Ruby Montana remembers the night she got a call from Border Patrol about a miniature poodle named Lupe.
“This agent said, ‘this family just made it all the way from Venezuela, their dog is going to be taken from them. They were hysterical.’”
Animals are not allowed in Border Patrol processing facilities and the poodle’s family was being taken into custody. In El Paso, some Border Patrol Agents call the city’s overcrowded animal shelter to pick up a dog. Others reach out to Montana’s Bridge Pups rescue group.
She started the tiny organization about ten years ago to help stray dogs along this stretch of border. Last summer, she also began getting calls about dogs like Lupe when more Venezuelan migrants began showing up at the border with their pets.
“This was something that was unexpected and really opened up my eyes in so many ways, to so many different issues regarding the refugees and the lengths they will go to keep their furry family members,” Montana said.
Even though more migrants are arriving at the border with pets, Montana says there’s no clear protocol for taking care of the animals when migrants are taken into custody. It depends on the agent who encounters the dogs.
“These are sentient living creatures who have strong familial bonds and it’s just cruel to not have a set policy or procedure in place,” Montana said.
Lupe’s family got the 8-year-old poodle as a puppy. When they fled Venezuela there was no doubt she would come along.
“Leaving her behind would have been like leaving a part of ourselves. Lupe is a member of the family,” said Oviedo, the dog’s owner. The Venezuelan mother of four requested we not use her full name because the family’s immigration case is pending.
Lupe traveled more than 2700 miles to the U.S.-Mexico border with her family through the treacherous Darien Gap jungle.
“The swamp was up to our hips,” she said. “We thought Lupe would die.”
Her 14-year-old daughter ditched her suitcase and carried Lupe on her shoulders during the six hours it took to make it out of the swamp, Oviedo said.
Another migrant family from Venezuela, rescued their dog Ramona, a little black and tan Chihuahua on the dangerous trek north.
“We saved this little dog in the jungle. She was lost, abandoned, dying,” said Maria Rodriguez.
Rodriguez says the dog has been a comfort for her two young children on the journey. Her daughter clung to Ramona outside the El Paso church where they were staying temporarily. A local vet provided free vaccinations for Ramona and other pets.
Jonathan Morales named the black pug puppy he cradled in a blanket outside the church Sacha. He says a Russian migrant gave him the puppy to care for when the man was taken into custody by Border Patrol.
“The love and affection you have for a little animal is very big. She’s my traveling companion” Morales said.
Migrants and their beloved dogs face an uncertain future. Rodriguez says after her family made it to Denver, they had to give Ramona, their Chihuahua, to an animal shelter temporarily since they cannot have a pet where they are staying.
In El Paso, the Animal Services shelter works to return pets to their migrant families once they’re released from Border Patrol custody.
“It’s been really inspiring going through this process,” Michele Anderson, marketing and public engagement manager for Animal Services.
Border Patrol shares the family’s contact information with Animal Services and is supposed to give the shelter’s information to the migrants as well.
“These families didn’t travel thousands of miles just to abandon them,” said Anderson. Animal Services has teamed up with Ruby Montana of Bridge Pups to help migrants recover their pets when possible.
Two Pugs are among those reunited with their families. Montana also raised money to buy pet carriers and tickets so the Pugs could travel with their Venezuelan family on to the city where they will await immigration proceedings.
Montana has reunited four dogs with their families in recent months. A video recorded by Montana in July shows a little dog named Simba and his family running towards each other at the El Paso International Airport. A boy and his mother hug and kiss the tail wagging dog.
Lupe’s family was also processed and released from Border Patrol custody in El Paso after a few days to await immigration proceedings. But they were quickly put on a bus that they eventually found out was bound for New York City.
“So it wasn’t until they were in New York City and the mother was able to get a cell phone, the mother called me incredibly emotional,” Montana said.
“She wanted to know where Lupe was. Was she ok? Did I have her? Can I please send pictures? They were just so worried this whole time for Lupe, for their dog,” she said.
The family is still in New York and video chats with Montana often so they can see Lupe. They are not allowed to have a dog in the place where they are staying temporarily.
During a recent chat the mother of the family calls out, “Lupe, princess, where’s my beautiful love, Lupe?”The dog stares at the screen. One of the daughters who has Down’s Syndrome beams when she sees Lupe.
They talk often and Montana sends them photos of their poodle too.
I’m so grateful to Ruby, an angel from God,”Oldimar said.
The little poodle who began a journey thousands of miles away in South America has found a safe haven with Montana and adapted well to her new life
“She’s definitely learned quite a few words in English,” Montana said. “I can’t say the word walk unless it’s walk time.”
She added: “I’ve promised them I’m more than happy to keep Lupe for as long as necessary, even if that means forever.”