by Paolo Caballero
On February 21, it was my second day of scuba lessons with Arthur doing my PADI Advance Open Water course. We had gone for a dive at West Escarceo.
We completed our dive and after surfacing, you could immediately hear the cries and whimpering of an animal. We reached the boat and while removing our gear, asked the boat driver where it was coming from.
He told us that while we were diving, a puppy had slipped down the cliff (if I had to guess I would say about 10 stories’ high), onto the jagged rocks below.
Immediately Arthur told the boat driver we were going to get it, and we started putting our fins and mask back on. Upon reaching the shore, the terrain proved to be a challenge, as the water was choppy and the rocks were sharp and very large, so climbing around and through gaps proved to be problematic. Thankfully we had our scuba shoes with soles, or the rocks would have shredded our feet.
As we got closer to the sound of the puppy, the gravity of the situation sunk in, as there was a high chance, we could round the corner and see the puppy severely injured or mangled from its fall. However, moments later, Arthur laid eyes on it and it seemed to be okay. Petrified, but physically okay. It was walking around and looking for a way out.
It was hiding in a little corner once it saw us, so we stood there for a moment thinking about how to pick it up, since it is a street dog, it would be a big problem if it bit either one of us. The solution we came up with was I took off my scuba boot and put it over my hand, and reached out to see if it would react to it aggressively. Thankfully it did not, so I removed the boot and picked up the puppy.
Now that we had the puppy, the next problem we faced was getting back to the water, since both hands were necessary for climbing and navigating the rocky ground. We found it easiest to make slow progress by one of us going ahead and then taking the dog so the other could go ahead and so on.
The next problem was getting it to the boat. While the water was deep enough for a boat, the shore was very rocky and they came near the surface so there was a good 20–30-meter distance between the shore and the boat, so half the distance was one of us yelling the other where it was safe to step, and once it got deep enough, we were just treading water with no hands to the boat.
Once safely on the boat, we headed back to El Galleon. We got her a little basket and wrote her name on it, and stuffed it with blankets. Arthur sent someone to get the shampoo from his house, and we gave the pup a bath right away, because her skin seemed grimy and there appeared to be a skin infection/disease of some sort. She immediately started gaining attention, and everyone fell in love with her at first sight. We decided that “Cliff” would be a good name for her, even though it seems like a boy’s name.
We got her a bit of food, and some fresh water. After a bit of discussion, we decided it was best for her to stay with me while we found a home for it. I have had dogs as pets my whole life, so I was more than comfortable to take her In. We considered looking for the mother, but the distance from where she fell, combined with the fact that there’s no roads or way to where it fell from eliminated that possibility early on.
Over the next few days, she gained more and more popularity, and she got daily checkups from her fans. Every morning at breakfast, the waitresses in the restaurant at El Galleon would check how she was doing and offer fresh floor towels. The other guests all came to check in and it would be unusual to go more than 20 minutes without someone calling out “hey Cliff! How’re you doing girl!” Or “lookin good Cliff!”. She even had guests offer to babysit her while I did my scuba lessons. When we didn’t have anyone to watch her, the guys running the scuba shop always kept an eye on her while I was out.
As the week went on, she started getting more and more energy, she came out of her shell and was friendly with people, and she could be left to run around on the deck while Arthur and I either set up or took apart our scuba gear before and after our dives. Her personality came out a lot when it was just her and me, since I would often find myself out walking around 2-3am, when she inevitably cried to use the washroom. She would often just stop while we were walking, stare into the distance for what seemed like forever, and then broke into a full-blown sprint. Or she would cry and want to come to my bed, so I put on some videos of dogs which she seemed to really like. She even got pretty bold, since once or twice I’d come out of the shower, and she’d climbed out of the basket, gone across the room, climbed onto my bed and made a little nest out of my blankets.
The neighboring resort owner Alain is a retired veterinarian, so he gave her a check up the next afternoon, and prescribed her deworming medicine, and medicine for ticks and fleas, which was also supposed to help with the skin condition.
The following day, one of the workers at El Galleon went into downtown Puerto Galera to get her the medicine, and picked up a harness and leash for her as well. They were sold out of the ticks and fleas medicine, but that night, one of the dive masters Maria, actually had gotten some herself, which she gave to me to give Cliff.
By this evening, it was already Thursday, and we were celebrating Arthur’s birthday. Everyone was up at the Point Bar, chatting and celebrating. Many of the regulars were there, all of which knew Cliff, so we were all chatting and taking photos. At one point in the night, a gentleman came to ask if his wife could hold cliff for a while, and I figured it would be okay. The night went on and I kept checking in on Cliff, but she seemed to be doing well and didn’t seem to be giving any problem.
Prior to this, all week Arthur and I had been discussing where Cliffs forever home would be. I had been considering taking her back home to Canada to live with me, but I left two weeks after I found her, and she would not be healed in time for her to pass medical evaluations. The next option that was our plan if nothing else worked out was that my cousin who lives in Calapan often rescues street dogs, and now has about 9 dogs in his care and living on his property.
At the end of the night, it seemed like the couple had really taken a liking to Cliff, and offered to take her. We agreed to let Cliff sleep with them for a night, and test the waters. They have two young dogs themselves so I knew she would be in good hands, I just wanted to make sure it was a good fit before finalizing.
The next morning, I found them in the restaurant after breakfast, and everything seemed to be well, and Cliff seemed happy and comfortable. At this point, it seemed like the best option for Cliff to live with them, so we agreed to hand over ownership. It was sad, because at this point, I had definitely grown attached to her, and started to think of her as my pet, but I knew this was best for her.
For the rest of my stay, everywhere I went people asked where Cliff was. The staff, the dive instructors, the regulars, even some of the men and women who were selling souvenirs up and down the strip, who I had seen while walking around. News travelled quick, and soon enough everyone had gotten the full story of the happy ending for cliff.
Thinking about Cliff is bittersweet. Looking back at the photos make me miss her, and sad that I couldn’t take her home with me. But knowing that even though I couldn’t take her myself, she got a second shot at life and she will be healthy and happy is everything I could ask for. I’m grateful I was able to take care of her for the time I did, and the memories of essentially the whole resort looking after this puppy is an experience, I feel lucky to have been part of. Cliff was Lucky to be found, but I think the real luck was that it was Asia Divers/El Galleon that found her.