Earlier this month, when I was in Miami reporting on Hurricane Irma, I visited the Miami-Dade animal shelter. In the chaos after the storm, with downed power lines and flooding, dogs were being dropped off. Some were lost or strays or they had been abandoned by their owners. The people dropping them off spotted them wandering alone in the city.
One particular puppy caught my eye: a tiny 3-month-old Jack Russell mix with big brown eyes, black and brown spots and tufted hair. He’d been found in a park after the storm. He was slightly bedraggled and he’d clearly spent the hurricane alone in the rain and wind. He had no chip or collar.
He licked my nose and it was love.
I texted my husband. His answer was succinct: “Oh no.”
My answer was an unequivocal “oh yes.” This puppy was going to be mine.
But first, I had to wait to see if anyone claimed him. No one did.
So last week, I flew back down to Miami to pick him up.
Lilian Bohorquez works for Miami-Dade County Animal Services and she’d been taking care of the puppy in her office. She told me everybody loved him, that he loved to play and lick.
And then she filled me in on some of his less endearing antics, like peeing in the director’s office and chewing computer cables.
But it didn’t matter when I finally saw his little face. I scooped him up and cuddled him like a baby.
Now, I am obviously a dog lover. But rescue dogs in particular have played an important role in my life. When I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder during the Iraq War, I adopted my first rescue. Pets have a valuable role to play in the recovery from trauma. Her name was Ursa, and until the day she died of cancer a few years ago, she was one of the most important parts of my life. We have another rescue called Nena — who is wonderful — but she’s older, and has trouble keeping up now with my 4-year-old daughter.
This puppy who had been abandoned in a storm I had covered in my hometown seemed like it was destined to be mine.
While down there, I got a quick update from Alex Munoz, the director of Miami-Dade County Animal Services. Fewer people are adopting pets there, he says, because after the storm many folks are still struggling with no power and property damage. Many animals were moved out to other parts of the country; the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and private companies pitched in to help.
Munoz says Irma has changed their thinking on one important issue. After Hurricane Katrina, a federal law allowed shelters to admit people with pets. But during Irma, there was only one pet-friendly shelter available and it was at capacity — which meant people refused to evacuate certain high-risk areas.
“Something that we’ve learned, and we’ve seen firsthand, is unless folks have an option to go with their pets, they are not going to go,” Munoz says. Florida and other areas prone to natural disasters need to expand the number of pet-friendly facilities, he says.
Paperwork all done, my puppy was ready to go. The team at Miami-Dade said their goodbyes to me and my dog and we flew home to D.C.
I had not told my daughter about my mission. I arrived just before bedtime; she was in the living room playing when the puppy and I walked through the door.
“Oh Mommy!” she cried in a voice that melts a mother’s heart. “I love him, I love him,” she chanted as she hugged and kissed him.
I had a few terrible ideas on what to name him — Irmo, after the storm, Mr. Bubbles, because I thought it was funny, Stormy, which is self-explanatory.
We finally settled on Kiko. He’s been making himself at home. Yes, he’s rambunctious and has peed on a few carpets and chewed a few cables. My daughter, my husband and I adore him though. Kiko sleeps with us every night, and he cries at the window when my daughter heads to school.
Kiko was lost in the storm, but he will have a home forever with us.
Samantha Balaban produced and edited the audio of this story.