Finding Xela

On a trip to Guatemala, I did not expect to come home with a puppy.
In 2007, I traveled to Quetzaltenango (otherwise known as Xela), Guatemala to learn Spanish and volunteer at a El Nahual Language School and Community Center.
Every morning on my way to class, I would bring part of my breakfast to share with the street dogs. Many people told me not to touch them or interact with them as they were apparently aggressive. Typical me, I made friends anyways, and they escorted me to school every morning.

Finding Newborn Puppies

After living there for about a month, I was on my way to the center for my Spanish lessons. As I was walking, I heard puppies crying on the side of the road. I tried to find them but couldn’t. I figured that their mother was likely close by and thought that I shouldn’t be too concerned.
Later that evening after a heavy rainstorm, I was walking to the center again for a movie night and heard the whining once more. This time it sounded weaker, and I got worried. I began looking for the den, finally finding it, but not managing to get the puppies out because they were so deep inside the hole. I ran to the center and told my partner Mac, who quickly left and came with me to try to get the puppies out.
Mac dug, and finally he got to one. He passed the first one to me. It was cold, wet, and the umbilical cord was still attached. It had clearly not been tended to by its mother from the beginning. Mac kept digging, and found two more newborn puppies in the same state. We realized that these puppies must have been abandoned at birth, and got cold and wet during the rainstorm, digging themselves deeper into the den.
We took all three and started to rub them under towels and blankets to warm them up. They were very cold and weak.  We went to a store that was geared towards animals and bought some puppy formula, and then to another store and bought a baby bottle.

Caring for Newborn Puppies

I began feeding the little ones one by one. I had to feed each one every hour, and rub their bum with a towel so that they could defecate (newborn puppies can’t go to the bathroom on their own without their mother licking them). It was round-the-clock work. I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
The next day, I took them all to school with me so I could continue with their care during the day. Some of the other foreigners offered to help with their feeding. They were growing plump little bellies, and seemed to be getting stronger.
The next morning, one of them looked weaker than the rest. Within a couple hours, he died in my arms. One hour after that, another one passed away. Finally an hour later, the last puppy took its last breath.
I was devastated. I cried and cried all morning, and didn’t want to leave my bedroom. Finally, Mac came home and convinced me we should go bury the puppies somewhere special. We made a little cross out of sticks, and had a little ceremony.
The next morning I arrived empty handed at the center, and everyone asked what happened. While I was in tears explaining what had happened, one of the cleaning ladies asked me if I wanted to go to her house later and pick out one puppy from the litter of 8. She was struggling to care for them with the small amount of money she made, and her 5 young children she needed to feed.

Finding Xela (pronounced: 'Sheyla')

After school I went to see the littler of puppies. In the middle of the herd of puppies, there was little red head Xela. At 4 weeks old, she was a little emaciated, and although she seemed strong, she clearly needed more food than her mother could give her. I could have left her with her litter for one more week, but considering how many puppies the mother had to feed, I felt at this point I would likely be able to feed her better myself.
It was hard to pick one pup out of a litter of 8. Not knowing the fate of the remaining puppies made it a difficult decision. I still think about the others to this day, and wonder what happened to them.
Xela, the only red head in her litter, was calm and independent for a 4 week old pup. Within two hours of taking her home she had imprinted on me, and that was that. At that age, puppies will imprint on any species that takes them into their care. Officially in Xela’s mind, I was her mommy.

Caring for Baby Xela

We took her straight to the vet and had her checked out and had her first set of shots. She had flea treatment and de-worming. Her paperwork was going to have to be rushed as I was leaving the country in 5 days.
I had to pre-chew food for her as she was able to eat some solid foods but it had to be pureed. We didn’t have a blender or anything so I just did it the natural way.
Xela was potty trained in 24 hours after only one pee and one poo accident inside. Since she had imprinted, she followed me everywhere, and didn’t need a leash. Because she was so tiny, she had to sleep with me right in the curve of my neck on the pillow, so she could regulate her body heat.

Returning to Canada

Our flight home was pretty easy. Xela was supposed to travel in a carry bag under the seat in front of me. A lady with cancer was sitting beside us, and asked if she could see Xela. I unzipped the bag and baby Xela’s tiny head popped out. It brought her so much joy to cuddle with Xela, that the flight attendants pretended they didn’t see, and she was allowed out of the bag for the entire flight.
Returning to Canada was not a very big adjustment for Xela. She always seemed content as long as she was with my partner Mac and I.

At 8 weeks when she had enough body fat, we started to crate train her. This was difficult considering that she had been sleeping on us (literally) for the first month. We had to start with the crate beside the bed, and my hand inside the crate. Every night, we would move the crate a couple inches further away. It took a month to get it into the next room, but we eventually made it.

Growing Up

Right from the start, Xela was exposed to, and socialized with many people, dogs and other animals. As we were poor students at the time, we took her with us everywhere on public transit. She adjusted extremely well. She was a very rambunctious pup with A LOT of energy. I had to Rollerblade with her, and Mac had to jog her so she would get out her access energy and not destroy the house.
Xela has lived with us in France and India, but I think that Canada is her favourite place.

Growing Old

Unfortunately, Xela was diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy at the age of 10.
This meant she was slowly loosing the sensation in her back end. She was at a point where she needed a wheelchair to go on walks at the age of 14. She was still able to walk inside a little with help.
Luckily, technology allowed us more time with her thanks to a doggy wheelchair we got at Canadian Animal Rehab. They helped fit her correctly which is key to it working properly without causing discomfort. At that point, she had lost most of the control of her bowels and bladder, but we managed this by manually expressing it on a schedule to try and avoid accidents. It sounds like a lot of work, but really its not that bad, as we did it 4 times a day.
Her favourite activities were eating, lying in the sunshine and swimming. If Xela had a say, we would have gotten her a pet cat. She absolutely loved cats. Unfortunately, because we live in the city in a small apartment, we didn’t feel that its the right time for us to add another fur-baby to our family.
Xela In Wheelchair

Saying Goodbye

Just 2 months shy of 16 years old, we had to make the difficult decision to put Xela down. She had woken up and suddenly could not put weight on her strongest front leg. She also had many recurring UTI’s, leaving her very weak. The last one really started her decline as she wasn’t eating due to the anti-biotics making her nauseous. 
We were lucky enough to be able to plan it at home with the held of Midtown Mobile Vet.  They specialize in hospice care and at home euthanasia. Dr. Sarah was absolutely lovely, and helped us say goodbye in the most gentle loving way. Xela passed peacefully in our home surrounded by her family on May 16th, 2023.

Dealing With Grief

Loosing a pet is devastating. Unless you’ve gone through it, you won’t know how difficult it is. Do not underestimate how much these animals touch our hearts and are such a big part of our lives. When they leave us (which is always too soon), it is absolutely heart wrenching. If you or someone you know have just lost a furry family member, reach out to them and let them know you are here for them. You can also let them know there are a lot of resources that can be found on Midtown Mobile Vet’s Website.

For More Of Kristina's Personal Stories, See Below