Turning 13 in the Wasserman family is a special occasion. It means the new teenager gets to chose between a party or a puppy as a birthday present. Lani, now 19, opted for the party, although she later ended up with a cat named Matt. Zach, 17, chose a Chesapeake Bay retriever, Flash. In February, Brett Adam turned 13. He wanted a puppy, preferably a lab cross. The home-schooled eighth-grader (who goes by Adam) got a dog bed and a toy hippo for a puppy on his birthday. The search began online. That's when the Wassermans stumbled across a photo of a white, scraggly looking dog with captivating brown dog eyes. Adam was in love. No matter the pup wasn't a lab cross or that he would no longer be a puppy by the time Adam would get him. That's because the dog, then 2 months old, lived in Bangkok, Thailand.
"It just felt right," Adam said last month, almost two weeks after Rice became an American canine citizen.
Rice and five siblings had been abandoned in May in the outskirts of Bangkok. Volunteers from a rescue group called Soi Dog Rescue took in the pups. Rice and four of his siblings - one was hit by a car before it could be adopted - were put up for adoption on the Soi Dog Rescue site that the Wassermans stumbled upon. The Wassermans contacted Soi Dog Rescue in July. Workers were so excited that they didn't notice the Wassermans' New Mexico address. The organization usually sends animals to New York and Boston airports.
"We try to avoid a domestic flight in the States because a third flight is a lot of stress for the dog and also a lot of extra cost for us," said Carrie Pinnow, adoption coordinator for Soi Dog Rescue, in an e-mail from Bangkok. Sherry Conisbee, co-founder of the organization, said they almost had to give up when they realized it would be difficult to send Rice to Albuquerque. Pinnow was determined to get Rice and Adam together.
"Because I felt it was a perfect fit for Rice, I knew that we could find a way to get him there," she wrote. "I didn't doubt for a minute that we could do it."
Pinnow sent an e-mail to all Soi Dog volunteers. A volunteer in Boston knew someone in Los Angeles, whose daughter picked up Rice. She also found a Crittenden, KY. pet transport company that would bring Rice to Corrales for a discounted price of $200 instead of the normal $500. Rice embarked on his journey Aug. 13, leaving Bangkok and traveling to Amsterdam, where he got to stretch his legs and take a potty break before he was on his way to Los Angeles. He arrived in Los Angeles on Aug. 14, spending the night with the daughter of the volunteer.
The next day, he was in hands of Gale Lang from TLC Pet Transport, Inc. Around 11 p.m. on Aug. 15, Rice arrived at the Furr's Family Dining parking lot by Coors Boulevard and I-40. The entire Wasserman family greeted the new arrival. "He just seemed to know Adam was his person," said Patty Wasserman, Adam's mother. Ten days after Rice arrived, boy and dog ran around the grassy backyard, chasing each other. Rice enjoyed chewing on a green tennis ball, slightly smaller than normal to fit his mouth, or on a denim bean bag. And he nipped his human; Adam didn't mind. That was part of the fun. Patty made sure Adam washed the bite.
"I've gotten a lot of dog bites and never washed them," he told her.
Even the two other Wasserman dogs adjusted to Rice, although they still believe they are the boss of the home, Bob Wasserman said. Oh, and Matt the cat isn't too thrilled. The Wassermans, for their part, are happy they rescued Rice from a place not known for its humane treatment of animals. Conisbee, who started Soi Dog Rescue in 2002, said Bangkok is home to around 300,000 stray dogs.
"The vast majority of Thai people have no education about animal welfare or the humane treatment of animals - even the educated, middle-class ones - and the neglect, apathy and abuse is shocking and commonplace," she said in her e-mail.
No laws govern humane treatment of animals. There are also cultural differences that prohibit euthanasia, and promote dumping of puppies when they mature and killing or cooking dogs. "He probably would have ended up on someone's dinner plate," Patty said. The dog bed meant for Adam's new puppy is too small for Rice, now 5 months old, but the hippo toy is Rice's favorite - a sign, the family says, that the match between Adam and Rice was meant to be. "It's just a love story," Bob said. "Adam was just looking for a dog to love, and it happened to be from Bangkok." Boy and dog have since started obedience school at Petsmart.
Thanks again to all who helped get Rice and Adam together. They're
quite a pair, and both continue to thrive!