You can take it with you: bringing rescue pets home from your trip

I bought virtually no souvenirs during my year in Costa Rica. There are few stores in the little pueblo I called home, and I was living out of a pull tote and an Eagle Creek duffel bag anyway. No matter what happened, I’d eventually get on a plane at the end of my time there with a year of my life stuffed into two reasonably sized suitcases. I had no extra room.

But when it came time to go, I found myself with a different sort of baggage. Their names? Jax and Chase.

I’d rescued two precious zaguates (mutts), and I was unexpectedly faced with bringing my scrappy Costa Rican street dogs home with me to the neon jungle of Las Vegas, where I’d found a job. They didn’t make it easy – for me, or the army of neighbors who helped me.

I was unable to fly with them, since I had no home to bring them to. So my saintly neighbors dog-sat, for what turned out to be weeks. This was no easy feat – everyone in Costa Rica already has at least two animals, so my 115 pounds of dog was a lot to take on.

Jax and Chase were used to living free, so the first order of business was making sure they were present to fly on the day of their trip. For awhile there, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. They’d often run off for the day and come back for dinner, but as I was gearing up to leave on a final vacation before moving, they ran away and didn’t come back. I was a mess, but I told myself they’d found another family, and they were meant to stay in their homeland. The evening before my six am flight, a friend dragged me out of the house for dinner. When I came home, guess who was sitting on my front porch, tails wagging? Jax was naked, and Chase had a piece of rope attached to his collar. They’d been tied up! And they’d helped each other escape before coming home as a pair. Those dogs were coming home with me, and that was final. But the night before I left for good, they again ran away. They could tell something wasn’t right, and they didn’t want to deal. So I didn’t get to say good-bye, and I was so sad picturing them coming home to find it empty, without their dog bowls outside.

My neighbors eventually scooped them up, and the process began.

Once I’d found a Las Vegas rental that had a fenced-in backyard and allowed dogs, it was time to plan their journey to the States. I’d purchased their cajas (kennels) before I left, but Chase contacted mange. (He’d been the sickest one when I rescued them, suffering from a kidney infection that made him walk hunched over, and he was so weak he often couldn’t stand up.) So Kelsey had to take care of all of that. My heart went out to both dog and dog-sitter!

I ended up flying them on Delta, whose Pet First program I couldn’t recommend more.

The first obstacle: payment. Cargo, even very special cargo, has to be paid in cash – at the point of take-off. So Kelsey had to take out the rather large sum and make an additional trip to the airport to pay. Now, that’s a good friend.

A lot of people ask me about quarantine; there is none in the continental United States, which basically has every disease already. It is VERY easy to bring pets home to the U.S.! (Ask my friend @joanna_haugen — she and her husband brought their dog home from Kenya!)

The morning of the flight, Kelsey was a nervous wreck. But Delta put my babies in an air-conditioned room until right before take-off, when they were put, in their kennels, into cargo. My boys were on their way!

We were all worried sick, so I tried to stay busy during their layover. (They don’t rush them right from flight to flight, instead giving them overnight in Atlanta to sleep and re-adjust.) Then that night, my phone rang, and I saw Atlanta’s area code. I jumped! It was the vet who was taking care of them, making sure they could sleep together, under one blanket. (Was I hearing this right?) “I wanted to make sure they don’t fight, that it was ok,” he told me. I was elated and talked his ear off about how I couldn’t believe what good care they gave!

And yes, they’re best friends. Of course it’s fine.

The next morning, I went to pick them up at the Las Vegas airport. We’d been separated so long, I was nervous they wouldn’t recognize me. I put on my bright yellow safety vest and went running into the cargo garage. They began jumping up and down and wiggling and barking, and oh, boy! Yay! I ran to immigration, got their papers stamped (Chase/Chaez, same thing), and loaded them into two cars for the ride to their new home.

For them, the adventure was just beginning! Stay tuned for more on our adjustment to Las Vegas.

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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  1. Wow, what a process! Glad they made it back with you. <3

  2. I’m soo happy, too!! But yes, it was a long process, more so for my loyal dog-sitters in Costa Rica. They really are saints!

  3. I remember being so worried for you when Jax and Chase ran away when you were getting ready to move. It makes me so happy for the three of you that you are together again in Vegas! Can’t wait to hear more about the adjustment (yours, and theirs!)

  4. Awww…this is beautiful. There are so many stray animals in parts of the Caribbean that I’ve visited that it does break your heart to see them living on the streets. Good on you for attempting to give them a good, permanent home.

  5. LOVE the post! Wow, The moment they saw you must have been priceless & completely worth all the stress & $! They are two LUCKY boys!

  6. Aw thank you, Marsha and Lori!! We are very happy here in Las Vegas, which I can hardly believe at times!

  7. They are soo cute! I’m so glad that everything worked out well, now they’re living the American dream ;P

  8. Hi Abby,

    This brings tears to my eyes because I miss the three of you! Its amazing how you turned from someone who had no experierence with dogs to a dog lover. I am so happy they are there with you than running the streets of Coco.

  9. Thanks, Sofia! It’s funny to think of them and the “American dream…” I attempt to spoil them with toys and other things they never had in Costa Rica, and they’re wholly uninterested. But they do loooove carpet!

  10. Lisa!! We miss you, too!! Whenever they’re having their little doggie dreams, when they run in their sleep, I assume they’re dreaming of running to your house to play with Zahara before racing up the mountain! 🙁

  11. What an adventure!! I am SO glad they got to be with you!

  12. I am such a dog lover also — just reading this story made me smile. Thanks, Abby.

  13. I LOVE them! And their story 🙂

  14. Yay for rescued puppies! I’m so glad that everything went well. Isn’t it fantastic how well the airlines take care of the animals? It’s such a relief.

    Thank you for saving your boys. I’m sure they’ll thank you every day for the rest of their lives.

  15. This is so inspiring! I found a dog in Botswana and I’ve never wanted a dog more in my life than when I saw that little guy. It broke my heart to watch him sleep at a gas station when I boarded my next bus. I would have thought the process back to the U.S. would be intense so I’m glad to know that you and Joanna have done it!

  16. So cute Abby!! I love this! Good for you for taking those dogs home… I’m really curious to see how they are adjusting to life in Vegas! What a change!

  17. These little guys won my heart! I love how you brought them back with you–a true souvenir from your time in CR!

  18. OMG! That is so sweet!! This almost brought tears to my eyes! You must have a heart of gold! It must be so exciting to have your puppies home with you.

  19. Awww, what a cute story! I am obsessed with dogs and have a rescue pup as well (they’re the best!). So happy you got to bring them home with you!

  20. Ahhh doggies…I can imagine how pleased you were when you got that call…I wonder how they are in Las Vegas now!

  21. Great info and great story. Love your lil pups!!

  22. I am so incredibly happy for you Abby!

    I don’t know where I would be without my furkid. I’m sure they are so stoked to see you as well. I can’t help but wonder what kind of adjustment they will need from CR to LV! <3

    Wishing you all the best!

  23. It warms my heart that you went through all the challenges to get them back to the States. Kudos to your friends for being more than helpful. Plans are when I leave Korea that Indy will go with me. I would hate to leave her behind.

    Enjoy Las Vegas Jax and Chase……………………and no gambling ! 🙂

  24. So happy you could bring them with you babe!

  25. I was recently tempted to pick up some puppies a little girl was selling on the street in Guatemala City. It was hard to walk away…

  26. incredible work abby!
    we spent a few weeks working at the AWARE animal shelter in Guatemala. 300 dogs! was pretty nuts. if we were in a more suitable position, im sure we would have brought at least one home. well done on actually doing it!
    jamie from

  27. @Jamie 300 dogs?! That’s crazy! At the local clinic when I got mine fixed, there were 50. And that was a LOT. I don’t know how you did it! Wow.

  28. @Matt Yes, there are so many puppies and kittens in Central America, like in so many places around the world. It’s so heartbreaking!

  29. So happy that your best furry friends could accompany you home! Love how Kelsy, Delta and the vet took care of Jax and Chase as though they were their pets! Hope the adjustment to living in LV hasn’t been too hard for them. xoxo

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