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Part 2: Dog Crossing

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Dog Crossing Part 2: In this episode, we meet Elizabeth Valenzuela who runs another DIY Baja dog rescue operation called Red Barn Rescue, plus other women who've dedicated their lives to saving animals living on the streets of Mexico. We also stop by an adoption event in San Diego where Baja Animal Sanctuary finds new homes for its rescued dogs.

In the last episode, KPBS’ Kinsee Morlan and Emily Jankowski introduced you to Dana Dallabetta, an animal rescuer who saves street dogs in Rosarito and finds them new homes across the border in San Diego. If you haven’t heard that episode, you should stop and go back to give it a listen. This is part two and it picks up right where the last episode left off.

Ask us questions or give us feedback by emailing us at podcasts@kpbs.org.

Show transcript

Clip: It’s hard, it’s hard. That’s what I keep telling them. I mean the cruelty down here.

Music bump

I’m Alan Lilienthal, and you’re listening to Only Here, a KPBS podcast about the place where San Diego and Tijuana meet.

In the last episode, KPBS’ Kinsee Morlan and Emily Jankowski introduced you to Dana Dallabetta, a rescuer who saves street dogs in Rosarito and finds them new homes across the border in San Diego. If you haven’t heard that episode, you should stop and go back to give it a listen. This is part two and it picks up right where the last episode left off.

Clip 25: driving ambi. So this is a small town between Ensenada and Rosarito.

So, after a trip to the vets with a carrier filled with puppies that Dana thought might have parvo, a deadly viral disease, Kinsee, Emily and Dana leave the clean, sanitized office and head to a chaotic animal foster home in Primo Tapia, a small town to the south of Rosarito.

So Far Good News Clip 25 (19:54 - 20:35)
We are heading to Maggie. Maggie's one of the, I guess a lot of us don't get our own dogs. Sometimes we do, but people like Maggie who live here will get certain dogs off the streets or they speak the language a little better and they'll ask if you'll sponsor a dog and she'll foster the dog for me. So that eases up a lot of pressure. Right. You saw how crowded my house is, like can't keep putting dogs in there and then she'll sponsor the dogs so that I'll pay for all the medical, I'll bring her food and when the dog's ready to be adopted I get it adopted and she gets some money for her time.

The dirt roads leading to the homes peppering the hills of Primo Tapia are cut with deep ruts from recent rains. Dana’s keys swing back and forth as she navigates through the bumps.

Clip 26: Natsound of rough drive

Maggie Carias’s house is at the very edge of one of the tallest hills in the small town. The drive is bumpy and slow-going. Dana -- a tough, no-nonsense former New Yorker whose daily uniform is fur-covered jeans and t-shirts, tells us about the darkest moments of being a dog rescuer.

*******At Old Ladies House Clip 27 (14:25 - 15:07)
yeah there's diagnosis of parvo and distemper we lost I think 18. Puppies and dogs to distemper last year that we were caring for some what we brought it into the house and it's like wildfire. You do everything you can you know isolate in other rooms try to wash your hands take off yo ur shoes. And it'll still spread. So we just had to put them all to sleep. We tried to save some and then it just cost a lot of money and then did they die. Distemper. Is like I think 90 percent fatal. So that's really hard.
So Far Good News Clip 28 (07:12 - 9:10)
*****.... just when you realize you just can't afford to help anymore and you have to say no. And you know, you feel like people are sick of you asking for money and you know, like my family, they're not really into dogs. How much I think they think this is a little ridiculous. Yeah. Um, you know, why don't you get a real job? So it's sort of that feeling like you're not succeeding, but then you do when you, you know, then you'll get that donation or you'll that somebody recognizes. So, you know, I would say, you know, recognition for what you do means a lot. …….There's so many strays and distractions. It's really hard. So there's always this feeling like I need to do so much more. And then you know, and then of course you get, you know, here's what you need to do and you need to do this on your website and you need to this. And it's like, yeah, I'll just hire a staff. You know, it's like, but you know, I did find that if you ask like I put it on craigslist and just said rescue or needs help with web page, Blah Blah Blah Blah. And now I have a dedicated web guy who does everything for free.

Dana says she had to learn to ask for help. Beg for help if necessary. She recently reached out for help with her new email newsletter software and an old friend from High School stepped up to volunteer. She says she’s constantly surprised by the kindness of near strangers, all of whom will do time-intensive things for free for the sake of the animals.

Music bump

Dana spent most of her life in New York City. Her life was simple and pretty normal. For years, she never even owned a pet.

She did have a quote-on-quote “real job” for decades as an engineer in telecommunications. And on the side, she found her passion in improv, or improvisational theater where often times your next move is dictated real-time by other actors on the stage or even by audience members.

Now, of course, there’s no time for things like improv classes. And her life is anything but simple or normal.

Dana says in the darkest moments of dog rescuing, her improv training has actually come in handy.

So Far Good News Clip 29 (15:36 - 16:36)
Dana: the thing about Improv is learning. You know what it is, you say yes. You learned to say yes. And that's Improv. So no matter what your partner or your other stage players suggest or whatever they give you, you say yes, you know, and you don't think, oh, I was thinking no, I was thinking something else. That's not what you do. It's yes…………. as you go through life and you just say yes to anything that life gives you. And what can I do with this? I mean it really does move you forward and you get kind of stuck in this no place. But in Improv you learn to say yes.

But sometimes saying ‘yes’ is really difficult. Because it can feel like the supply of stray dogs in Rosarito and Tijuana is never-ending.

Dana’s blames most of the dog problem on poverty, and some of it on cultural differences. People who don’t have a lot of money here aren’t going to have the resources to get their pets spayed or neutered. And even some folks who do have the time and money won’t get their animals fixed anyway. Dana links some of that hesitancy to machismo or the “manly culture” found in Latin American countries. Some dudes just can’t stomach the thought of cutting off a dog’s manhood.

Plus, some people in Tijuana and Rosarito put their dogs on their roofs or chain them up permanently in front of their homes, using them strictly for security purposes. These dogs aren’t treated like pets, more like security alarms. And often times those dogs get left behind when a family moves or if the animals get sick or otherwise become a burden.

Dana says there are several local rescuers who are working hard to change the perception of dogs in the region. And just like how folks in the U.S. eventually came around to the idea of not throwing trash everywhere thanks to a serious, nationwide anti-littering campaign in the 50s, the concept is starting to take root here.

So Far Good News Clip 30 (19:13 - 19:47)
Dana: a lot of them go to this, actually go to the schools and do um, education with the kids and they say it is changing, but traditionally it's, they're not a family member. They wouldn't think of letting him hang out in the house dirty. Right. And the kids are told to stay away, they're going to bite you. So the kids throw rocks at 'em. But it is changing them. A lot of people that are saying that they, that have been here longer than me or saying that the cha nge is tremendous than it used to be much worse, which I can't even imagine because they're so, so bad….

Dana stops the truck. There’s a horse is in the middle of the road.

I decide to help and jump out to lead the horse out of the way. Emily and Dana aren’t sure I’ve got what it takes.

So Far Good News Clip 31 (23:44 - 24;58)
Dana: Are you good horses?
Kinsee: I mean, I'm a Colorado girl. Oh, good.
Oh, good. A little tangled. I think I would just pick up the road. Let me some dirty. Wow. What are you doing? Oh, I'm sorry. Sorry. It will come in after your mellow than the other one was crazy. Why do you think he did that?

Another horse nearby reared up as I moved the horse in the road out of the way. It was a good reminder that I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to animals.

Bring up ambi

The horses look skinny and not well taken care of, but Dana is strictly a dog-only rescuer. She says there are a group of people who focus on horses. And there’s a group of cat rescuers, too.

We finally get to Maggie’s house -- another makeshift dog shelter -- and she hops in the truck.

So Far Good News Clip 32 (25:58 - 26:18)
Emily: Hi, I'm Emily, Emily and Maggie. Nice to meet you. Yeah, we're going to get you on the other side, so I have two bags of food. Do you want need one or take one?....

Maggie says she moved to Mexico specifically to become a full-time dog rescuer. She grew up in Los Angeles and San Diego, but traveled to Mexico with her family growing up. She was familiar with the street dog problem and wanted to help.

Picking Up Josefine Clip 33 (03:09 - 3:28)
Maggie: I came here, I used to come here a lot and then I'm like, yeah, I see a lot of dogs on the street. So I said I wanted to wanting to do something. So i just always look down the streets here to see if there’s a dog that needs help because there’s always a new dog that pops up around here.

As Maggie talks, she’s constantly scanning the horizon. She never stops looking for dogs in need.

Right now, Maggie has over 20 dogs in her small house on the hill. She says that’s pretty standard.

Music bump

A lady is standing on a dirt road with a small, shaking white dog in her arms. She’s yelling Maggie’s name and flagging us down. Dana stops the truck.

Here name is Josefina Maldonado, and she’s a DIY dog rescuer, too. Josefina tells Maggie and Dana that she needs dog food, so they tell her to hop in the back of the truck and they’ll take her to the nearest pet store.

Another thing Dana, Maggie and Josefina do is feed the street dogs they can’t take in. They even feed peoples’ pets, too -- the ones that are perpetually chained up and neglected. And they also give the dogs medication, mostly oral flea treatment. They try their best to keep tabs on as many animals as they can, both the ones they shelter and the ones they don’t.

Basically, if they see an animal in need of help, they step up.

Picking Up Josefine Clip 34 (06:55 - 7:06)
Dana: Well, what about that one that we've fed? Remember that we were going to try to, that they tied up. Oh yeah. We're going to be passing by there. The black one? Yes. Yeah. We'll put yell pass by there. See if they're, if they're still feeding it.

The community of animal rescuers in the region is small and everyone knows one another.

******Picking Up Josefine Clip 35 (08:18 - 8:53)
Dana: It's funny, you know, when I go to the animal rights conferences too, it's mostly women. Like, there's this guy, Peter Young, who released a lot of mink in Utah, and then he went to prison and he always talks at the conferences about how it was worth it that, you know, he's, he always ends it with, like, I served one and a half minutes for every life I saved or something. And uh, he's kind of a skinny little guys, kind of handsome, but nothing you would like go crazy over. But boy at the animal rights conferences, he's like the heat, you know, the stud, cause there's no men.

We drop by the pet store and grab food and medication. Then we drive back up the ragged, twisting dirt road to a house halfway up the hill where a mamma dog and her babies hang out. There’s a small brown mom dog here who is severely scarred. All of them pups are super skinny. They don’t look good. The ladies pull out the pills and the food and the dogs go to town.

Feeding Street Dogs Clip 36 (00:05 - 1:58)
Hi baby. He looks pretty Skinny. hola peritos. do you want to give them? This one's very mangey. How are you going to get them to give you this one? Okay, so you just put them down. Just put it down the food down. I'm going to give it one already had one. I think he already had two. This one. He already has one. Maybe now we need this other one. This one you guys. I'm going to leave this whole bag right here. Thank he. Got It. Yeah. This one and I'm going to leave this gave me the dogs.
Feeding Street Dogs Clip 37 (03:29 - 3:36)
Dana: Well she's clearly a momma cause of the nipples. Nipples, nipples are all moms. I don't know where the babies are

The women’s work is not done. We all pile back into the trunk and head further up the road, bouncing along as we make our way to the next stop -- a house with a skinny pitbull chained up to a dog house outside. The dog looks nearly dead, and very angry about his circumstances.

Maggie hops out of the truck with a plastic shopping bag filled with food and sorta throws it nervously toward the scowling dog. The dog tears into the bag,

At Pet Food Store Clip 38 (11:17 - 11: 50)
Dana: No, he's really skinny. Yeah. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Just give him the whole bag

He’s voracious and happy for the food, but not stoked about the human who’s feeding it to him.

Maggie runs back to the truck. And the road, which was bad to begin with, is now nearly impassable. We get stuck in a pile of mud, but Dana gets us out through sheer determination.

Josefina’s house sits at the top of the hill. Actually, it’s more of a camper fenced in with about a dozen dogs running around inside a fence that surrounds it. A few dogs are even hanging around outside the fence. Josefina says somehow they just find her. She feeds them, so they stay.

Nat sound: At the pet food Store Clip 39 (18:07 - 18:45
Hi puppies! Dogs parking at Josefina’s house

At Old Ladies House Clip 40 (00:50 - 1:01)
This dog. Had his neck ripped out but he fine. the pitbull got him but he's fine now. You wouldn't you would buy one two bite people before.

At Old Ladies House Clip 41 (03:50 - 4:07)
Josefina speaking spanish: There's no. Way. I. Can. Go. Oh. No. She's gonna go to. I'm going to give him food. You. Should bring him here. Next week. My man I sent him this man. Okay. Okay. we'll come back Monday Luna's you. Yeah.
At Old Ladies House Clip 42 (6:20)
Saying goodbye to Josefina

It’s back to the truck again for our crew. We drive back down the hill and head south to another town along the Baja coast called La Mision. We’re headed to what Dana calls“The Ranch,” a large house that doubles as a makeshift animal shelter. The house is actually surrounded by several other houses-turned-animal-shelters just like it.

Dana shares the house with Elizabeth Valenzuela who runs another DIY baja dog rescue operation called Red Barn Rescue.

Dana and Elizabeth have even rescued two homeless kids who now live in this house -- a young couple they found sleeping on the beach. The kids now take care of the dozens of dogs at the house.

At Pet Food Store Clip 43 (08:16 - 8:54)
…..They asked me if I had work and I started hiring them to clean up. So now they stay there 24 hours. But it's been a little struggle. Um, are young, they don't show a lot of initiative…
m
We pull up to “The Ranch” and dogs are everywhere inside and outside of the house.

Driving To Tragic Shelter Clip 44 (04:14 - 4:36)
Dana: Okay. That, that's our house with that orange blanket on it. Nice. So the goal is to get this all fenced up and make much more areas. This is crazy. There's my wolf behind the thing. I will take him for a walk and Katrina. Wow. Those are some of the big dogs,

Driving To Tragic Shelter Clip 45 (5:45)
Nat sound barking dog

Driving To Tragic Shelter Clip 46 (5:50)
Saying hello to people at the shelter house

Elizabeth a nd the young caretakers are inside. They launch into lots of conversations about poop and parvo, the deadly doggie disease that causes vomiting, fever, bloody diarrhea and, for many pups, eventual death.

Driving To Tragic Shelter Clip 47 (08:50 - 9:06)
Kid who runs shelter: What did he say about his poop though? that is was bloody. Um, it wasn't playing this morning. He asked me about it and I said that I told it was the other day, but I know it wasn't like a consistent thing, but I, I saw it like I know it came out of him. Okay. There was nothing to do with it. Well, we're going to keep an eye on him. Okay. Let's treat the eye

Inside the house, the smell is intense. That comes with the territory. There’s hair, poop and pee everywhere. They do their best, but it’s a constant struggle to stay on top of all the messes.

Driving To Tragic Shelter Clip 48 (09:49 - 9:58)
Dana: Is This is a laundry that needs to be clean. That was a burn from downstairs and they wrote the two strides last night, almost off

The two-story red ranch house stretches across the hillside. It’s huge and kinda pricey, that’s why Dana and Elizabeth teamed up to share the cost. Elizabeth says even with the thousands of square feet inside and out, they’re still nearly at capacity. Dogs are just everywhere.

Meeting Tragic Partner Clip 49 (03:15 - 3:46)
Tragic partner: unfortunately space is the biggest issue when it comes to rescue. Everybody wants to help a dog. Everybody wants to pick them up off the street. And then what do you do with them? You know, uh, typically a foster will foster dog for about four weeks, six weeks. And then the goal is to get them healthy, rehabilitated and off to a new, you know, a new forever home. But the reality is there are so many dogs that we, this is what we do. I mean this is kind of make shift until the rest of the ranch that perimeter fence is built. Yeah. We just, we're just not there yet. But um, spaces the biggest complaint because everybody wants to help and there's nowhere to put them. So that's our biggest challenge.

Music bump

Tomorrow, a few pitbulls and terriers from the ranch, a few mutts from Dana’s house and a few more mutts from foster homes in Rosarito will be put in Dana’s car and crossed through the international border in San Ysidro to a Tragic to Magic adoption event in Solana Beach.

For puppies and the cute, older dogs, it’s not too hard to find them forever homes on the other side of the border.

But then there are the ones that Dana and other rescuers get stuck with. The ones who will probably never make it out of the makeshift shelter.

Dana With Wolf Dog Clip 50 (0 - 1:02)
Dana: (nat sound of dog choking because he's pulling on his leash) This one. The problem with him is he's not food motivated. I could have like hot dogs or the most delicious thing to try to train him and he's just care. It's crazy. But you know where he came from? He was tied up in Tijuana couple, few years ago and he was chained really tight and I guess the guy used to hit him with a stick, never let him do anything. And I, another rescuer in Tiawana kidnapped him. Oh. And then she called me and I was like, I'm not taking that dog. And then the way I got stuck neighbor with him loving to me, Huh. But there's ever been anybody that I won't take the chance.

Dana, Emily and I leave the ranch and head back home. On the way out, one of Dana’s neighbors comes out to say hello as we drive past her home. Her name is Jacqueline Rawding and she, too, runs a diy rescue outfit.

Meeting Dog Rescuer Neighbor Clip 51 (02:33 - 3:20)
Neighbor: …. I know you're on a quick mission to back to Rosarito, but it was all this rain. There was a tiny little black dog about this high and it was fighting to keep its head above water in the yard and everything was afloat. And I'm like, I don't need any more. But because someone rescue, I mean I will, I will take, if you could help get it to me, you know, it's, it's so hard. He knows we will sweat and tears. Thank you for visiting and hope to see you again. Nice meeting you.

Music bump

Baja Animal Sanctuary Adoption Event Clip 52 (04:22 - 4:25)
Nat sound from event

Months later, on the San Diego side of the border, I stopped by an adoption event put on by Baja Animal Sanctuary. The nonprofit hosts adoption events every first second and third saturday of the month in Rancho Penasquitos.

Baja Animal Sanctuary Adop tion Event Clip 53 (06:05 - 6;40)
They said if she doesn’t get adopted, they might want to foster her

Judith Sobel has been volunteering for Baja Animal Sanctuary for 14 years.

Judy says hi

She says people go to the sanctuary’s website, pick a dog and then a team of volunteers will drive down to get the dogs and cross them through the border.

In order to cross dogs legally, they have to be a certain age and they’re required to be healthy and vaccinated. People crossing the dogs are supposed to be able to show the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents specific paperwork like a health certificate and rabies vaccination certificate.

Baja Animal Sanctuary Adoption Event Clip 54 (05:17 - 5:23)
Judy: we have all the paperwork we need. the border patrol. They know us. We've been doing this for 23 years.

Once the people come to the event and pick up their dog, the adoption isn’t yet final. Baja animal sanctuary requires adoptive pet parents to submit to an in-home visit two weeks later. Then, if everything looks good, the adoption is final. The dog has a home.

Baja Animal Sanctuary Adoption Event clip 55 (02:02 - 2:14)
Judy: normally if it's not working out, we know before the two weeks we have one coming back. Today the mom turned out to be allergic so the dog comes back, their money is refunded. We find the right home.

Judy says 90 percent of their labs, shepards, mutts, chihuahuas and even pitts get adopted because of the high dog demand in San Diego.

But they’re not stoked about the endless supply of street dogs from Mexico either. That’s why the Baja Animal Sanctuary also hosts free neuter and spay events in Mexico.

Baja Animal Sanctuary Adoption Event Clip 56 (15:14 - 15:26)
Judy: we do a once a month have spay and neuter clinics, which is free to the resonance. It's paid for by donations. So we're making a difference.

Being in the animal rescue world can be daunting and depressing. But Judy says the happy endings make it worth all the work.

Baja Animal Sanctuary Adoption Event Clip 57 ( (10:13 - 10:34)
Judy: I just love dogs. I really love dogs. I really, really love and I love seeing the change from when they're at the sanctuary and I've seen them come in half dead. I mean the change and the growth and then to see them in front of a fireplace in a home, I mean really nothing is better than nothing.

Next episode teaser

Next time on the podcast, a church that meets every Sunday at the actual border fence.

Robert Vivar Clip 2 (08:13 - 8:53)
Robert: and on the wall right now, right at the center of the wall, we have a table where over communion is going to be set up and are both sides of the wall…….

Only here can you find a weekly church service that reaches people literally standing on both sides of the border.

Show credits

Only Here is a KPBS podcast hosted by me Alan Lilienthal. It was written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is our sound designer. Lisa Morrissette is operations manager and John Decker is the director of programming. If you liked this two parter, support us by becoming a KPBS member online at kpbs dot org. Thank you.

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Only Here

"Only Here" is a KPBS podcast about art, culture and life at the Western Hemisphere's busiest border crossing. Host Alan Lilienthal and producer Kinsee Morlan tell stories that could only come from a border town.