On a rainy day in early August, Arwen Niles loaded a paralyzed dog and her two puppies found near the airport into the back of her car. She didn't know what could be done to help them, nor that the paralyzed dog – soon christened Mama Dog – would end up staying with her family of three for two months. In those first moments, she just knew she could do something.
Now, nearly eight weeks later, Mama Dog's journey on Guam will end where it began: the A.B. Won Pat International Airport. On Sept. 26, Mama Dog was on an early flight to Hartford, Connecticut, where she'll receive medical care not available on island and settle into a temporary home with a foster parent who Niles said can't wait to meet her.
Before Mama Dog's flight, Niles held a final get-together at Asan Beach Park on Sept. 24, where a small group of Mama Dog's biggest supporters gathered to say goodbye to the friendly, smiling dog, sitting calmly in a red wagon decorated with pink streamers.
Among the group were Niles' husband, Matt Herrygers, without whom Niles said she couldn't have given Mama Dog the care she needed; Tracilynn Kantrud, who organized a paddleboarding fundraiser that brought in $260; Tristi Ah Mu, who organized a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $6,500; and Amber Fake, who watched Niles' own dog so that Niles and Herrygers could better care of Mama Dog.
Ah Mu brought along a sign to the gathering, which read, "At first they will ask why you're doing it. Later they'll ask how you did it."
Early on, Niles faced criticism from some who thought Mama Dog should be euthanized and was told by several local veterinarians that they could not help the dog, whose spine appeared to have been fractured, and that the care she needed was not available on Guam.
But Niles refused to give up.
"In the end, the conversation I had with the vet was that it was basically a matter of resources," Niles said. "And if it's a matter of resources, then I say, why not try to get them? If you get them, perfect. And if you don't? Again, the animal's not any worse off than if you hadn't tried."
Two months later, Niles and Mama Dog's other supporters have done all they can – Ah Mu's GoFundMe campaign and a separate PayPal campaign collectively raised more than $10,000 to help cover Mama Dog's travel and medical costs, as well as a donation to PAWS New England, the humane society that will ultimately take responsibility for Mama Dog's care.
In the past weeks, Niles has watched Mama Dog come back to life and has even seen some movement in her back legs. At this point, Niles said, the worst-case scenario is that Mama Dog will use a wheelchair and be pain-free for the rest of her life. But there may be a chance she could walk again.
After many ups and downs, Niles, herself a new mother, is tired. But she says it was all worth it.
"We'll be fine," she said of her family, as they look forward to having a bit more time on their hands after Mama Dog flies out. Years from now, Niles said, the ups and downs of helping the paralyzed pup won't matter when she knows Mama Dog was given the chance to find a forever home and live a full life.
Shortly after taking in Mama Dog, Niles launched a Facebook page as a means of keeping her supporters updated and sharing the dog's story. Over time, the page garnered support for other island dogs in need of foster and forever homes, with 956 people following Mama Dog's story to date.
But even as little as three weeks ago, Mama Dog's future remained uncertain.
In early September, Women United for Animal Welfare – a Los Angeles, California-based humane society – agreed to take in Mama Dog but had no foster home available. It wasn't until weeks later that WUFAW was able to locate a foster parent on the opposite coast, through PAWS New England.
Niles said that in a way, the wait was worth it. Over the past two months, she noted, multiple people offered to foster Mama Dog but ultimately backed out.
"We couldn't have dreamed up a better plan for her," Niles said in her latest Facebook update. "Talk about ending up in the perfect hands!"
Niles said the foster parent, a former vet tech who has wheelchair-bound dogs at home, is the first person she's talked to who has been excited to take Mama Dog into their home.
Now that Niles knows what's possible, she hopes Mama Dog's story will inspire others to take action and relieve suffering when they see it.
Thanks to social media, Mama Dog's story was shared across territories, states and oceans. Posts from Mama Dog's Facebook page alone have been shared more than 800 times and viewed more than 30,000 times.
"I hope that somebody would see this and say, well crazier things have happened. Somebody's done it so maybe this is possible – let's just see," Niles said. "There's people out there that will help. I think the resources are around, if you fight for them."
"It will have taken exactly (eight) weeks by the time she boards her flight, and the task (was) monumental," Niles wrote in her last Facebook post. "But we finally did it. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in saving this sweet girl's life. Mama Dog's miracle is all yours."