Found at Sea: A Story of Two Island Dogs Finding Their Forever Humans
Story and Photos Contributed by Lauren Weisenthal of @seabiscuitahoy
We’d been living on the hard ground at a dusty boatyard in Sint Maarten for five weeks, and my husband Brian and I were itching to get our landlocked sailboat (which is also our home) back on the water. We’d hauled out to do some boat projects we’d been ignoring for the past year and a half as we were out on the adventure of a lifetime, sailing from New York City, down the East Coast, through the Bahamas, and all over the the Caribbean. Our work in the yard was nearly finished – it was almost time to splash. We should have been overjoyed, except for one big problem.
“What about the dogs?” I lamented one evening, over sundowner drinks. Brian stared at the floor of our sawdust-covered cockpit and let out a long sigh. It was a conversation we’d had dozens of times already.
A pair of homeless dogs, brother and sister, who lived just beyond the yard fence had become the highlight of our days in Sint Maarten. Walking down the road to town, they’d come crashing through bushes or crawl up from under parked cars to lick us silly and wag their butts off until we rubbed their bellies into submission. They’d started following us down the road, waiting outside the marine supply store for us as we made our purchases. In the evenings, we’d bring the dogs, who we started calling Cole and Marigot (after bays on the island) back to the boat, carrying them up the ladder so they could pass out in the safely of our cockpit. We were head over heels in love, and now we had a problem.
While we couldn’t imagine leaving them behind, we were also overwhelmed with doubt. Two dogs? On a small sailboat? With our cranky Siamese cat? What do we know about dog training? Do they get seasick? Would they be quarantined by customs in the countries we visit? How will we get them in and out of the dinghy? Where will they pee on long passages at sea?
Like most decisions based on love, we committed to doing whatever it takes to make it work. Adoption proceedings moved quickly, with great thanks to Animal Defenders of Sint Maarten, who’d been feeding Cole and Marigot since they were puppies and saw to all of their medical needs. The next day we were in the office of the local vet, getting microchips, rabies shots, and clearance papers for international travel.
Towards the end of our office visit, the vet came to the waiting room and sat down beside us. With a grave expression on her face, she asked, “Do you want the good news, or the bad news first?” I braced myself as she delivered the news I’d been dreading – like so many other dogs and cats in the Caribbean, our dogs have heartworm, a debilitating and eventually fatal parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. Treating heartworm is a long, deliberate process involving tons of antibiotics, injections of poison to kill the worms, and (hardest of all for two young pups) keeping the dogs calm for months at a time.
As a family, we’ve pushed on in spite of these setbacks. We do lots of basic training that all dogs need – walking on a leash, leave it, come here, etc. – but there’s also boat specific training to keep them comfortable and safe on the boat. Whenever we ask Cole or Marigot something new – go sailing in bumpy seas, pee on the designated astro turf spot, get in and out of the dinghy to go ashore – I worry that it’s too much for them to handle. And each time, I am astounded by their willingness to learn (having a little baggie of boiled chicken in your pocket never hurts), and how fast they’ve taken to the routine of boat life.
With a new vet in every port, we’ve pushed on exploring the islands of the Caribbean. From Sint Maarten, we sailed overnight to the US Virgin Islands, where we began teaching the pups to swim (who would have thought that island dogs don’t like getting their paws wet?) and took them on easy, slow hikes (they want to do so much more but they cannot because of heartworm) around the pristine Virgin Islands National Park. We then sailed to the Spanish Virgins, and on to Puerto Rico. We look forward to showing them our favorite spots in the Bahamas once they’ve fully recovered.
The best part for us, besides having a limitless supply of unconditional love – of course – is the way that the pups have changed the way we experience the new places we visit in our travels. They’re curious about everything around them, which, in turn, tunes us into a lot of things we may have otherwise missed – they’re dedicated beach combers, adventurous climbers, and social divas. Traveling with Cole and Marigot forces us to pay more attention, get more involved, and be more present everywhere we go – important reminders for two people who have been living like nomads for almost two years. I can’t remember what adventuring felt like without them.
Curious about a dog’s life at sea? Leave a comment below or connect with Lauren and her blog Sea Biscuit on Instagram @seabiscuitahoy.