I met Travis through Instagram after I published our first Street Tails series. He reached out to tell me that he had once rescued a street dog in Mexico while on a trip with his father in 2000. I asked him for more details and he sent me a heartwarming blog post he had written about her rescue. A true story of being in the right place at the right time, Travis managed to save Bella from her imminent death—she was tied up in a bag in the back of a truck, headed for the river. Travis stepped in and declared her as his. While she crossed the Rainbow Bridge in December 2014 at age 14, I just had to share this beautiful story of Travis and Bella.
Travis is an avid photographer and dog lover living in Northern California with his wife and current dog, Olive, better known as @a_hound_with_an_agenda, a sassy rescue dog whom you should definitely be following on Instagram. Naturally, dogs have become his main subject as they rarely complain about how they look. Travis and his family spend their weekends hiking, eating and drinking wine, in equal measure.
My name is Travis Pacheco and my dog was Bella, a Mexican street mutt, likely a mix of German Shepherd and Doberman.
Where and when did you adopt Bella?
I was on a trip with my Dad, who was researching a motorcycle travel story in a Harley-Davidson side-car rig for a magazine. We were on our way back home after spending several days driving up and down the Baja Peninsula, he on the motorcycle and I in a trailing van with a photographer and a writer.
Until that point, I had always been a dog lover, but a chain of events brought a little puppy we came to name Bella, into my life and left an indelible impression on me and changed the way I understand and experience all dogs.
Tell us how you first met Bella and how you knew you had to take this dog home with you.
We first noticed her as we were sitting around the Pinta Hotel in San Ignacio, Mexico. She was with her mother and brother, and all lived under the front porch.
The tourists, including our group, took advantage of the opportunity to feed them table scraps. We assumed she belonged to someone associated with the hotel, so we went about our business.
Early on our last morning there, packing to leave, we heard a horrible scream that even now rings crystal clear in my mind. My first thought was that she had been hit by a car. Her mother was pacing nervously, knowing her baby was in danger. As we approached the sound, we found that Bella had been tied in a potato sack and tossed into the back of a rusty old pickup. Her first ride was going to be her last. My dad and I walked purposefully to the truck and the driver to try and make sense of the situation.
It was obvious that the driver had been given instructions to toss her in the river. Quickly the conversation turned threatening, and the shouting started.
Though I was livid at the time, I realize now it was a practical solution for controlling the overwhelming feral dog population among people with few means. It was surprising her mother had lived long enough to have puppies. We were told the males are typically spared, though we have no way of knowing what happened to her brother.
The result of the exchange between the pickup driver and us was that I owned a new puppy. At the time I had no idea of the implications, but I was adamant that this little girl wouldn’t die that day.
Before we packed her in the van, my dad got on his knee, held Bella’s face to her mother’s and whispered, “Say goodbye to your baby, she’s going to America and a better life.” Perhaps it’s foolish, or anthropomorphic, but in my mind her mother understood the exchange and, though sad, gave us her blessing.
In what condition was Bella when you first met?
It was obvious Bella and her brother was still nursing, not more than 6-8 weeks old. They were lively and rambunctious, the mother very reserved and a bit haggard.
The first few hours of our little traveler with us in the van she sat in a in a bucket. She smelled like fish and vomited out the effluvium of a fish carcass, a taco wrapper, chewing gum wrapper, and a mouse skull. I cleaned her up that first night in the hotel shower and wrapped her in the comforter on the bed.
What sort of medical treatments did you have to undergo in order to get Bella back to health?
We stopped in Maneadero and got her vaccinations taken care of, preparing for the border crossing. Finding a veterinarian on the main street was easy, but describing what I wanted was very intimidating because I had to explain in Spanish Bella’s story and what I was doing. Fortunately, I had learned enough Spanish to make this conversation possible, although it was slow going.
The staff in the office was very helpful and the veterinarian was understanding and appreciated what we were doing. He saw us immediately and we were out within an hour, vaccination papers in hand. Our stowaway was legal with her first set of papers.
How did Bella adapt to life as a pet?
As a puppy she was perfect. She was very clearly a pleaser and a simple, loud “no”, corrected most problems. She was able to observe our two other dogs (both 5 years old) and learn the appropriate behavior accordingly. The worst thing she ever did was put teeth marks on one of our dinner table chairs.
How many countries did Bella visit with you?
Once she crossed the border “illegally” Bella stayed within the confines of the United States for the remainder of her 14 years. Because of the incredible geography of Northern California, she spent all of her life visiting beaches and mountains and all the iconic features around this amazing state. As a photographer I was able to document all of it and have a book containing only photographs of her.
Did you have any unexpected challenges?
Absolutely. When Bella reached about 5 years of age, she decided she was going to be the alpha of our three dogs. This led to some nasty fights and some challenging times as all three re-learned their new roles. We had to do a lot of research to try and figure out how to best control her behavior and have a stable pack. Such is the life with dogs. They all have very distinct personalities and you can never train one the exact same way you did with the others. Adopting is a commitment and there will inevitably be challenges. It’s incumbent upon the owner to figure out how to best maintain a stable home.
What about unexpected benefits?
Reflecting on the experience of adopting Bella, I’m convinced she spent her life saying thank you to humans. She was extremely sweet, loving, and gentle. There was a bond between her and I that I hadn’t experienced with other dogs. She told me daily with her expressive eyes that she knew how lucky she was.
Why should someone else consider adopting a street dog?
When I looked at Bella, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of dogs that face the same fate she did so many years ago. The number of dogs is so overwhelming, but there are a few organizations dedicated to helping dogs like her, and it gives me hope. If you are looking for a new family dog, take some time to research and consider one of these orphans. You won’t regret your choice. Every day you will know you made a difference.