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.

Annual TUAPA Appreciation Dinner

Christmas Eve 2011 was a disappointment, and I let everyone know all about how terrible it was for me. I got sick, had a disabling headache, and missed a Christmas party I’d been looking forward to for a full month. Christmas Eve I was the Grinch, and I was ready to rain on everyone’s Christmas.

Christmas Day was the Annual TUAPA Appreciation Dinner in Taichung. I was self-medicating like an addict with DayQuil and Advil, my nose was a runny mess, and my sneezes blasted the eardrums of anyone within a ten-foot radius. Wallowing in self-pity, I took the high speed train down to meet Johanna and Joey and go to the dinner. Part of me wanted to cancel and mope around in sweatpants at home, but the commitment had been made. I was just going to make sure they knew how miserable I was.

We arrived at the small convention center, where dozens of volunteers and venue staff were setting up for the event. The dining hall was uncomfortably stuffed with tables and chairs, all of which would be full of TUAPA supporters within a couple of hours.

I watched the volunteers set up a merchandise table.

I spent a lot of money here.

I watched the chairpeople mingle and greet donors and volunteers. I watched Joey and Johanna step in and coordinate the behind-the-scenes action. I watched brief clips of Cesar Milan working with TUAPA dogs on a giant screen as Joey tested the media.

Quietly, I emerged from my pity party.

Joey and Johanna, married for 17 years, are two of my favorite people on this island. Jo likes to ham it up in front of the camera just like me.

Being surrounded by generous people who are genuine in their words and actions made me refocus.

TUAPA is a small, dedicated organization that has hundreds of people who believe in its cause.

I sat at a table across from the Chairwoman of the Board, an incredible woman who devotes time, energy and finances to Taiwan’s homeless animals.

Here she is addressing a crowd of approximately 700 people. This woman is outstanding.

To my left was Johanna, who sacrifices her health and sanity to loving the animals; I often worry about her stress level when we’re away from the dogs. When I see her with them, though, she has a joyful, fulfilled look on her face. The dogs know her love and love her. Because of her, I now understand dogs more than I ever have, which helped me one night when I was charged by a stray dog during a run. Had it not been for what I’ve learned from Johanna, the encounter would’ve had a very different outcome.

TUAPA was melting my coldheartedness towards Christmas.

To my right was Josie, a volunteer I met in November. She jumped into the deep end of the TUAPA pool, immediately adopting a dog and fostering another. As dinner service began, she popped into the seat next to me with a gleeful giggle and showed us the dress she’d bought for her TUAPA dog, Luna. She laughed with pure happiness, sharing how she knew Luna would hate the dress.

Josie looked chic and statuesque, while my cold made me feel like I resembled the Abominable Snowman.

That’s the thing about TUAPA volunteers. Johanna, Joey, Josie, Rachel: they all fight so hard for the animals in Taiwan, and they have so much love, so much compassion for them. You see them argue for the their best interests and struggle to make sure the animals receive the best care available. Then you see them with the dogs, cooing at them, burying their faces in fur as the dog leans into their arms. It’s not an empty battle for them.

At TUAPA, you meet people who don’t believe in lip-service. Dr. Jimmy, Nick, Vicki, and all the volunteers say what they’ll do and then do it. They don’t believe in empty promises or careless acts. Everything has a purpose, every word has meaning, every action has a result. These people are careful to be genuine, with generosity that has no ulterior motive.

That’s what Christmas should be about. It’s not about gifts or pretty things. It’s about generosity beyond words. It’s about making the world a little better by being absolutely honest and open and acting to make the lives of others, two- and four-legged both, better.

Ever since I saw this picture in my Facebook feed, I've wanted to meet this puppy. I should finally meet her this Saturday!

Thank you, TUAPA. Through my sneezing and nose-blowing, you reminded me of the real reason for the Christmas season: ultimate generosity.