Costa Rica is a land of magic.
Lighthouse Animal Rescue
It was such a delight to meet and photograph the full cast of adoptable pups at Lighthouse Rescue. There were abundant wags and smiles for my lens every which way that I turned!:
My dear friend Ken, who was one of the few irreplaceable allies by my side on this incredible adventure, got some good head scratchin’ in with one of the resident dogs.
and some more behind the scenes type shots of what it looked like on the grounds of Lighthouse Rescue. Fuzzy, waggly butts every which way you would look!
And here she is, the face of Lighthouse Rescue – an earth angel, and a hero in my eyes: Frances Jones.
I cant describe how amazing and strong this woman is. Her passion on the inside just made her sparkle on the outside. I was attracted to that strength and spirit like a magnet.
I’m so grateful to live in a world where people as kind and selfless as Frances still exist – no matter how rare.
Those dogs love her so much. Their eyes would gleam and their tails would whip wildly – back and forth, back and forth, each time she was near.
To have earned the love of a dog is, in my opinion, one of the most telling characteristics of a pure and beautiful soul.
Frances gave me a tour of her office and a sign taped up on the cabinet caught my eye. This perfectly sums up the battle she fights everyday.
It’s significance is so poignant, that it made my heart skip a beat when I laid eyes on it.
For this is the cause that she’s dedicated her life to.
Frances was so lovely to allow me to pose for a shot with some of the sweet wiggly dogs at the rescue, to commemorate my time atop of that perfect mountain in Atenas.
Lot of squishing, kissing and cuddling!
And it was at just about this time that reality set in and I might have freaked out…..just a little.
KISSING PUPPIES ON TOP OF A MOUNTAIN IN A MAGICAL, FAIRYTALE LAND??!
HOLY BANANAS! MY DREAM COME TRUE!!!!
(i seriously thought i was going to burst from happiness. i think my squeals of ‘is this real life?!?!’ echoed all the way down that mountain…)
and a last look down at the gorgeous faces that were stuck like glue to our side for the whole afternoon….
as twilight fell upon us during our last evening hour at Lighthouse Rescue – we said goodnight to the sun with this breathtaking scene.
Then we packed up all of our gear and headed back down the mountain, towards those orange glowing lights that would guide us home.
and a face of one of the few lucky ones that we encountered – loved and well-cared for, greeting us with a smiley hello from his fenced in backyard.
I spotted this sweet, sweet face from the car as we passed by a bar on a busy street.
He was crossing the road in a quiet, tired sort of way and as I watched, I felt my heart physically shattering inside of my body.
My eyes welled up with the type of tears that I just couldn’t help, and my amazing partner Sam and I exited the car to meet him. He was not afraid to come and say hello to us. And for this, I was wildly grateful. We wanted to meet him – to brush the dirt from his face and to translate the energy of what its really like to feel a bit of love and kindness. If even just for a moment.
When I got close to this sweet boy, I noticed something remarkable. His body was thin, beaten down and worn from the years of a life of abandonment. His mangy, unkempt fur was falling out in small chunks, and his body was riddled with ticks and parasites. I looked at Sam, and he looked back, and we both mouthed ‘oh my god’ in each other’s general direction. There must have been two, maybe three hundred ticks covering this sick and tired boy. But despite it all – despite all of that physical devastation and sadness that this dog must carry everyday – there was a sparkle in his eye. I looked at him and I was blown away. There was something there. A soul. A soul that I could see. A glimpse into the heart of this brave little dog. I looked into those big, wet eyes and I got lost in there – I fell in love over and over and over again. To me, this dog became the face of my mission. The face of my purpose there in Costa Rica. To bring to light the struggle of millions of abandoned animals all around the world. He was the face of the forgotten. He was the face of the ones who have been left behind. I thank my lucky stars every day that our paths crossed – because this dog, single handedly made my mission and my purpose in this life clear. I am here to find the ones like him – to tell their stories. To give a voice to the voiceless. As he scampered away from me, into the brush behind the broken down bar – I felt a stinging in my throat, knowing Id likely never see him again, and knowing that those eyes just changed my whole world forever.
Frances’ quote – the one adhered to the wall with scotch tape in her office – stuck with me. And it seemed perfect to describe how I feel about this dog. The everydog. The one who represents all of the rest. The weathered. The worn. The abandoned and lonely. Those are the dogs that keep me awake at night.
Sunset came just as he scampered away from me forever.
Our Adventure to Dogland
Through Frances of Lighthouse Rescue, I learned of another Costa Rican rescue way up in the mountains of San Ramon that might be able to use my help. It was about a 2 hours drive from where we were staying in Atenas. Once I did some research on Dogland – I just knew that I absolutely had to go and meet it’s founder – Helene Wirt. Our drive from Atenas to San Ramon de Alajuela was nothing short of an epic adventure. We wound up and down mountain roads, passed over bridges and by gushing waterfalls and adventured through cloud forests. Our little Toyota Yaris rental car buzzed and hummed and clunked across the terrain – my disbelief that we were actually making it across the unrelenting landscape growing with every mile. Once we arrived in the village that Dogland was supposed to be located in – we realized we were lost. We didnt know which way to go and our barely functional GPS put us at the top of a very steep hill that was made of mostly small boulders and dirt. (As a side note, there are no physical addresses in Costa Rica. Only general directions, villages and landmarks to go by to find a spot on the map. Don’t ask me how they get mail delivered to them – I’m not sure if that’s a thing that happens in Costa Rica.)
We turned into the big, long driveway that wound up towards the shelter – and Helene’s smiling face appeared promptly. She greeted us with such warmth – a big smile and hugs for everyone. I knew immediately that we were in the right place. We were in my paradise. Dogs everywhere. Big dogs. Little dogs. Fat dogs. Happy dogs. barking dogs. Wagging dogs. Playing dogs. Running dogs. Over 200 of them, all in big beautiful enclosures with endless amounts of room for running and exercise. I was beside myself. Looking around at this facility – I couldnt believe that it was run by this one woman. This one miracle woman who put everything else in her life aside to save these dogs. She feeds, bathes, loves and cares for over 200 homeless dogs that wait so patiently for their new families to one day come and find them. I couldn’t imagine anything more selfless.
At once, Helene began to show us around the property on an excited tour!:
(you see, this was the best kind of tour because it included lots of unsolicited puppy kisses for all of us.)
Here’s a glimpse at part of the beautiful facility at Dogland where pups are kept, snuggled into the mountainside.
At this point – Helene gave me the incredible privilege of choosing as many dogs as I wanted to meet one on one and photograph:
I was lucky enough to get a good cuddle in with this sweet, sweet old girl. Her grey face had my heart in a puddle.
Eyes like these ones stay with me forever. It’s the little images that I can never let go of. the dogs that wait so patiently. so quietly.
and some behind-the-scenes shots from my friend Ken (thanks Ken!)
below: the realities of shooting while surrounded by a gaggle of enthusiastic puppies.
sweet baby Phinneaus. (Helene let me name him!) A brand new little Miniature Pinscher puppy with his Mom watching from close behind.
And here is the lovely Helene – a woman so full of love, passion and fire, it’s hard to believe she’s real. Helene is the heart and soul behind Dogland. A woman who made the journey across oceans from a very successful life that she built for herself in native Austria, to make a new one in Costa Rica – and to selflessly devote that life, and everything she ever worked for, to the innocent and abandoned. She speaks three languages and has a heart made of pure gold. I’ve never met anyone quite like her – and she is certainly someone who I will never forget. Her spirit, energy and joy is infectious – and the love that she has for those less fortunate than her is a gift of a magnitude that humbled me beyond words. Her laugh is big, bold and completely contagious. It’s impossible not to smile when she is around – impossible not to feel like everything in this world might just end up being okay. Helene has more passion and purpose in her little finger than I’ve seen before in entire societies of people.
She’s a real life superhero.
Women like Helene and Frances are pure inspiration to me. These are my idols. You can have your Kim Kardashians, your Lady Gagas and your Miley Cyruses all day long.
THESE are the women who I believe in.
They are the champions of animal rescue – unbreakable souls that fight endlessly for a cause they believe in. Their passion inspires me to be a better person – to always fight for a better tomorrow. To never give up, ever – not even when things get tougher than you imagine. These women are heroes. Pure and Simple. And I am more blessed that I can say to have had the absolute privilege of meeting them both and having them touch my life.
And I can’t forget to introduce you to Juan Carlos – Helene’s trusty assistant and right hand man when it comes to caring for all 200+ dogs on her property at Dogland. Juan Carlos has a great big heart, and a great big smile! (even if I couldn’t effectively communicate that to him in person. You know, what with the language barrier and all.)
Next, we decided to find a location for some extra special portraits. Here we are carrying precious cargo while adventuring across a dirt road that cut through the mountains of the village, on our way to make some photo magic! I’m lucky that my friends understand and support that there are no lengths to which I would not go to communicate a message effectively.
As we slowly proceeded down the rocky road, I glanced to my left, and this is what I saw. I blinked my eyes once, then twice. ‘yup, it’s real.’
The gorgeous boy that you see in this photo below is Colin. Colin resides at Dogland and waits patiently among the 200+ other dogs for a new forever home — somewhere he can be loved, somewhere he can grow, somewhere he can proudly be the dog he was always meant to be. Colin stands in this image as the perfect representation of all Costa Rican shelter dogs just like him. He is the face of the masses – of the ones who have been left behind. And while Colin has no family of his own to love him, despite it all – I look at his eyes, and all I can see is hope. Hope for a new day. Hope for a brighter tomorrow. Hope that someday, us humans will get it right and find all of the love that we’ve misplaced. The love that we need to give back, to pour upon all these sweet abandoned dogs that we forgot about so long ago.
Maybe, if we see enough pairs of golden, dreaming eyes just like the ones on Colin – maybe then we’ll stand up together and make a difference.
After our time in the road, we climbed up to a high point on the mountainside to find the perfect spot for Camilo to shine.
Beautiful, adoptable Camilo – showing off those sparkling golden eyes.
and a little sneaky, silliness in the grass.
Baby Phinnaeus was ready for his close up too! We found a safe, flat rock on the steep mountainside for him to climb onto and the photoshoot commenced!
a tiny little rawwwwr!
And here I am. Standing on a Costa Rican mountainside with this precious little pup – chasing down a dream. In the moment, we were scurrying to get down off the steep mountainside and I was carrying baby Phinnaeus in my arms, trying to keep him as safe as possible – I didnt think to stop for a photo – but I felt very lucky that Sam took a split second to snap this shot. Looking back on it – I cant begin to describe the gratitude that I feel. It’s moments like that one right there that I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s all real. Ever since I was a tiny, tiny little girl – I knew that I was put here to bend down to help the ones who can’t otherwise help themselves. And having that journey bring me to a place as beautiful as Costa Rica is nothing short of a real life dream come true.
To say that my trip to Costa Rica was life-changing would be an understatement. The country was absolutely everything I dreamed it would be – it’s beauty so enchanting and endless that it knocked the breath right out of my chest. Every corner I turned threatened to leave me stuck in place, weak in the knees with awe, amazement and an unprecedented sense of gratitude.The land was vibrant and rich – the mountains rolled on and on around us until they touched the Pacific. Waterfalls danced down to rushing rivers, as we passed through cloud forests and by volcanoes on every drive. The soil was warm and wet, plants bursting forward from each crack with a brilliance and vitality beyond compare. The scent of sweet honeysuckle and guaria morada orchids danced around our heads on the warm breeze. Hummingbirds fluttered across every scene – tiny and pulsing with color and life.
The tiny towns and mountain villages with rocky dirt roads cutting through them were like scenes out of a movie — fences were built with large branches, sourced naturally from the rainforests all around. Cows and horses grazed on mountainsides and I stood still amidst it all, pinching my skin to check if it were all a perfect dream.
By the end of my trip, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds and hundreds of dogs. Dogs of all shapes, sizes, breeds, ages, colors and stories. Some dogs with owners and families. Some dogs in shelters. Some dogs wandering the streets, but most dogs – lost and forgotten.It’s hard to describe the feeling of what its like to be immersed in Costa Rica’s dream-like natural beauty all around me — a land that looks like a fairytale come to life – starkly juxtaposed with the state of the homeless and street dog epidemic. There is so much beauty, and yet somehow, within the beauty, there’s also so much pain. Standing there in that mountaintop village, dirt under my feet and the most perfect shade of sky blue above my head, it was hard to make sense of it all.
Helene Wirt – Dogland (200+ dogs – Also known in Spanish as Asociación Elena)
Frances Jones – Lighthouse Rescue (link to PayPal donation in the upper left corner)
Should you be interested in making a trip to the lush mountainscapes of Costa Rica to provide some first hand help, don’t hesitate to reach out to Helene – as she is always grateful for help from anyone interested in volunteering at Dogland.
Please keep in mind that both Helene and Frances do consider international adoptions – so know that they would be happy to chat with you, might you consider rescuing a dog from Costa Rica.
‘Saving one dog may not change the world.
But surely, for that one dog, the world will change forever.’
**Special thanks to my absolutely amazing friends who support me to the end of the world. I couldn’t have done any of this without you. Emily, Sam, Ken and Doug – without your love and support, I would be nothing. You climbed mountains with me, traversed clackety old wooden bridges, kissed puppies, and followed the light across impossible terrain. You are my team, my heart, my family. You are gift to which there is no end. I am wildly grateful to have had you all by my side on this adventure. Your love will lift me up until my very last breath. I’ll never forget the sacrifices you made for me and the kindness that you endlessly doled out to each and every dog along the way. Love isnt a strong enough word to communicate how I feel about you all. Thank you for the perfect memories. Thank you for being on my side of this battle.