I met Emily Lagasse and Fenway (virtually) when they participated in #bikewithyourdogday by providing winners bags of Fedwell, the best healthy natural petfood you can find, that Emily would eat herself. She started the company after returning home from her Peace Corps service in Togo. She brought Fenway, the African dog she had adopted home with her and once back in America, Fenway became ill on the traditional American dog food diet. She took classes, learned how to cook for him, and nursed him back to health and founded Fedwell based on the recipes that healed her dog and keep him healthy.
See the Fedwell Petfood story here:
Do you know or are you someone who has adopted a street animal? If so, comment below or contact us at [email protected]
What is your name, your dog’s name, and his/her breed (if applicable):
Emily Lagasse, Fenway, mixed breed from West Africa, currently living in Sudbury, Massachusetts.
Where and when did you adopt your dog?
I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa from 2008-2010. I got Fenway at the beginning of my service on December 30th, 2008 in Lomé, Togo.
Tell us how you first met the dog and how you knew you had to take this dog home with you?
Stray dogs in Togo are very rare, as they play an important role in protecting homes and assisting their owners in the fields by keeping snakes away. I knew if I wanted a dog, I would have to buy a puppy. After asking about any expecting dog moms in my own village (Pagala) and finding none, I knew I would have to travel to the capital city to find my pup.
Upon arriving in the capital, I started asking around to see where I might be able to find a puppy. Several people told me there was a small market right near the American Embassy that usually had puppies, so I hopped in a taxi with a friend to check it out. When we first questioned the vendors we were told there were no puppies that day, but then someone came chasing after us with a basket with two little puppies.
In the basket there were only two puppies: and his sister. I already knew I wanted a male dog, as it was likely a female dog would become impregnated (medical care is practically non-existent there, and I hear lots of horror stories from past volunteers), and I was worried about the implications for her health, having few veterinary resources.
In what condition was your pup when you first met?
He was very small and sleepy, but overall was in good health.
What sort of medical treatments did you have to undergo in order to get your pup healthy?
When he was old enough, I took him to a larger city to get him a rabies vaccination, and de-worming medication.
Traveling with him wasn’t ideal, but we made it work! I used to take him on motorcycles (which he LOVED). He would just rest his feet on either side of my legs and stand, and off we would go. We also traveled a lot in very crowded bush taxis. He would also sit in my lap or sometimes on the floor. Not ideal, especially since many Togolese were very afraid of dogs.
How has your dog adapted to life as a pet?
Fenway and I lived in my small village of Pagala, Togo, for two years. Since I got him as a puppy, I had the opportunity to train him and expose him to a variety of experiences at a young age. In many respects, he was raised like an “American dog” who would follow commands, and was bonded with his pet parent. Unfortunately the people in my village were not as friendly with him, and would often throw rocks or shoo him away if he got close to them (even if it was just to say a friendly “hello”). Other dogs in my village could often be aggressive and territorial, and because of that, it was difficult to provide positive experiences with both strangers and strange dogs.
How many countries has your pup visited with you?
Three: Togo, Ghana, and the US!
Have you had any unexpected challenges?
While living in Togo, the biggest challenge was my lack of behavioral training materials and veterinary resources. Having never had a dog before, I didn’t always know the best way to expose him to new people, places, or things. There was one time when he got really sick, and without local access to vets or the internet, I felt incredibly helpless.
When I brought Fenway back to the US, my biggest challenge was helping him acclimate to the new culture and environment. We were both adjusting, but Fenway had never seen a glass door or heard a door bell before. In Togo his first interaction with people would often be them throwing rocks at him out of fear, whereas people here immediately wanted to hug him, which was equally frightening to him
My biggest challenge with Fenway upon returning to the states was finding a diet that could keep him healthy. When we lived in Togo, we subsisted on a very similar diet, which was mostly rice and beans, and occasionally some meat and vegetables. When we first returned to the states, a vet suggested a specific commercial diet, which made him very sick. After reading blogs, talking to friends, and visiting specialty pet stores, I began trying different high-end brands with him, and saw little improvement. He continued to get sicker, and eventually I took matters into my own hands. I took classes, learned to cook balanced meals at home and he completely improved. This experience was the inspiration for starting my company, Fedwell Pet Foods, in 2014. We sell baked versions of what I would prepare for Fenway at home. Our labels include only real meats, fruits, and vegetables, which are gently baked and free of synthetic vitamins.
What about unexpected benefits?
While I was in the Peace Corps, I was far removed from friends and family, and even other volunteers in the country. I lived in a very secluded village with no electricity or running water. It could be very lonely at times, and Fenway provided companionship and joy through some hard times.
Once back in the states, Fenway’s journey back to health set me out on my mission to start a pet food company (Fedwell), which I never would have done otherwise! Because of his trouble processing pet food in the US, I uncovered a lot of scary things about pet food in this country, and am now positively impacting the health of pets everywhere, which brings me tremendous joy.
Why should someone else consider adopting a street dog?
I can only speak from my own experience, where I was planning on living in the host country for a couple of years before bringing my dog home. I can’t speak to adopting a street dog while visiting a location, but having a dog in a country where you are residing for a long period of time was a blessing to me! I would recommend that before adopting a dog in another country, understand what is required to bring your pup home safely (preferably without any quarantine), and make sure that you can furnish appropriate paperwork, and cover the additional expense of transporting him or her home.