Taiwan photos: the most important one.

March 28, 2012. It’s the middle of the week, Wednesday, and I’m going for a jog. I pull on my clothes, lace up my shoes, put my iPhone in my armband and my earbuds in my ears. As I stretch, I decide I want to go a full 5k, so I need to exit our winding little neighborhood and hit the main road, ZhuGuang. If I jog straight down to the hospital and back, I’ll hit roughly three miles. There are plenty of side roads, too, if I get bored going down the wide boulevard.

I normally don’t get too bored, though. Jogging down the boulevard gives me plenty of things to see and watch as I go, even in Hsinchu, even at night. The side lanes, sheltered from the main traffic by narrow plots of grass, will keep me safe from crazy drivers.

Earbuds in, I open our big front door and step into the night. Taiwan’s pollution isn’t great for a person’s health, but neither is obesity. Off I go.

I slowly jog to the end of the lane, wait at the light, then cross YanPing Lu to the mouth of ZhuGuang. Tonight I’ll go along the left side, the side where you can see the rice paddy stretching out a few blocks west.

A quarter of a mile into my jog and I pass the junkyard by the rice paddy. A few people are standing outside talking, and they smile and stare as the foreigner jogs past.

As I cross their path, a small black puppy bounds past them and toward me. It couldn’t be more than a couple of months old. I try to ignore it to encourage it to return to the people, but it follows me. I stop, turn around, and pantomime to the people that their puppy is following me. They look confused. It’s not theirs.

Oh, no, I think.

I continue my jog, praying the puppy stops following me and returns to her family. Every time I turn around, she’s gleefully behind me, looking at me, wanting attention. Panicking, I turn around, hoping that going past the junkyard again will make her go back to her dog family. I speed up. I try to lose her.

I can’t adopt her. My mind is racing, and my heart is breaking.

If she gets hit by a car following me, what will I do? What if she gets lost and can’t find her way? What if, what if, what if?

Back on our street, I briefly turn and don’t see her. I’m relieved.

A bit further down, I instinctively turn around again to check for traffic. There she is, happily trotting behind me.

My heart is in my stomach. I reach the house and sit on my parked scooter outside our walled-in front entry. She sits behind me on the concrete. By this time I’m crying, begging her to leave. I can’t take her. All I want to do is sit cross-legged on the dirty ground and love on her, but I can’t.

I can’t won’t stop screaming through my head. It’s debilitating, and I’m frozen, unable to decide what to do.

Finally, ten minutes later, I stand up, open the gate, let myself in, and lock her out. She immediately starts crying. I escape inside the house, lean against the door, and cry, too.

Up the three flights of stairs to my room, and I can still hear her. I’m freaking out, and reconsidering my actions. Maybe I can take her. Can I? Can I?

She stops crying, and I climb the stairs to the roof. Silently, I creep to the edge and look down to find her. The neighbor is petting her.

Okay, I think. She’s safe. She’s okay. I’m reassuring myself, albeit poorly.

The next morning, I can’t stop thinking about the puppy. After work I walk the neighborhood, trying to find her. I want to make sure she’s okay. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I find her, but the longer I look without any sign of her, the more heartbroken I am.

She’s nowhere to be found. Where did she go? Is she okay?

Then, some days later, I’m on the roof again, reflecting. Across the street, in our neighbor’s tiny front porch, I see something. The puppy.

I call down to her, and she sits, just as she did behind my scooter. She sits, staring up at me, her tail wagging furiously. She’s happy to see me.

That was over two years ago.

Before I left Taiwan in August 2012, I frequently looked down at the puppy, now taking up residence on my neighbor’s patio. I desperately wanted to go over and love on her, but I never did. As far as I could tell, she spent all her time on that patio. She didn’t go inside, or for walks. She was just… there.

In April 2014, I went back to Taiwan to visit. We stayed in my old room in my old house. I went to the roof, looked down, and there she was. She was bigger. She noticed me and held my gaze. I felt like she recognized me, but was no longer happy to see me.

I’ve been in animal rescue since early 2011. We like to say that an animal will choose you, that you know when you meet the right dog. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a special connection between human and animal when an animal immediately, explicitly trusts you. Loves you. Chooses you.

The puppy chose me.

I abandoned her.

Before we left Taiwan this past April, I went to the roof with my camera and took a picture of her. As she lay there, I composed the shot. My heart was numb.

She lifted her head to look at me. I held my breath. She put her head back down, bored. I no longer mattered to her.

This is the picture of the puppy, now between two and three years old. This is likely the last time I’ll ever see her, as my former roommates moved out of the house this past June.

I have a hard time looking at this picture. It breaks my heart. I regret that night, and I wish it had never happened.

I keep it to remind me not to let it happen again. If another dog ever chooses me, I can’t say no.

the baby

Introducing: Nalla!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012, Charlotte flew across the Pacific Ocean.

Likely going through her head: "Woman, what is your problem? Why are you crying?"

She joined eight other TUAPA dogs on a Journey of Love to Seattle, Washington,

Johnny and Nalla, two of my favorite puppies at TUAPA, on their way to Seattle. I was so happy, but no one could tell for the blubbering and tears streaming down my face.

where she was united with her forever family.

Stretching her legs after a long flight

Thanks to the efforts of Johanna the Magnificent Wonder,

Johanna's blurry in person, too, because she's constantly on the go.

the incredible TUAPA staff and volunteers, Connie the Rockstar, Courtney the Fantastic, and, of course, Charlotte’s new Family Extraordinaire,

Once again being held, but this time by very happy people who are smiling.

the adorable little puppy formerly known as Nadine, then Charlotte, and now Nalla, is now home.

She has a brother, Ty, also a Taiwan dog.

They're the same age and both from Taiwan, but Ty was adopted when he was very young. Look at the difference in their sizes!

Protecting her toy from her brother. She's obviously vicious.

No longer does she have to be carried up and down stairs to get outside, and she can romp in the grass as often as her heart desires. She gets to explore Seattle with her new family.

Look at that dog. She's exactly where she's supposed to be.

And, if plans go accordingly, her front leg will be fixed.

Her right leg is the one that will be operated on.

Unable to move, in October 2011, Nalla was carefully picked up off the street by a TUAPA volunteer. Now, less than five months later, she’s in a happy, safe place. She’s home!

Nalla the Wonderpuppy!

Happy trails, pup!

The no-kill animal shelter I’ve become slightly obsessed with, TUAPA (see posts here, here, and here), does everything it can to place dogs and cats into homes in Taiwan. It works to rehabilitate dogs that need a little extra nudge in a positive direction so they can join a family once they’re ready.


People worldwide are supporters of this little engine that could. TUAPA partners with rescues and shelters around the world in order to help some dogs from its shelter in Taichung, Taiwan, that are “most adoptable” travel abroad to rescues, foster homes, and forever homes.

I was trying to get him to pose for a picture that Courtney, the passenger, who was sitting in front of me, was taking. Hannah took this picture of our massive failure.

My friend Hannah and I were able to help nine TUAPA dogs, including The Pup Formerly Known As Charlotte, get ready for the long flight from Taipei to Seattle on Tuesday, February 21.

Happy people, happy puppies at the airport.

Then, on Thursday, March 1, I flew with two dogs to their new foster home in San Francisco.

Two shy sister shiba puppies. Eventually this one hopped out of her crate, only to crawl under the cart so she could "hide".

All I had to do was carry some paperwork, claim the dogs at customs, and cart them out to their waiting foster dad out in the arrivals hall.

When you're checking live animals as luggage, the airline treats you differently. The scanners beeped every time my ticket was scanned, and everyone knew the puppies were mine. I also got to cut in line a lot. Not a bad gig.

It’s a process to get the dogs ready to fly abroad – medical tests, fundraising, extensive paperwork and email chains, and finding a passenger willing to fly directly to his or her destination. Once the dogs arrive, the rescue and receiving families get to work.

San Francisco, here we come!

For the humans, it’s a lot of time-consuming effort, but for the dogs, it’s a new life, and that makes it all worth it.

My heart is confused.

I thought about her nearly every day; a puppy, hit by a car in October, was in TUAPA’s care. I texted Johanna, the lead TUAPA volunteer, once every few weeks asking if she had any updates. Did the puppy make it? Was she okay?

I kept this picture open in one of my Firefox tabs for a month. I had it saved on my iPod. I was a little obsessive.

I met the puppy in late January. There was something about her, something that made me want to take her home. It was ludicrous; I lived on the third floor of a house on a narrow, incredibly busy one-way street. My lifestyle, my house, my situation was quite possibly the most difficult combination for having a dog, let alone a mobility-challenged puppy.

However, some puppies and dogs don’t survive the winter at the TUAPA shelter. Taiwan’s winters are unkind to those without four walls and a roof. Fearing for her survival, I texted Johanna a couple of days after meeting the puppy. “I want her.”

I’m petting her with my left hand. Hundreds of dogs around me, and I focused on her.

Two weeks later, and this nine-month-oldish lab mix is now named Charlotte. She has stolen my heart and changed my world. I love her. From her soft ears to the line across her head where her fur changes from black to mahogany; from her excited puppy prance to her thick tail whipping back and forth; from her penchant for eating things that will make a rude reappearance later to her groan every time I pick her up to take her up or down the stairs. I love her.

It’s because I love her that I need to find her a better home.

With those ears, she can listen to your thoughts.

Charlotte would thrive, would absolutely conquer the world, if she had a home with another dog (or two… or fifty) and a yard. She loves other dogs. LOVES. Tail thumping, she approaches other dogs like I might approach Jeremy Renner – with stars in her eyes and the urge to rush up and lick them. Other dogs have growled, snarled, barked, and tried to bite her, but she joyfully regards them with love. She doesn’t growl back. She just wants to play. I had to pick her up and drag her away from two large, imposing male strays that had ill intentions for her. “But Mandy!” I imagined her saying, “they looked so friendly!”

Yes, it’s weird lighting, but she really does have a line between her ears where her fur abruptly changes color.

She is a puppy, through and through. We’re working on not chewing my slippers or peeing in the house, though she has never gone number two inside. No matter what, she holds it… just not number one. But she’s learning. I think the lack of easily-accessible bathroom space has something to do with it.

This may have been just before she sniffed my Sprite bottle and spilled it on my former MacBook. That’s why I haven’t posted many pictures. These are all from my iPhone. I still don’t have a laptop.

We go on two walks every day, one in the morning before I go to work, the other just before bed. She sees me grab the leash and she hops over to me and lets me slip it over her head. Charlotte enjoys our walks, even when there are scooters and cars zipping past, lawnmowers, caged dogs growling and barking, cats running amock, fireworks exploding everywhere, kids screaming nearby.

Our morning walk was exhausting, apparently. She passed out on top of Monkey.

She fears leaf blowers, though – at least she did when she first encountered one. Her reaction was to try to scamper behind a nearby car. The next time it passed, she was a little less terrified, but she still stood behind me in case it attacked.

Charlotte is incredible. And that’s why I’m sad, and slightly confused, as to why it’s not supposed to work out for the two of us. My role is not supposed to be Permanent Caregiver. My role is Foster Caregiver, and I need to find her a loving place that will help her become a joyful, healthy, strong dog.

The amount of jealousy I have for her future family probably needs to be addressed in therapy.

There are fireworks exploding within a block of the house on every corner, the dog outside is howling, but she’s done for the night.

If you know of the perfect home, no matter where it is, I’ll get her there. With help from TUAPA, I’ll do all the hard work to get her exactly where she needs to be. I just need help finding her Forever Home.

The day I send her Home is the day I’m going to ugly-cry like only trained professionals have ever seen. It’s going to be bad for me, but it’s going to be incredible for her.