Lucky is the perfect name for Vivian Mauro's dog.
Less than two years ago, the German shepherd mix was a neglected street dog in Brazil, suffering from a large tumor on his ear. Mauro spotted him begging for food from the tourists in the pilgrimage village of Abadiania in April 2009.
"The dog was suffering, and I knew people were in and out of the community, and I knew if I didn't do anything to help this dog, he would die a slow death," says Mauro. "He just seemed like a beautiful animal. Outside of the fact that he had the tumor, he seemed like he had a nice disposition and he would be a good dog."
Mauro, of Clarence, leads tour groups to Abadiania to meet with the healer John of God. On her 2009 trip, she planned to stay for six months. But during her first week in the village, she spotted Lucky, and her mission to get him healthy and get him home to the United States kept her there for a year.
When she saw Lucky, Mauro noticed he was always accompanied by a small Chihuahua mix she named Bonita. "They were living in the sand dunes at night and in the daytime would get scraps from tourists, because the tourists love animals," Mauro says.
Her first step was to win the trust of the shy dog. She began feeding him every day around lunchtime. After he would take food from her, she got dog sedatives from a vet and arranged to give them to Lucky in his food.
"We tried not to do it so anybody would see us, but he ended up going in front of a really popular local fruit stand" before collapsing, says Mauro. She picked up the dog and bundled him into a taxi for the hourlong ride to the nearest vet clinic. At the clinic, he tried to bolt, and actually bit her friend who grabbed him. But they got him into the clinic, where he was sedated and the large tumor removed.
After the surgery, Mauro moved Lucky to the dog pound, where she knew he would get "attention and care and a little food." Knowing that Bonita would be vulnerable on the street, Mauro took her into her hotel room. Every day she would put Bonita in the basket of her bicycle and pedal across town to visit Lucky. There Mauro and Bonita would sit with him, as Mauro fed him and applied antibiotics to his healing wound to continue the bonding process.
Realizing that her stay would be extended until Lucky recovered and she could get clearances to bring both dogs to the United States, Mauro rented a house with a garden. "We had a very nice life and everybody knew us," Mauro says.
One reason they were so conspicuous is that Mauro walked both dogs on leashes. "Because they don't walk dogs in Brazil, all the little kids in the neighborhood would chase after us and ask, 'Does he bite?' in Portuguese. I would say, 'No, if you treat your dog nicely they will not bite you.' " Mauro also acquired a video in Portuguese instructing children how to treat animals humanely, and asked local teachers to show it to their classes.
Mauro then began to navigate the complicated requirements to bring Lucky and Bonita to the United States. "It took me four months to find out how to travel with a dog internationally," she says. "You would call one day, and they would give you one story. Another day it would be more requirements, and everything had to be perfectly timed," including vaccinations and a final health check by a vet three days before departure.
Mauro also began collecting donations from tourists to pay for the dogs' transport -- two sturdy crates, tickets and vet care -- eventually ending up with the needed $600 per dog.
But arrangements were complicated when Lucky got Bonita pregnant. "I didn't realize she was in heat; I had never had a female before," says Mauro. She still intended to fly with the two dogs, but Bonita had other plans -- she whelped three pups the day before their scheduled departure. Mauro says, "I decided there was no way I could fly home, I can't abandon these animals." She extended her visit once again.
After three months, she had found "good dog-loving" homes for the puppies and was again ready to leave. The night before their planned departure, possibly sensing tension in the house, Lucky became aggressive toward Bonita. "I was afraid she wouldn't be safe in the United States," Mauro says, and at the last minute, she was able to place Bonita with the family that had one of her pups.
Last April, Lucky and Mauro left Brazil on a nine-hour flight to New York City, then drove home to Buffalo.
Today, Mauro says Lucky, who her vet says is about 5 years old, is doing well. "You look at his face and you can see he's been a fighter, a macho dog on the street defending himself," but now he is relaxed and happy.
"This dog and I have a great friendship; we're partners, we're buddies," she says. "He has a chance now for a second life."