It took a 7,000 mile trip for Millie to be adopted into the Oregon home of Rick and Janet Champ, with their cat and two other dogs. She was stressed and shaking on arrival in Portland but was easily comforted by Rick who secured himself the position of poster boy for Lost Dogs. “Real men love dogs.”
Millie’s rescue represents the closure of the Chaitén campaign – she was the first dog captured there and the last one adopted out.
Carolina Ahumada and Daniela Ortiz were the first two volunteers to launch the Chaitén animal rescue. They found Millie in one of several abandoned warehouses destroyed by the devastation of Volcan Chaitén’s eruption and the subsequent floods that left Chaitén a ghost town. They had no traps, no kennel, and no plan other than to throw a blanket over the confused and terrified dog cowering beneath a window. Millie panicked as any feral dog does when captured, yet she surrendered quickly to Daniela’s reassuring voice as she carried the diseased and emaciated puppy to their cabin.
Millie made friends easily with all the subsequent dogs to be captured and housed in the makeshift shelter that once was the town’s municipal library. After several weeks, thirty animals were evacuated to Puerto Montt. It was here that Millie was attacked by one of the other dogs, a tragic incident that cost Millie her eye. This made her adoption that much more difficult and is the reason Carolina asked me to adopt Millie in the US, a process that took eight months.
Coordinating Millie’s travel was laden with obstacles that included the earthquake of February 27th, one day before her scheduled flight to Santiago, her crate being lost by the airline, and the nausea-inducing, pointless bureaucracy of customs officials. For Carolina, the farewell was heartbreaking.
It was Carolina who initiated the Chaitén campaign on Facebook, and Millie’s departure brought everything full circle. Staring at Millie in her crate, Carolina was reminded of the indescribable levels of commitment, faith, emotional strength, sacrifice and will it took to enact the campaign. In Millie’s eyes she saw not only the project’s first capture, but all the memories and tears of Chaitén.
As Carolina hugged and kissed Millie, she thanked her for making us better people. As her kennel door closed, Millie put her paw up against the metal grid, as if in a deep and painful goodbye. In Carolina’s words, she broke down and “let out all the tears of Chaitén.”
Now, Millie is living happily on the coast of Oregon. The dogs are all friends and even the once-feral cat, usually petrified of strange dogs, immediately sensed Millie’s gentle nature and came to greet and welcome the new family addition.
“Touched by magic” is what Gabriela Jarpa told me of the seven dogs brought to the US during production of Lost Dogs, and Millie, she has been touched by that same magic that all began with the hero dog. If you don’t think one person can make a difference, consider what the hero dog has done. She risked her life for a her mortally wounded friend, yet the impact lives on.