by Allison Pohle
Foxy stuck out in Buenos Aires. Strangers admired his thick hair and long legs, often stopping their cars to call out to him when he strutted out in public. After all, it wasn’t often that they’d see an Old English Sheepdog in Argentina.
Foxy’s owner, Andres Villagra, was used to his dog receiving a great deal of attention, and he enjoyed talking to others about the smart, gentle, and agreeable breed. But, as much as he loved showing Foxy off, he longed for a place that he could talk about the breed to people who understood its quirks, including why he found it so humorous that Foxy followed him around the house or tried to corral guests into the same room (it was his herding instinct, of course).
When Foxy was three years old, Villagra stumbled upon a Facebook group for Old English Sheepdog owners. It was there that he felt he found his “familia,” though he wouldn’t understand just how much his fellow Old English owners meant to him until tragedy struck a few years later.
During the six years he was part of the Facebook group, Villagra developed a routine. He would log onto Facebook and scroll through pictures of other Old English sheepdogs smiling for the camera, or lounging on their backs with their legs spread wide apart as they took midday snoozes. He “liked” pictures of new litters of puppies, anticipating the joy others would soon feel at welcoming an Old English Sheepdog into their lives. Over time, he came to know dogs by name, and by face, in Germany, Canada, the United States, and England.
The group’s more than 13,000 members also came to know Foxy. Every day, Villagra would post a picture of Foxy with a caption that said “Good morning!” or “Play with me” or “Don’t go to work Dad.” The frequent Foxy posts made Villagra a group favorite, and members often commented to wish them a good day.
But in May 2016, Villagra noticed that Foxy wasn’t himself. Instead of wanting to play or chasing his sister, Tashi, Villagra’s other mixed breed dog, Foxy was sluggish and short of breath. Villagra would later learn that his nine-year-old Old English had a fatal case of bloat, and, just a few hours later, on May 22, 2016, Foxy died in his arms.
Villagra was overcome with grief at the unexpected loss. He logged onto the group and posted to let everyone know what had happened. Condolences started pouring in from all around the world. Even though most of the members had never met Villagra, they understood the bond he shared with Foxy, and loved him as one of their own.
Because Villagra lived in Argentina, where the breed of dog is especially rare, he knew his chances of getting another Old English Sheepdog were slim. He continued to post old pictures of himself and Fox in the group, and the members did their best to let him know that, even though he was thousands of miles away, he wasn’t alone in his pain.
Yet some members wanted to do something more for him. Louise Celsi, a longtime Sheepdog owner from New Mexico who had followed Villagra’s posts of Foxy for many years. She spoke with other sheepdog owners who all wanted to do something to help Villagra, but weren’t sure what. In late July, Celsi asked Villagra if he might be ready for another dog. He was.
After hearing that Villagra wasn’t able to locate another Old English Sheepdog from a breeder or rescue, Celsi had an idea. She would find a Sheepdog for him in the U.S. and get it to Argentina.
Celsi started by contacting a number of breeders to see if they might have puppies available. Tara Kirby, of Kirby’s Sheepdogs in Iowa, offered to donate a puppy from her litter that had been born on May 22, 2016—the day Foxy died.
Little did Celsi know, finding a puppy was the easy part. She then had to figure out how to get a Sheepdog from Iowa to Argentina. She set up a GoFundMe page, and calculated that, if she factored in customs fees and vet expenses, it would cost about $4,000 to get the pup to Villagra.
In two months, the group members raised the money, and Celsi made arrangements for the puppy, named Beatrice, to fly to Houston, and then to Buenos Aires on October 4. She would make the trip alone, and Tara Kirby and Jan Tabler would drive her from Iowa to Chicago, where she’d be handed off to the PetSafe crew on United Airlines.
“Team Bea” hit a roadblock when they learned the puppy had grown too big to fly in the cabin. They scrambled to raise additional funds to buy a crate and to cover the additional expenses of her airfare and travel. The group pulled through, and on October 4, Kirby and Tabler dropped Bea off at the airport. The fluffy puppy, who had one brown eye and one blue, would make her way alone to Argentina.
Hundreds of sheepdog owners from 43 states and 22 countries tracked Bea’s journey to her new home. When she landed safely in Buenos Aires, the owners celebrated together on the group, and Villagra excitedly reported that his home was ready for the newest addition.
It would be more than six hours before customs officials finally placed Bea in Villagra’s arms. When he got home, the first thing he did was let his family know Bea had made it where she belonged.
“Quiet and safe at home with her Dad and her new sisters,” he wrote. “She is an angel. I’ll never forget what you all did for me. It was a very long day in the stupid airport. We are tired…We love you all. #GodBlessAmerica.”
In the coming days, Bea’s fluffy face lit up the group, as her posts received hundreds of likes from around the world. Villagra was—and still continues to be—overcome by emotion at the generosity of his fellow sheepdog lovers.
“Bea was a wonderful gift from all the people of the group and it’s something I’ll never forget,” he said. “I feel a wonderful love for Bea.”
On February 9, Villagra posted a photo of Bea, her different colored eyes wide, her mouth open, holding a Frisbee, ready to play.
“I’m speechless because I cannot describe the love that Beatrice provokes,” Villagra wrote.
Where words fail him, he has pictures. And he has the love of his Facebook family, whom he knows will always understand.