Ben had been left in the capable hands of our friends on Tortola as Gavin had left the island in a hurry to come and be by my side for the birth of his baby girl Léna.
We had heard the news that a hurricane was coming and we were desperately trying to make sure Ben was going to be in the safest place possible. Our neighbours were staying in our apartment and had bought Ben plenty of food to ride out the storm.
Once Hurricane Irma arrived we were told there were a total of 15 people in our apartment, so I knew Ben would be alright. He would just think there was a party going on and would be happy socialising with the group. Apparently he was a little shaken up after the whole ordeal as were the rest of the residents on the island, but he had survived and was in good spirits. He took a walk along his favourite beach after the hurricane was over, only to find out his local hangouts had been completely destroyed and the beach was overrun with fallen palm trees and debris scattered everywhere.
A couple of days later, news that Hurricane Maria was following closely behind Irma and may well hit the island just as hard, had just been issued. Many of the residents were desperate to get off the island to safety. A couple of our neighbours decided to stay and ride out the second storm, but the one looking after Ben was desperate to get home and wanted to take Ben with him. Initially we thought that would be a great idea, however we knew we would be back on the island soon after the storms had passed and would like Ben to be there when we got back. We wished he had stayed on Tortola as the worst of the storm was now over. Ben’s adventure however, was just beginning…
Our neighbour was determined to take Ben back to California with him and there wasn’t really much we could do to stop him from the other side of the Atlantic. We asked if he could at least get his paperwork from the vets, so when it came to collecting him we would have proof of his previous vaccinations and medical history. He had found a charter boat which was leaving for Puerto Rico at 6am and the vet didn’t open until 9am, so he decided to leave without any paperwork for Ben. The journey was rough apparently and Ben wasn’t over the moon to be on a sailboat crashing into the waves for 12 hours, but they finally arrived in Puerto Rico. That’s when all the drama started.
Ben needed a dog crate to travel in and was given one from a generous stranger called Amarylis, a wonderful local lady who wanted to help Ben get to safety. He was then taken to the vet to get all his medical certificates to be able to fly. The first flight was booked to the States and Ben was ready at the airport when the airline told our neighbour that he wasn’t able to fly due to the crate not being airline approved. This was a hassle but he tried again booking Ben onto another flight with another airline who said they would accept the crate they had. Once again he got to the check in desk, but was told Ben would not be able to fly as the temperature in the cargo hold were too high as the flight was in the middle of the day.
We then got a message from our neighbour telling us he couldn’t deal with Ben anymore and he needed to get home. He told us we needed to fly to Puerto Rico to fetch him ourselves or find somebody else to look after him. Obviously we were pretty furious by this as Ben could’ve stayed on Tortola with other friends who would’ve been willing to take him, and now he was being abandoned in a country where we didn’t know anybody and we had no idea of the dog facilities in the area. On top of all of this, we found out Hurricane Maria was on its way within the next couple of days and was going to be a direct hit on Puerto Rico!
We thought about Gavin flying out to Puerto Rico to go and be with Ben, however this was not an option due to the hurricane coming imminently and there were no flights which could get him there before it hit. I managed to find a lady who provided a dog sitting service in San Juan at her home. She agreed to take Ben in at a pretty extortionate fee, but we had no other choice so we agreed to send him to her. Once she had Ben, we got a message from her telling us she was sending Ben and a few other dogs to another dog boarding facility as her home was going to get badly flooded by the hurricane, so again with no other options we agreed.
Hurricane Maria was a direct hit on Puerto Rico. The island was devastated with widespread flooding, power lines and internet connection down and homes destroyed. We waited anxiously for days to hear news of whether or not Ben was safe. Eventually we heard from the dog sitter that her home had got badly damaged in the storm and was waiting to hear from the boarding facility about news of Ben. About a week later we got a photo sent through of Ben. We were so happy he was safe! He looked a little shaken up and skinny, but he was alive and well.
Ben was located just on the outskirts of Caguas which is the central mountain range south of San Juan. After the hurricane we were told the roads were extremely difficult to access due to fallen debris and there was going to be no internet connection for months around that area. Trying to get in contact with the original dog sitter and the guy who now had Ben was extremely difficult and made it really hard to make any arrangements to get Ben back to the BVI.
After both Hurricane Irma and Maria nobody was allowed to enter the BVI nor Puerto Rico except for the military who were trying to restore order onto the islands. Gavin was desperate to get back to the BVI to see what state our home was in and wanted to get Ben back to safety. Unfortunately we couldn’t get Gavin back to the BVI until the second week in October when they eventually started letting residents back in.
We found out a lot of animal rescue centers were flying dogs off the island and into the States to safety. I cannot tell you how many companies I contacted with rejection after rejection. I contacted people in the BVI, humane societies in Puerto Rico, rescue centers in the US and nobody would help me get Ben off the island. We started Facebook groups asking if anybody had a boat they were sailing back to the BVI from Puerto Rico which Ben could catch a ride back with, which we offered large amounts of money for, but still no luck. I asked several journalists from US newspapers to write me an article so someone may see it and be able to help me. I eventually found a guy who agreed to write a story, who then told me he wrote one and was waiting to see if it would get published, but once again I never heard anything back and it was a lost cause.
Gavin eventually flew back to the BVI five weeks after the storm, taking with him an airline friendly dog crate. Once on Tortola, he managed to secure the house and our belongings and then we were on a desperate mission for him to go and collect Ben. We thought it would be an easy trip to go and collect Ben and bring him back into the BVI, as he was only out of the country for just over a month and he had all his original health documents from the vet on the island. We spoke to the Department of Agriculture in the BVI who told us that Ben would not be able to re-enter the country without being microchipped, being vaccinated against rabies twice, he needed vaccinations for Canine Parvovirus, Distemper, Hepatitis/Adenovirus, Parainfluenza, Leptospirosis and Lyme disease. He also needed a Titer test, which tested for rabies, and would take weeks for the results to come back, a valid health certificate and an import permit. Obviously this was going to take a while to get sorted and there was no way of Ben coming back to the BVI anytime soon.
A long with many well wishes regarding us being reunited with Ben, we also got a few messages from people willing to help us out. The first was from a wonderful couple called Rodger and Kate. They were previous charter guests of Gavin’s who lived in Ohio and were willing to take Ben in and look after him until we knew what we were going to do with ourselves, whether it be moving back to the BVI or deciding to move elsewhere. The second was from the amazing lady in Puerto Rico who originally helped Ben get his crate when he first arrived in PR. Amarylis offered to collect Gavin from the airport, drive him to go and collect Ben, take him to the vets and drop him back at the airport.
Amarylis was waiting at the airport to collect Gavin upon his early morning arrival and they set off on the journey to find Ben. Neither of them really knew the area too well and stumbled across the dog boarding facility whilst looking for directions. Gavin was so nervous and excited to see Ben. It had been a long, stressful 5 weeks for us both, with a new baby, not knowing whether we had a home or job to go back to in the BVI and not knowing if we would ever see Ben again nor did we know what state he was going to be in as we had limited contact with the dog sitter. Gavin got out of the car to find Ben running around in the grounds of the dog home with several other dogs. He whistled for Ben and instantly Ben’s ears stood on end. He came charging towards Gavin and almost knocked him flying. They were both so incredibly happy to see each other, Gavin was in tears and Ben was ecstatic with a lot of licks and kisses to give. It was a very emotional moment for the two of them. Thankfully Ben was in good shape, albeit a little skinny and we couldn’t have thanked the guy enough for taking such good care of him through the hurricane.
Once they had Ben, they drove to the veterinary clinic who had dealt with Ben’s health certificate in the first instance. Ben got more rabies vaccines, had the Titer test and had a microchip implant. He had another medical certificate issued and was all set to fly to the States.
Gavin and Amarylis drove to the airport to see if there were any flights Ben could catch to Ohio in the next couple of days. Rodger was trying from his end to get Ben on a flight with United Airlines, I was trying to contact any other airline and every rescue center I had heard of who were flying animals out from PR to the US, but unfortunately we had no luck. The huge amount of people and animals trying to get out of PR after the hurricane was insane. We were told the airlines only had space for 5 animals per flight and everyone of them was taken up from the rescue centers, which wouldn’t help me out so we were stranded! Gavin was so upset, tired and emotionally drained with no end of getting Ben to safety in sight. I had booked him into the only hotel left on the island that would accept dogs, but Amarylis told him it was in a really dodgy part of town and he must stay with her family until we can decide what to do next. The two of them decided to take Ben to the beach for a run around as he hadn’t been in over a month, and let him enjoy himself for a while. He was so happy at the beach and was instantly running for miles and digging for crabs!
I was at home trying to contact every airline I knew who was flying out of PR that would take dogs, but unfortunately the earliest flight available in cargo was 6 weeks away. Later that day I received an email from the original dog sitter asking how we were getting on and asked if Ben was back home safely. I told her our situation and she offered to help. She knew a psychologist who would be willing to write Gavin a letter stating Ben was an emotional support dog after everything we had been through and this would allow Ben to fly in the cabin on almost any airline. This was the best news I had heard in a long time and agreed to pay a fee for the letter right away, which I then received a few hours later.
I told Gavin to head to the airport and see when the earliest flight was in which he could get off the island to anywhere in the States. Due to a cancellation, we finally managed to book a flight the following day with Ben flying in the cabin with him. He wanted to check the letter would work and showed the airline to double check everything was in order before he arrived the next day to get on the plane. The lady at the desk disappeared to call the psychologist to make sure the letter was legitimate as Gavin waited in anticipation. It worked! They accepted it and they were due to fly the following morning.
The flight we had booked was from PR to Orlando. From there, Rodger had booked Ben in cargo from Orlando to Newark and they would collect him from there. Amarylis dropped the two of them at the airport that next morning and said her goodbyes. I cannot thank this lady enough for all her help and support she showed our family. Her generosity amazed me. She had also lost a lot in the hurricane and was struggling without power and water, yet she chose to help complete strangers in their time of need. She is a remarkable woman! Everything ran smoothly at the airport, Ben was excited to be on a new adventure, cruising round the shops and making friends in the departure lounge, until Gavin called me to tell me the flight had been delayed. That meant he had an extremely short time period for his connection at the other end. We were hoping and praying they would make it on time. It was Ben’s first time on a plane and he was extremely nervous. He was shaking as he sat by Gavin’s feet when the plane took off. Gavin tried to reassure Ben and gave him treats to take his mind off the sounds of the engines running. He survived the journey and arrived in Orlando a happy dog.
Sadly they didn’t make the connection… Yet another setback for us. The late departure made them miss the connecting flight, so Gavin booked Ben on another flight the following morning direct to Ohio. The airline put Ben in his travel kennel and sent him on his way to his new foster family. Rodger managed to book Gavin into a hotel that evening to go and rest and catch up on sleep. He had a great night and got to have a couple of hot baths (something he hadn’t had since arriving in the BVI or PR due to the hurricanes) and watched TV all evening, (another luxury having power). Gavin then flew back to the BVI via PR.
Kate collected Ben from the airport. A little nervous in his new surroundings, Kate made Ben feel at home instantly. She had prepared for his arrival, with his own bed, some toys and lots of treats. He explored his new home and met his new furry friends. Ben was to be sharing the house with four cats (whom he later became great friends with).
Kate was a horse trainer and took Ben with her to the stables on a daily basis. Ben got to meet lots of new friends, from horses, to cats and dogs, he got to watch the geese on the lake and he was able to run for miles around the indoor riding arena. He took regular walks on the golf course nearby and got to experience some colder climates. The two of them pampered him so much and we knew he was in great hands until we got our lives back on track.
Gavin and I made the decision to return to live in the hurricane torn BVI and decided to rebuild our lives there. It was a struggle at first living on generator power and our water supply coming from a hosepipe Gavin hooked up to the Cistern below the house, but we managed. Léna and I flew back early December and we wanted to make sure we had everything sorted before we started to think about the journey to get Ben back to the BVI. It took a while to get ourselves set up and living as comfortable as we possibly could. A few weeks later we decided to start working on the logistics of flying Ben home.
Rodger and Kate prepared everything for Ben in Ohio, from vaccinations to health certificates and arranging his flight to PR, whilst I got Ben’s import permit approved and booked Gavin and Ben a flight back from Puerto Rico to the BVI. We had Ben’s flight booked for 2nd January and we couldn’t wait to see him! I hadn’t seen Ben since July and was worried he had forgotten about me, he had a new sister to meet and the beach was awaiting him. We woke up that morning, packed Gavin’s bag for his overnight trip and we were just about to set off to the airport when we got a message from Rodger telling Gavin not to get on the flight. There had been a discrepancy over the dates on Ben’s health certificate and the airline wouldn’t let Ben fly.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Were my exact thoughts. Could anything else possibly go wrong?? We had had issues every step of the way and I wanted to give up. My heart sank and I sat and sobbed… Rodger felt terrible as we had booked flights and hotels which couldn’t be refunded and he was so upset for us that we weren’t able to collect Ben. ‘Don’t worry’ he told me. ‘It’s just another hurdle we need to overcome…’
We waited another month before we tried again. Thankfully the import permit was still valid so that was one less thing to worry about, but Rodger needed to apply for another health certificate. He told us this time he was going to get on the plane and fly with Ben all the way to the BVI so there weren’t anymore issues. On January 25th Ben set off on his final journey home. Rodger put Ben on the plane to Chicago where he overnighted. Rodger caught a flight the following day and they got on the same flight from Chicago to PR. The two of them stayed in the Sheraton and enjoyed the comforts of the hotel room for one night.
The next morning there were more issues when Rodger tried boarding the plane to Tortola as the dog crate was too large for the cargo, but after a few heated words they finally let Ben ride in the cabin. Rodger was determined to get Ben home to his family!
Gavin, Léna and I all set off to the airport to collect Ben and Rodger. We were so excited. The day had finally arrived. I hadn’t seen Ben in 6 months and couldn’t wait to give him plenty of cuddles on the ride home. We waited for the vet to arrive from the Department of Agriculture to sign off Ben’s import permit and once he had all the paperwork Ben was able to re-enter the country. Ben came walking through the arrival gate and one call of his name and he came running. He was absolutely delighted to be back with his family!! I’ve never seen such an excited dog. He didn’t know who to say hi to first, his little tail was wagging all over the place and he had the biggest smile on his face the whole car ride home.
We had so many hurdles to get over during this long and exhausting process, we almost felt like giving up a few times, but we couldn’t leave our little boy behind. Ben is our family and will come with us wherever we go. He has definitely gone through more than most dogs, surviving 2 major hurricanes and being flown all over the States. We couldn’t have done this without the amazing help from 3 wonderful people, Amarylis, Rodger and Kate. Their unbelievably kind hearts helped us get through our struggle and we will forever be grateful to all of them.
Ben is now back on Tortola, back on his beach and back with his family where he belongs. To keep up to date with Ben’s adventures, follow him on Instagram, @bennythebeachdog.
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