How I became an International Dog Mule

Dog rescue flight

Claire Monash                                                      

Before you read any further, let me preface this article by assuring all the extremely politically correct persons that my official title is “Flight Angel.”  Nevertheless, just uttering “International Dog Mule” grants me two seconds of being a Bond Girl, which, in some ways it was.

Like many of you who might live in chilly and wet winter climates, I love to travel to glorious sun-filled places surrounded by warm waters. Mexico has an extra special place in my heart. Not only is the weather perfect, but I always visit The Jungle Place ( an absolutely amazing spider monkey sanctuary run by Heidi and Joel who have devoted their lives to helping spider monkeys in need.

The Mexican sanctuaries and shelters simply cannot keep up with all the unwanted, injured and hungry animals.  There is a familiar scene on our holiday we know too well.  We eat dinner in an outdoor cafe while starving dogs wait patiently in hope that someone will share their dinner with them.  It is heart wrenching.

We come home from our holidays sun-kissed and relaxed, but that haunting image of malnourished animals lingers. You wish you were able to take them all home with you.   You think to yourself “ What can I do, how can I help?” You do some research, send money, volunteer and even sometimes bring one or two lovely pups back with you, but like myself, you want to do more. Here is one way you are able to do more, which brings me to how I became an International Dog Mule for the organization Take A Chance On (TACO) Dog Rescue.

There are plenty of direct flights from Vancouver to many Mexican destinations.  You might go once, twice of even three times in one year.  Small bag packed, book in hand as you board the plane ready for your holiday. Time passes as you listen to the meditative waves and let the stress wash away.  Vacation ends you head back to work tanned and refreshed but heavy hearted knowing that the dogs you saw might only have days to survive on the streets.

It is reported that there is one stray dog for every seven humans in Mexico. There are very few resources to spay/neuter and vaccinate and even remotely enrich the lives of these lovely dogs.  Yet, in the meantime almost everyone I have spoken to in Vancouver is on a wait list to adopt a dog.  People drive hundreds of kilometers from Vancouver in hope of bringing home a little bundle of joy.

Like most great events in our lives, things just happen organically.  A couple of months ago, during the long snap of Vancouver drizzle, I was having the most heavenly cup of coffee at The Turtle Bay Café in Akumal, Mexico.   The sun was beaming, not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature just perfect. I overheard a lady speaking of her last trip back to Vancouver and how easy it was to escort some dogs back.  The dogs she brought back were now in loving homes. In fact, she was flying back with more dogs that very evening.  Without hesitation, I leaned over and asked how she did it.  Within minutes, I knew this was the next chapter of my life.

Two days later I received an email with a few questions about what airline I was on and the time of my flight.  Five short days later I was at the Cancun airport meeting Heather. A few hours later, I had landed at Vancouver International and met Donna who whisked the sweet angels off and I went home to sleep.  Done.  Truly, that easy!   The unknown mission was a success and in that small moment, I felt rather invincible.

Dog Rescue Flight escort

Heather, the Cancun contact from the Vancouver based rescue group Take A Chance On (T.A.C.O) had her father-in law helping that day. Cancun airport is fairly small and I immediately found him and my three canine travel companions.

Petra, a mid-size angelic lab mix and Chabeta, a darling mid-size fluffy mix would be travelling in the large crate together, while smaller adorable Ramiro would be travelling with me in the cabin.  We introduced each other, and then the dogs and I went outside to have a little sniff, bathroom break and lots of cuddles.  All three were wonderfully sweet- tempered and well –behaved. It was as if they knew that they were en route to their new lives.  We sat down on the grass outside the Cancun airport for some last minute hugs and then each one of them gave me kisses, it was doggy heaven!

We checked in Petra and Chabeta in the crate and Ramiro and I went though security.  Once at the departure gate, Ramiro decided he wanted to sit on my lap, delighting our fellow passengers with his endless tail wagging. Once we boarded our West Jet flight, he went back in his travel bag and there he slept for the entire flight.

When the plane landed, a West Jet agent met Ramiro and myself at the luggage area.  It was good to see that West Jet assigned an arrival companion.  At that point, the pups and I went though customs and onto the standard secondary customs.  Vancouver International Airport is already familiar with TACO Dog Rescue so it was relatively simple.

This process added about another 30 minutes and yet the dogs were still very patient.

Once we were though customs, Donna of TACO was waiting for us.  I helped get Petra, Chabeta and Ramiro in her car and each pup gave me a little kiss good-bye.  Of course, my instinct was to adopt and take them all home, but I knew in my heart that they were going to excellent homes.

Fast forward one month, January 2020.  Petra and Chabeta were adopted by loving families on the Sunshine coast.  Little Ramiro is living in Yaletown with a woman who takes him to work everyday.   As I take my walks around the seawall, I sometimes ask the owners where they got their dog.  It is wonderful to hear that many do come up from Mexico and living a grand, happy and well-loved life.

My experience was easy and wonderfully rewarding.  All costs and arrangements and current vaccinations are handled by TACO. I plan to head down to Mexico in the u