EARL: 24 Hours in Exile but a Week of Madness.

This week felt like a month.

Let’s back up to the beginning.  It was just last Sunday, but it feels like last year.  July 31, 2016.  I was on our neighboring island of Caye Caulker preparing with nervous excitement to dive Belize’s famous Blue Hole the next morning.  A tropical wave (area of low pressure)  known as Invest 97-L was entering the Caribbean from Africa, or so Facebook and my mother were both telling me.  I would remember to keep half an eye on it’s development.  Monday I did 3 dives and had a great time.  By Tuesday we knew there was trouble.


Tuesday would be our last “normal” day before the storm.  Now given a name, tropical storm Earl was now on his way to Belize.  During 10 years in Florida I had only had to weather a hit from one named storm, tropical storm Faye in 2008.  I arrived at Saga knowing it would be busy.  We also needed to have an emergency meeting to solidify a plan for all the seventy or so shelter animals. Not only was the schedule full, but Ingrid informed me there was also a dog who needed enucleation (eyeball removal) as hers had been popped out over the weekend…ouch.  We never saw lunch.

Twix Less One Eye


The Saga board along with Ingrid (tech and shelter manager) and myself decided we would try to get as many animals in foster care as we could and the word went out. We decided we would open the shelter for the morning on Wednesday to facilitate getting the animals into their new temporary homes and closing up for the storm.  I personally had decided that if the storm stayed at a category 1 hurricane or less that we would stay in our home, if it looked worse we would go with a backup plan.  Wednesday morning arrived and Earl was now a Category 1 Hurricane coming straight for us.  It looked like it would approach a Cat 2.  Our house is concrete on the bottom and wood on the top, we live upstairs.  If there’s one thing that this storm taught me, it’s that Hurricane + Wood = NOT GOOD.  I did not want to leave, but I was convinced to evacuate.  At Saga various employees, board members, and volunteers that were staying at home to ride out the storm were sending cats and dogs to safe fosters in droves.  Very few animals had to stay at the shelter and all were able to stay inside.

Saga’s “Fort Dog” Kennels Before and After

Meanwhile we were at home frantically putting our back-up plan into action.  Months ago I met a couple with a dog as a client.  I did not know them at all prior to this.  Their dog was very ill and after a very intensive 24 hours she did not survive.  After this, they invited my boyfriend and I to visit their home on the back side of Ambergris Caye for an afternoon.  It was during this time that they offered to give us refuge if needed during a hurricane.  I remember thanking them but thinking in my mind that it would not be necessary, little did I know.  So, we packed up a few days of clothes and food, along with anything valuable or electronic to take along.  We shoved most of our clothes and shoes into suitcases that we could put high up out of harm’s way in our concrete bodega (shed) that is attached to the house.  I stepped onto our dock and our normally quiet canal was bustling with action.  All of the dive shops were moving their boats from the front of the island to the back, and those from Ramon’s Village resort dive shop were parking here.

Boats from Ramon’s 


At 9:40 am on Wed we were picked up at our house by Linda in their boat “Bebe” while husband Cliff was at home prepping their house.  We would be riding out Hurricane Earl at their house, the Casa Brisa (House of Breeze).  We clammered into the boat, myself, my boyfriend, and my french bulldog Cyrano (who definitely can’t swim) for the twenty minute ride to their house on the back of our island.  Mother Nature was just starting to put on a rain shower, but nothing that was indicative of the power she would show through the night.



Cliff and Linda have lived on Ambergris Caye for almost twenty years.  They built the house to be self sufficient and make their own electricity and water.  They have lived through a few monster storms in it and come out well on the other end.  The Casa Brisa house and beautiful property are currently for sale and can be seen at www.casabrisa.net.  We were so lucky to be invited.

Casa Brisa

Casa Brisa Boarded up for the Hurricane


We quickly got organized for lunch and helped them finish their work.

The Calm Before the Storm


Cyrano and I in our New Room

We spent the day with full water and electricity keeping busy and following Earl across the Caribbean.  We played cards and drank rum punch.  By evening the wind was howling and the rain was starting to fall.  It looked as though the eye of the storm would be a direct hit on Belize.  After a delicious spaghetti dinner we all sat down for a movie, tired and stressed from a long day.

Cyrano Makes Himself at Home


By late night Wednesday/early morning Thursday Hurricane Earl was upon us.  The house was solid and I wasn’t afraid, but boy was that wind loud.  A few drops of water rained down on my head from the force of the rain on the hurricane shutters and I fashioned a towel to block it.  I was up many times during my restless sleep but woke up in the early morning hours to just intermittent gusts of wind and zero rain.  My boyfriend Mick was already on the internet assessing the damage.  The beachfront in San Pedro looked bad.  Our neighbor Heather assured me that our house was indeed still there.  Twenty-four hours after we left, we packed up and headed back home.

Our canal was now fully blocked by cross tied boats.  The Ramon’s boats looked snug as a bug in a rug, but sadly it turned out that their dock and dive shop on the other side of the island were completely gone.  We were let off at a neighbor’s yard to walk home.  I dipped a shoed toe tentatively into our flooded street, which was strewn with various types of power lines, before safely carrying my bags and my bulldog back to the house.

Our Street Before and After

We had no power or water but the house and yard looked great.  Even some of my favorite iguanas were there to say hello.  We quickly put everything back in it’s place, ate lunch, and got on our bikes.  First stop, Ingrid’s house, everything looked OK.  Next stop, Saga, Ingrid was busy cleaning up the front yard, she looked exhausted but assured me that all was good.  Next we went on into town.  We parked at the south end and walked the beach north.  I was prepared but still shocked at what I saw.  Every dock/pier was damaged or destroyed.  Most of the small dive shops were gone.  Bars and spas over the water were gone.  When I say gone, I mean disappeared into the ocean or on the beach, not a trace to be found in their original location.  Like they had never existed.

Beachfront Damage

The Palapa Bar, a long time local institution, had recently moved.  I was there enjoying fun and drinks with visiting friends just recently.  The owner is a lovely woman who I crossfit with on Mondays and is a huge doggy lover.  Another crossfitter and recent cat adopter lost Essence Day Spa to the wind and waves. My heart sank for their families.  I have various connections to both owners and employees who’s livelihoods are gone.  I hope many find a way to rebuild.

Palapa Bar Before and After

By the end of Thursday we miraculously had power, but no water.  We had buckets for bathing and flushing along with water for drinking.  I woke up Friday morning and we had both.  I was thrilled.  I got on my bike freshly showered and headed to work.  It was eerily quiet.  Most animals were still with their fosters.  Many people were still evacuated or busy cleaning up their homes and properties.  The day went by easily, but I knew it couldn’t last.  At around 3 pm things started to get crazy.  All at once we had two emergencies on our hands.  The first was a dog with supposed diarrhea and a distended belly.  The picture did not make sense, this little dog was down and severely depressed.  1-2 days of diarrhea with no blood and no vomiting did not cause this.  She had started to act a little off when the storm was bearing down, of course who would really pay attention with all the chaos.  Now she was nearly in a coma.  I could tell things weren’t right feeling her abdomen but I couldn’t determine exactly the source of her severe pain and issues.  My gut told me she might have a closed pyometra, a uterus infection that does not leak fluid from the vagina.  I decided to first stabilize her with IV fluids and antibiotics.

Meanwhile, a happy boisterous boxer mix walked into the clinic.  He had been in a dog fight during the storm and needed repair.  The hanging tissue was badly inflamed and infected.  I put him under anesthesia and set about removing the tissue with my cautery machine and then trying to put his lower lips and jawline back together.

Boxer Facial Injury Before and After

With this surgery complete, I turned back to my mystery abdominal pain dog.  I put her on gas anesthesia and decided to do an exploratory of her abdomen.  As I gently cut her open, pink milky fluid poured out, pus.  I continued on to find a huge pyometra, a uterus infection, that had already ruptured.  I knew her chance of survival was minimal but I continued on.  As I tried to save her by spaying her, her heart stopped numerous times but Ingrid was able to revive her.  I flushed her abdomen as best as I could and stitched her back up.  She made it all the way to a decent stage of recovery before she died again.  We got her back a few times before she finally succumbed to her sepsis (severe infection) and passed away.

Ingrid and I Trying to Save a Pyometra Dog


Normal Uterus vs Pyometra

This is again why spaying your dog is so important.  The owner remarked that he had been advised to spay her numerous times in the past.  It was almost 7 pm when I biked home.

Saturday morning was our recover from the madness day.  We spayed and neutered 5 animals, dewormed 3 dogs, and vaccinated a puppy.  We contacted those that still had their fosters and happily, a few of the temporary foster homes are adopting their hurricane guests!

The clean up on the beachside continues.  The sun is shining once again.  I am still in awe that virtual strangers who’s dog I could not save invited us into their home during a potentially catastrophic situation.  Some islanders came out of Hurricane Earl with a great loss of business or property, but we all came out with our lives, and that’s what really matters.



6 thoughts on “EARL: 24 Hours in Exile but a Week of Madness.”

  1. Wow, seems like quite an experience! I can’t believe that pyo ruptured – I’ve never seen that!! Good for you & Ingrid for getting the poor girl’s heart going again so many times, but I doubt anything can be done in the face of that much sepsis. Miss you, stay safe xo


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