiji don’t always have it so great. Although some people do have pets that they love and care for, most animals don’t get spayed/neutered, so there end up being MANY that don’t receive care, or worse, become strays. The Vet in town told us that the stray dogs problem is often “taken care of” with weed killer, which the dogs eat and die a slow and painful death. Many dogs will cower if you kneel down to say hello because they think you are picking up a rock to throw at them. Again, this isn’t the case for everyone - we met people with pets that are very loved and well taken care of, but unfortunately the overpopulation is a big problem.
Our Roly Poly wasn’t a stray - his mama Bubbie belonged to a lovely lady named Lo. But Bubbie kept getting pregnant, and Lo simply couldn’t afford to fix her, or feed all those pups.
So we asked Lo of it would be alright to adopt Roly Poly to give him a brighter future, and get mama dog Bubbie spayed so she could take a rest from birthin’ all those babies. She accepted. We changed our flights and began the process, which I’ll break down into three steps, just on the off-chance you find yourself on an island looking to bring home a new friend:
1. Get a phone.
There’s no way we could have done this without the use of a phone line that we could make all the local calls we needed to. If your phone doesn’t work internationally, get on that plan or buy a local cell phone and a lot of minutes.
2. Get a crate.
We needed to secure an FAA-approved carrier that he could travel in. (Just FYI - You can potentially bring a dog in the cabin as well, but you’ll need to get a separate certification for this, airline approval, as well as having a dog that will remain calm for 10 hours on a flight. Since he was a puppy, we decided that although scary, below-decks was the best option here.) Being from the Savusavu area, Ally has a network of people she knows that all love animals, and she was ESSENTIAL to making this happen for us. She made calls for several hours before we found a lead on the crate; One had just flown in from the states the day before, with an American expat bringing his small dog to live in Fiji. The problem was, it was on a different island. But Ally made some calls and had it flown in to Savusavu on the next flight.
3. Vet Visit & Vaccinations for travel.
Luckily there is a Veterinary office in nearby Savusavu run by Animals Fiji. It’s currently manned by an incredible couple that travels the world living aboard their sailboat, stopping for months at a time in different ports to do Veterinary work. They were able to get us set up to bring Roly Poly into the states with ease, with a few vaccinations and a microchip. And since Fiji is a rabies-free country, there would be no quarantine time on entry.
4. Get a spot on the flight.
Coming from some countries you may not be able to simply reserve a spot for your dog carrier online. One last tricky step was contacting a cargo company that could facilitate the transport in the carry-hold of our Fiji Airways flights; but again, Ally helped us immensely by giving us all the right contacts, and helping us with every call and appointment.
Luckily we had a few days to accomplish all this!
But we had this ridiculously adorable new little guy with us running around Fiji and it was an absolute blast.
Roly Poly needed a new name for his new life, but one that kept his Fiji roots in mind. Enter this guy: Solo, who I call the Fijian Superman. He became one of my favorite people in Fiji on my first trip there, after he taught me every possible thing you could do with a coconut. We are lucky to have him lead many of the adventures around the island for the retreat. He's a wealth of knowledge, has a contagious laugh, and is an incredible human. And so Roly Poly became Solo.
After an extremely tearful goodbye with our Koro Sun friends, a nail-biting journey across the Pacific, and an even more frustrating run-around of driving to different warehouses to fill out entry paperwork and pay fees at LAX, Solo stepped onto American soil. Seventeen hours in a crate, but completely unfazed and happy.
And the puppy adventures continue as we integrate him into our pack!
Thanks for reading our story. Side note, if anyone wants to puppy-sit... we've got our hands full with this little rascal!
Want to help? Animals Fiji has a wish-list of things needed at their clinics, and we are taking as much as we can for them on our next retreat trip in May. Check out their list, and get in touch with me if you'd like to help! You can also make a direct donation online to this great organization.