When Adrienne Henderson was in Cape Town, South Africa, the summer after her freshman year of college, she rescued a dog. In a rushed, crazed and entirely unexpected experience, her actions would touch a lot of people’s lives and prove one thing – determination goes a long way when there’s something your heart really wants.
In May 2013, Henderson was nearing the end of a program she had joined through her school, Wake Forest University, called Global LEAD.
“The premise is that you take two classes, spend a week doing adventures – I pet cheetahs, bungee jumped from the world’s highest bungee bridge, [went] cage diving with great white sharks – and then one to two weeks doing service,” she says.
Part of Henderson’s volunteer responsibilities included doing some work at a local school suffering from the effects of Apartheid.
“Our job was to repaint the walls enclosing the school grounds to create a more uplifting environment for the children,” says Henderson.
It was there that Henderson first met Lo, a puppy in a very disheartening situation. Henderson noticed several dead dogs (waiting to be buried, she assumed) and five emaciated puppies in the yard of the school groundskeeper’s home.
“There were [about a dozen] other animals alive in the fenced in yard, all emaciated and crawling with bugs, many also had mange and were missing a majority of their hair,” Henderson says. “Though I had seen numerous stray animals during my time in Cape Town, there was something about these tiny puppies that I couldn’t ignore.”
Henderson immediately offered to take the puppies off of the groundskeeper’s hands.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with them if he said yes,” she says. “I was an 18-year-old American student in South Africa with no car and a flight back to the states in little over a week.”
After some negotiation, the groundskeeper agreed to sell Henderson one puppy for the equivalent of five American dollars, but wouldn’t give up the rest.
“The owner of the puppies wouldn’t let me take the white ones because he was convinced he might be able to sell them,” says Henderson. “When I got in contact with a vet, I let him know of the situation and he said they would let the authorities know, but that likely nothing would be done about them.”
Getting Out of Africa
As it turned out, the back and forth she went through to rescue the puppy had actually been the easy part. Henderson took the malnourished pup back to where she was staying and brought the puppy to a vet. The veterinarian found that she had bugs, intestinal worms, and demodectic mange which left rashes on her belly.
In fact, Lo (named after the school in Sir Lowry’s Pass where Henderson volunteered) wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks in the condition she was in, according to the vet.
“Her ribs were jutting out of her fur and so were her shoulder bones and collarbone,” says Henderson. She was severely underweight and very weak.
In the midst of Lo’s medical treatment, there was an additional hurdle to overcome: Henderson had less than a week to figure out all the paperwork needed to get Lo out of South Africa and onto a plane bound for home.
“I truly thought I bit off more than I could chew,” says Henderson. “I needed to get sign offs from the state vet in Connecticut (her new place of residence), the state vet in New York (her port of arrival) and the state vet in Cape Town in order to get her approval to leave the country.”
She also needed to have an extensive record of Lo’s medical conditions and vaccinations as well as a written recommendation from the primary veterinarian she was seeing in South Africa.
“Without a car, I had to get taxis 20 minutes into the city to find the appropriate government building and find places where I could receive faxes from the authorities in the U.S.,” she says. “Definitely had a few mental breakdowns about this.”
Henderson says people around her were very hopeless about the entire process.
“Pretty much everyone involved said they didn’t think I could pull it off,” she says. This included the very helpful local vet, who had seen foreigners before her try and fail.
A New Home
Lo was one of the lucky ones. She eventually made it to the states, a trip that involved an over ten-hour flight to Amsterdam, a six-hour layover and a seven-hour flight back to New York. Once there, she had additional troubles to deal with.
“The vet I used in Connecticut didn’t do a skin scrape or take the medical records from South Africa, so her mange got much, much worse and she almost died,” says Henderson. It took visits to a new vet and several months of medication before Lo was finally healthy.
Although Henderson’s original idea was to find another forever home for Lo, her family fell in love with the pup almost immediately and decided to keep her.
Now, Lo loves to give hugs and spends her days at a doggie daycare while her humans are at work. Henderson guesses that Lo experienced some rough handling or abuse from her previous owners, but it hasn’t stopped her from turning into a playful, loving pet.
“When it is hot, she loves to stick her face into water and leave it there for a few seconds and then whip her head out. I honestly think she’s seen us flip our hair coming out of the pool and is trying to mimic it,” she says. “She was terrified of all men for the first two years of her life, but now she is an absolute love bug. She’s the best, most loving dog we have ever had.”
Images: via Adrienne Henderson
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer, whose work has been published in DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo!, & Popular Mechanics.