Less than two weeks.
That’s how long we had our dogs with us in Panama before potential disaster struck.
Recently I wrote about our ordeals in moving our three small dogs with us to Panama. As I explained, it wasn’t so much the paperwork, although you have to carefully dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s. It was the logistics that caused us to ultimately hire a professional pet mover to help.
The dogs arrived, they started settling into their new home, and all was well.
Until the oldest of the three wandered off one morning.
I’ve heard horror stories about kidnapped dogs, mistreated dogs, etc., etc., and so have you. But I’ve also experienced consistent kindness and good will from everyone I’ve met here, so I held hard onto the more positive thoughts.
And here’s where my experience with looking for a house here paid off, because even in a still-unfamiliar town in a new country, where we speak the language hardly at all, I knew what to do.
Talk to Everyone. Ask for Help.
Once we realized the dog was gone, my husband jumped onto his bicycle to scour the neighborhood.
While he was pedaling furiously, I was dialing. I called everyone I had a local number for, even Spanish-speaking folks I knew I’d have a hard time explaining the situation to. Everyone I spoke with was concerned, supportive and helpful.
One neighbor got into his car and started driving around looking for our runaway. Later, when I got a text message from an acquaintance with news that her friend had spotted the dog about a mile away, he drove my husband to that neighborhood to look around.
During the afternoon and evening my husband wore himself out riding his bike in ever-widening circles looking for our pet.
That evening, with no sign of our missing dog, we leashed the other two dogs and started canvassing our neighborhood with them.
We buttonholed everyone who was outside, explaining that one of our perros was perdito, and showing the other two for comparison. “El perdito no es negro igual esta,” I stuttered, pointing to our black-and-white dog, “pero es chocolate y blanco.”
“Ellos son lindo” was the usual response when people saw our dogs. (We think they’re pretty, too!)
When the dog wasn’t found that night, I sat down at the computer and put together a flyer. First thing in the morning my husband went into town to have copies made.
The first flyer went up outside the grocery store. He also showed it around at various businesses, showed it to cab drivers, showed it, in short, to anyone he came into contact with.
One expat acquaintance volunteered himself and his car to help look. We hadn’t contacted him — we didn’t even have his number and had barely met him, but another expat had passed the word along. Someone else suggested a radio station to contact.
I asked for help on some online expat/Panama forums, and people suggested rescue organizations (I didn’t even know there were any in the country!) and other thoughts and strategies. My older daughter reminded me that Twitter might be a worthwhile medium.
Late in the morning, a middle-aged Panamanian man walked up to our front door.
Speaking only Spanish, with us understanding probably one word in 20, he managed to convey that he thought he had seen our dog. He also thought the people wanted money for him. But when we tried to determine donde esta el perro, our pitiful language skills weren’t up to the task.
My husband took him to someone who could help with translation.
End result? They grabbed a cab, located our dog, and my husband paid the people who’d found him $8 to cover the food they’d given him and to buy a few beers.
A few minutes later, husband and dog were home.
We still don’t know how the good Samaritan, who had walked from his home 3/4 of a mile away in the blazing hot sun to help us, knew where we lived. He may have seen the first flyer, the one that went up outside the grocery store, but it only gave the neighborhood. I don’t know if we’ll ever know the answer to that.
Chalk it up to the joys of small-town living.
Not Just Dumb Luck
This story had a happy ending. Some of it was just dumb luck. I know that, and I appreciate it no end.
But some of it was the result of groundwork we’ve been laying down since arriving here two months ago.
Immediately after arriving in Las Tablas I started talking with everyone who would speak with me. Cab drivers, restaurant wait staff, hotel clerks, people in line at the grocery store, people at the next table in restaurants.
I’ve sought out and introduced myself to other expats.
The person who texted me about the runaway sighting a mile away? She’s a local woman I struck up a conversation with in the grocery store. It was my first day in Las Tablas, I was feeling quite sick with some sort of traveler’s tummy, and I’d staggered from my hotel to the store looking for something that might settle my stomach.
The last thing in the world I wanted to do at that moment was to socialize. But she was ahead of me in the checkout line, and I heard her speaking English so I plunged in.
The neighbor who drove around looking for our dog, and took my husband to that mile-away neighborhood? He owns a taxi. I got in his cab one evening to go home, and found out that he lives two streets away from us and his daughter speaks fluent English because she went to school in the US for three years.
She’s the young woman who helped with the translation when we couldn’t understand where our dog was being held.
My husband’s only been here a couple weeks, but he’s been talking to people, too.
Are we naturally outgoing and gregarious people?
Not really. I, for one, have to force myself way out of my comfort zone.
Is it easy? Nope. And the language barrier makes it tough. But I had to do it in order to find a house to rent, and I realized that reaching out to people in this way would serve me well.
Talking to people is just not something one does in most parts of the US these days. As we’re finding here, the world is a nicer place when people aren’t afraid to be friendly. I’m glad we found such a place.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that the cab driver who delivered my husband and the dog back to the house is one of our “regulars?” Luciano was delighted to have been part of the rescue team.
In short, locating and retrieving our lost pet was a community effort.
What would have happened, I wonder, if we’d come here and just kept to ourselves, or socialized exclusively with other expats?
Panama Animal Rescue Organizations
Asociación Angeles de los Animales
Asociación Amigos de los Animales y la Naturaleza de Panamá
I’m so glad this story had a happy ending! I do believe you’re absolutely right to make an effort to meet and get to know many people. You want to have connections such as this, and you need them, both in terms of helping each other and in order to feel truly ‘at home’. We’ve been fortunate that in the places we’ve lived (both in the US and here), people have been friendly and willing to respond to efforts to get to know each other.
Thanks, Linda. I’m really enjoying the friendliness of the people here. Such a pleasant change from places we’ve lived in the US where people freak out if you smile at them. . .
Glad you found him! I never had a dog until I moved here. I’d be sick if the same thing happened.
I wonder if the people that found your dog were waiting for a bigger reward, since you were a foreigner. In a way it’s good it wasn’t that much, I guess. Wouldn’t want a “kidnap the gringo’s dog for ransom” side-business to develop.
Thanks, Rich, it was one of the most fraught 24-hour periods I can recall. We were sick until we found him.
Great to hear your dog made it back, Susanna, and great to know that it was through a true community effort. Thanks for the post.
Thanks, Tay. How are you doing?
I’m glad to hear that the story had a happy ending, Were Canadians and plan to visit Panama soon. my best suggestion to every expat, try to learn the language the fastest yo can, doesn’t have to be perfect but make yourself undertood that way you’re taken.
Tell people to speak slowly, you’ll be amazed how friendly people are.
Of course there are people outhere that have other opinions about the “gringos”
Treat people with respect and leave the arrogance behind.
I think that humillity will be the right word, even if you know the answer ask the question, you might learn something new. I have the habit to say please all the time and that is the key for better service. by the way I speak the language, but, sometimes is not a good thing, but. you learn as you along. Ciao
This has mirrored my sentiments about the folks in Las Tablas. They are the salt of the earth. I too have limited language skills but they have embraced me as one of their own.