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.