Dog looking up at food bowl

Adopting a dog from abroad – Bringing Sensi Home

There’s often a lot on social media and in the press about adopting dogs instead of taking a puppy into your home, the consensus around this is often to discourage puppy farms from breeding irresponsibly to meet demand, so we were delighted to meet up with Sarah Thompson who lives in Swindon, Wiltshire to find out about her recent adoption.

It wasn’t quite the story we were expecting though.

We Love Pets marketing manager went armed with a list of questions to ask Sarah focused around adopting and to find out more about the process, what we left with was an emotional journey.

Sarah and her husband Craig celebrated 10 years of marriage in 2017 and decided to mark the occasion with a holiday somewhere warm, they chose Mauritius. Neither had been before, the weather was guaranteed and so it was going to be idyllic, wasn’t it?

They were half right, the weather was indeed idyllic, but they were astounded at the number of feral animals, animals that we in the UK would have sitting on our laps, on our beds in loving homes – not roaming busy streets and roads, fighting for survival, begging for any scraps of anything slightly edible.

‘As animal lovers, it was heart-breaking and the more we found out the more difficult it became to understand, if we’d have known what we know now we would not have even considered travelling to the island. It was heart breaking to see.’

Sarah and Craig already have a full house, with three female dogs (Craig’s slightly outnumbered), two were bought as puppies and one was adopted six and a half years ago, Kia now 7 was from Cardiff in Wales.

‘When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted by the ‘hotel dogs’, Bella and Sensi.  Bella had not long had puppies.

Being dog lovers we bonded with them both, then Bella disappeared 3 days into our holiday. We didn’t really ever get to the bottom of what happened to her, but have a fair idea. We later learned that Bella & Sensi had 3 puppies, who were taken away for “adoption”.

When Bella disappeared we could see that Sensi was missing her. She was all he had, she was his reason – they’d spend the day wandering together and looking after their puppies.

We gave Sensi even more attention than we did before, with extra cuddles, we didn’t like seeing him sad. He’d come and get us in the morning around 6am to get us up for breakfast, actually banging on the door with both front paws, even though breakfast didn’t open until 7 he was giving us chance to get ready.

We would sit outside with him, as he wasn’t allowed in the restaurant – he had his preferred tables and would lead us to them. He’d sit under the table and wait patiently for anything we’d want to give him – he’d never beg or bother us for food.’

Even though he had no regular feeds he was very particular about what he ate! ‘He’d like pork sausages, but chicken – NO! And he wouldn’t eat the bacon if it was too crispy!’

Sensi’s days were very routine, he’d spend time with Craig and Sarah in the morning near the pool then wander off around lunchtime when he’d go to the beach restaurant between 12-2 to see if anyone else would give him food – invariably they would.

Then he’d pop off for a nap and be back around the pool at 3pm because that’s when the cakes would come out. A dog after our own hearts!

‘You could literally set your watch by him. He particularly likes carrot cake.

After cake time, he’d sit in the shade to keep cool occasionally drinking the water from the pool, which can’t have been very pleasant – he’d then pop off somewhere while we and other hotel guests got ready for dinner. Then without fail at 7pm he was ready to accompany Craig and I to dinner.

If we were running late he’d be under another table, but as soon as he saw us he’d come and sit under ours. He was definitely loving our company as much as we enjoyed his.’

Paradise island is not all as it seems.

Sterilisation isn’t easily available in Mauritius like in the UK, so the animals are just doing what comes naturally, breeding and breeding. Charities and non-government organisations help with sterilisation and do it largely very well.

‘While in Mauritius we became aware of  The Mauritian Society for Animal Welfare (MSAW), who are funded by the government and ‘claim’ to catch stray dogs, sterilise them and then release them. To confirm they’ve sterilised the animals they’ll take a notch from their ear, so if they are caught at a later date they know it’s been done and they’re supposed to let them go, but instead, they’re killing them! The animals are captured, crammed into a small holding cell with other dogs and if they’re not claimed in three days they’re euthanised in a way that would not be acceptable in the UK. MSAW still receive their funding.

I didn’t want this cruel fate to happen to Sensi, we were sure it was why Bella had not returned.

I really wanted to bring Sensi home, but my husband was concerned Sensi would struggle to adjust to domesticated life because he had so much freedom and endless cuddles at the hotel. I knew he was right, but I was also fearful that the reality is there’s a chance his life could have been over very rapidly if he wandered out of the grounds at the wrong time. We left the island with heavy hearts.’

Did you keep in touch with any staff to keep up-to-date with Sensi?

‘We didn’t, but there’s a Facebook group for guests of the hotel which I’d go on every so often to see how Sensi was and it was lovely to see he was still providing lots of entertainment for the guests. Then all of a sudden people in the group – guests at the hotel – started complaining about his presence, not wanting Sensi hanging around. Understandably, if he was bad for the image of the hotel they’d want to get rid of him.

I expressed my concern in the group but was met largely with negativity. I just couldn’t stop worrying about Sensi.

That was it, Craig and I discussed it at length and knew it was time to get Sensi out of there and to safety.

Two ladies called Ausra and Sam both told me they would help me get Sensi safely back to the UK. Ausra put me in touch with Gillian at Paws UK and her and Lorena were going to organise him flying over.

Long story short, we arranged to bring him back, everything was booked – his flight, health checks, etc – we were so excited. He was due to land in Paris on March 15th and then he’d get the tunnel through to Folkestone.

They took him out of the hotel and put him into a foster home a 20-30 minute drive from the hotel ready for his departure. It was getting real!

Then, on Monday 12th March, we got a  message to say he had escaped – he was understandably afraid and we were crushed, we were so close to getting him to safety and it all fell apart.

Adopting a dog from abroad - Bringing Sensi home

That next day MSAW went to the hotel and ‘removed’ all the other dogs – if Sensi had bee
n there, he’d have been taken too!’

Needle in a haystack

‘Everything went quiet for a few days. Just because Sensi was important to us he was just one in a huge problem.

We didn’t really know what to do next – it’s different to when a dog goes missing in the UK, dogs are a permanent feature on the streets in Mauritius that no one bats an eyelid at a dog wandering about. There aren’t many lost dog Facebook pages, vets that take them in, etc.

We posted on every Mauritius related Facebook group we could find asking people to look out for him, offering a small reward. We even got someone to do a local article.

Four weeks after he went missing we’d still not had any positive sightings, we wanted to give it one last push but had to admit we felt we were running out of options. We put together some posters and someone local put the posters up for us.

We contacted all the hotels between the hotel we were at and his foster home and asked them to display the posters too. The article went out, and I shared the poster and article in all of the groups to keep him in people’s minds.

We got phone calls, messages, but nothing came to fruition. Then two and a half weeks ago I looked at my phone while stood in a queue in a shop and saw I had some notifications from a Facebook group on one of my posts, I thought I’d look at it later.

The queue was slow, so I glanced at the notifications and saw one said ‘Yay, so glad he’s back’ and there was a photo posted by the hotel manager of Sensi lording it on a sun lounger!’

Where had he been?

‘We don’t know, we think he went around the island the wrong way!

We needed to know it was definitely him before we made further plans. His distinguishing features are a notch missing from his ear when he was sterilised, a bushy tail and black spots on his tongue. Some guests sent me photos and it was Sensi!

The hotel has some kennels so that dogs that are being adopted can be kept safe before they’re moved to their homes, but these weren’t going to be much good for the escape artist Sensi as the hotel security had removed the padlocks.

So Sensi was sent to a local lady’s home, Lorena, who runs the charity All Life Matters. Lorena’s husband is a vet at the sanctuary.  They are both wonderful people who devote their lives to helping the beautiful animals of Mauritius. Lorena didn’t take her eyes off him – given his previous escape antics.

He then had a health check at the vet council to confirm he was healthy enough to fly.

We weren’t taking any chances, so we paid extra to get Sensi on a direct flight from Mauritius to Heathrow and we met him there on May 4th.  The work effort from All Life Matters Sanctuary, Paws UK, Lisa Collins plus everyone else who helped in the UK and Mauritius was outstanding to help find Sensi and get him safely on the plane.  We will forever be grateful for everything they all did.’

This cost Craig and Sarah a lot more than sending Sensi via Paris and then via the tunnel, but they were taking no risks. When a dog travels to Paris from Mauritius they’re escorted by a flight buddy – is this not just one the world’s best jobs? Along with running a We Love Pets franchise of course!

Did he remember you?

‘He did! Nearly 8 months had passed so I did wonder if he would. I was so anxious and nervous because we were so close last time, and despite everything, he came back.

Sensi has now been with us a few weeks. He’s doing amazingly well despite having such a different life – he’s not presented anything untoward. Kia was difficult with people because she’d been shut in a garage, but Sensi is great with people. He’s even adjusted well to being on a lead, so we wonder if he may have one day been in a home environment. He’s certainly better than Bella who we’ve had since a puppy – she’s rubbish on a lead!

We wonder how he’ll cope with our erratic weather in the UK – it’s challenging enough for us, but we can’t wait for the first time he sees snow.’

Do you know anything about Sensi’s breed?

‘Not yet no, he’s definitely a cross breed, but we’ve sent his DNA away to be tested and can’t wait to find out more about him.’

How will Sensi adjust with not having people around him all day?

‘He doesn’t need to! Craig and I both work from home (Sarah runs her own business Simply Nails Swindon) and when we’re not here my parents are, so he’s never short of cuddles and love. He’s also adjusted really well to not eating eight hours a day, but I guess that’s because he no longer has to worry about where his next meal is coming from and he’s loving the fresh water.’

To keep up with the story of Sensi follow Sarah’s Facebook page: The Story of Sensi