- Rachael Watt is the "onsite animal hero" of her family's hospitality property, Acre in Baja, Mexico.
- She originally moved down from her home in Vancouver, Canada to assist with opening the hotel and to work as the property's onsite general manager but has since shifted to a different sort of onsite role: In-House Animal Rescuer at AcreDogs.
- Rachael has been overseeing the adoption and transportation of these puppies from Mexico all across North America while she's quarantining with her family back in Vancouver.
- Over the past three years Rachael has adopted out 220 puppies of various breeds, which have grown up to become strong and healthy, and whose families have kept in touch with her over social media.
- Read the story of her puppy rescue in Baja Mexico and how she's been running the operation remotely throughout the pandemic, as told to freelance writer Molly O'Brien.
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I'm from Vancouver, Canada, and Acre is my family's property. I originally moved down to the property in Mexico to help open up the hotel — a treehouse hotel — which was super cool. Before that, I owned a dog-walking business in Vancouver called "Pooped."
I was the hotel manager for the first year that I was down there, but animals continued to be my passion. Within the first couple months of moving, a friend of a friend had a litter of puppies and was looking for someone to foster and take care of them. I took the puppies in at the same time as I was running the hotel, and I essentially just ended up bringing them to work with me.
A lot of the hotel guests would play with the pups, and interact with them, and within a couple weeks all of them had been adopted out to hotel guests. That's what gave me the idea to take on more puppies — and it became a feature of the property. People would come down to the property just to get a puppy. Primarily puppies go home with visitors from Canada or the US. However, during COVID, the majority of our puppies have gone to local homes due to travel restrictions.
We eventually switched from not only owning the hotel but to also offering some beautiful villas onsite. I started managing the real estate, which has given me a lot more freedom and free time to expand the animal program.
My first choice is always to adopt the puppy to someone who's onsite. I love the idea of someone coming, meeting their own puppy, and having that connection — and then I can send it home with that person on their return flight. I also have a lot of adoption requests coming through our followers on social media, so I'll find a guest on property who is willing to transport that puppy back with them to meet up with the new owner. I'll print out an announcement and post it on property saying "we're looking for someone to take a puppy back to Chicago," and then usually one of our hotel guests will volunteer, and I can fly them to different cities in Canada and the US in collaboration with our onsite guests. Importing dogs across borders isn't a problem because there's no "sale" involved. I'm just sending a personal pet home with them.
It's pretty simple, and I can make sure that the vaccinations are done and the paperwork is ready; I provide a carrier and everything.
If one of our on-property guests falls in love with one of our rescued puppies, there are two options to get them home with the new adopters. They can either fly home with the new parent, if the puppy is the right age and there is enough notice to get documents in order. Or, a second option is to have your puppy flown to you by a pet escort at a later date. The pet escorts are other on-site visitors who volunteer to fly puppies home with them when they leave town. I coordinate where puppies need to be and who is available to escort them home to their new adoptive parents.
Because we primarily rescue out puppies, they are small enough to travel in the airplane cabin under your seat. We make sure all of the vaccination records and travel documents are ready before the flight. When you land in your home city, you go through a short customs detour where your pet's paperwork is checked.
I find that because of the in-depth socialization that our puppies get onsite, flying and travel is rarely an issue. Our puppies have a variety of visitors coming and going each day. They are used to sounds, people, and vehicles, already -- which makes their big travel day smooth. Whenever I travel with one of the puppies, people assume they have had sedatives, which is not the case, because they sleep the entire trip.
I just love to see the growth in these animals. I love to see these animals go from these broken, baby animals and watch them grow and follow how their lives completely shift and their personalities transform.
I follow all of my dogs on social media to keep up with where they are in their homes now, and I remember every single puppy I've ever sent. Watching them thrive all over North America, in these amazing homes, loving their lives — it's crazy to think of where they came from. I found them in horrible circumstances — such as in a pile of garbage, here in Baja.
The hardest thing has been having to be back in Canada to quarantine with my family without the animals; I knew that travel restrictions would greatly affect my work in Cabo, and decided to take it as an opportunity to spend time with my loved ones in Canada. It's still been so hard, because there's no difference in the amount of animals that need help. There's no foot traffic on our property — we've been shut down which means no donations, no adoptions, everything's kind of just halted. I've been running everything from Canada. I've been lucky enough to put together a really solid team including two full-time staff who can look over everything.
As far as puppy adoptions — that's been more complicated. I'm usually in the middle down there, getting everything organized, but right now it's a lot of coordinating with people and just trying to post online to make sure I can get everything sorted from abroad.
We recently had two puppies go from Cabo all the way up through the US up to Vancouver — which was complicated because there were so many COVID stops. They eventually made it up to Vancouver, but the whole thing took over two days of traveling, with intense communication via phone and online messaging which was complicated, but we made it work.
We're super fortunate in situations like this that we have a great following on social media of kind people who are willing to step up and help however they can. I'm in charge of running the social media for the dogs and the animals.
The biggest challenge that I've faced throughout this experience is just education. The most frustrating thing to me is when people already have an idea of what a "rescue dog" is — and it can just be so far from what the reality of a "rescue dog" really is. I have puppies over here that have survived viruses, worms, giardia, and grow up to become these amazing, healthy dogs that are just so intelligent, because their genetics are so strong.
Rescue dogs are not "sick" or "problematic." Education surrounding this topic is important, as well as understanding why it's important to adopt, and not "shop." It's been really great to see what they can do and what they can overcome. Knock on wood, I've had no health scares with any of my puppies since I've been sending them out over the last three years. With 220 puppies, that's an amazing thing to say.
The biggest lesson I've learned throughout this entire experience is how to teach myself everything, which has been a huge learning curve. I've been getting amazing feedback from all of my owners, and we've gotten to the point where there has even been a waitlist for adoptions.
Ironically, there has been a large increase in adoption requests since this pandemic started, but with few visitors to the property, I've had no options for flight escorts. I realized that I would only be able to adopt out puppies to those who would be willing to pick them up from the property.
It's a huge compliment to me when I meet someone who says "I met one of your dogs on the street, and I loved it so much, that now I'm coming to you for one." These puppy owners are still including us here at Acre in their lives, because that's how much we mean to them.
Many of the villa owners that have adopted Acre puppies will bring them on their vacation to this dog-friendly property, so I get to see them again, and care for them while their owners relax and enjoy Mexico — it's a real "dog heaven."
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