The first time I met Manotas he was stretched out on the back seat of the old BMW that Carlos Ortega, Sea Shepherd volunteer and indispensable guide during my stay in Quito, had borrowed from his brother, to get us to the headquarters of Ecuador’s Environmental Police. Manotas, I was told, is slang for ‘big hands’, but you won’t find that translation in any dictionary. ‘Big paws’ would have been more appropriate as he was a 7-year-old yellow Lab.
Carlos picked me up at the old town backpackers I was staying at, after he had gotten Manotas from his dog hotel. Manotas looked completely at ease, confident, as if it was his idea to go on this road trip and he was allowing us to tag along. In his ‘profession’ as K9 officer he was used to riding cars, although that would normally be in a travel crate in the back of a police pick-up truck.
It was mid-October 2013. I had arrived the day before, checked into the hotel I had found online and spent the afternoon panting up and down the steep cobblestone streets of colonial Quito. The 10-hour plane ride and the 2850 meter elevation of Ecuador’s capital were not the only thing robbing me of my breath. Quito’s beautiful old town represents one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas.
But I was not there as a tourist; I had travelled to Quito to pick up Manotas and bring him ‘home’.
He was born in Colombia on June 25, 2006. On February 17, 2008, Sea Shepherd Galapagos staff member Michelle Castro flew to Bogota, Colombia’s capital, accompanied by Captain Patricio Galiano, a specialist in K9 units, from Grupo de Intervención y Rescate (GIR – the Ecuadorian Rescue and Intervention Group). On February 18, Castro and Gialiano selected six dogs – paid for by Sea Shepherd – and arranged to have them flown back to Ecuador. The six dogs were named: Terminator, Kevin, Lenin (later renamed), Kipper, Bosco and Manotas. Four more dogs were purchased by other organizations. Upon arrival in Quito, the dogs were transported to the GIR K9 unit, where they were extensively trained and remained until the Environmental Police, with Sea Shepherd support, had built up its own K9 department and facilities.
Manotas and the nine other dogs were eventually transferred to the Galapagos Islands in January 2009, where they underwent a month of additional training by the Unidad de Protección del Medio Ambiente (UPMA – the Environmental Police).
In February 2009, the training sessions were completed and the dogs began their work on the most populated island, Santa Cruz, which had existing kennels on National Park property ready for the K9 unit.
Manotas and his colleagues became part of the canine squad combating the smuggling of shark fins and sea cucumbers and wildlife trafficking in the Galapagos.
The Galapagos Islands, officially known as the Archipiélago de Colón, are a group of volcanic islands straddling the equator over 900 km west of continental Ecuador. Its remote location saved it from humanity’s destructive visitations until relatively recently. Its unique wildlife partly survived and inspired Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution, natural selection and adaptation.
These ‘enchanted isles’ are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this means all of us have a responsibility to help protect them from illegal exploitation. Manotas, and the K9 unit he was part of, played an important role in this.
These dogs and their guides form the first ever police K9 unit in South America that focuses on the detection of contraband wildlife.
Since the dogs were divided over the main population centers on the islands – Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal, and Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island – they have been checking all movements of people and cargo between, to and from these islands.
The presence of the dogs is a great deterrent for wildlife smuggling, and the K9 unit has proven over the years that if you engage in this illegal trafficking, you will get caught.
Manotas worked at Baltra Airport, the main entry point to the islands, checking passenger’s baggage and cargo and at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island’s major port where the tourist boats exchange passengers, cargo ships discharge their load and fishing vessels land their catches.
Even though their main task is the detection of shark fins, the dogs are capable of detecting a wide range of animal smells, making the smuggling of wildlife past these check points very difficult. The unit is also used to check more remote locations and to search properties in which the presence of illegal wildlife is suspected.
Besides numerous cases in which wildlife smugglers were apprehended and illegal wildlife was confiscated, the unit also has a preventative function. Nobody in their right mind still tries to smuggle wildlife past these dogs, as detection is a certainty.
In 2011, for instance, Kevin and Manotas performed 1706 flight and 1449 vessel checks on the main tourist island of Santa Cruz, preventing a marine iguana, a Galapagos tortoise and four sea horses from being smuggled out of the Galapagos.
More than 1500 shark fins, almost 10,000 sea cucumbers and more than 1100 lobsters had been intercepted by 2013, along with various live wildlife specimens.
Throughout the islands of the Galapagos, these canine Sea Shepherds have helped to combat wildlife trafficking and the illegal exploitation of marine life in this vital ecosystem. They have enabled law enforcement to apprehend smugglers and confiscate illegal wildlife.
The institutional agreement of cooperation between Sea Shepherd, the Ecuadorian National Police and the Internal Affairs Ministry included a very important animal welfare provision by which the dogs were to retire after 5 years of service on planetary duty, returned to Sea Shepherd, whose staff would find them the best homes and families available as companion animals, and will monitor their well being for the rest of their lives.
For this reason, Sea Shepherd USA eventually brought all the dogs to Seattle and worked with Lady’s Hope Dog Rescue to find them homes in the Pacific Northwest, in the vicinity of Sea Shepherd’s headquarters at the time in Friday Harbor.
Retirement time had come for Manotas in October 2013.
In April 2012, Manotas and two other dogs, Kiper and Willy, became ill. On 18-04-2012, Manotas tested positive for Ehrlichia Canis, an infectious disease transmitted by the bite of a tick.
Out of the three dogs that contracted the disease, Manotas was the only one to survive. Kiper and Willy unfortunately died in the line of duty.
Manotas eventually recuperated, but the disease had taken a toll on his body and he was removed from active duty. Sea Shepherd Galapagos requested to have him officially retired, and because of their hard work and persistence Manotas was legally returned to Sea Shepherd and an official ceremony honoring him for his service was held October 17, 2013. During this ceremony the officials expressed their gratitude towards Manotas and his K9 colleagues and to Sea Shepherd in general and emphasized the importance of the K9 project for the Galapagos. In one of the speeches a police commander listed some of the achievements during Manotas’ years of service: more than 800 sea cucumbers, 1000 shark fins and 20 iguanas were intercepted in various operations.
Manotas underwent all the attention, praise and petting as stoic as the car rides, his general state of mind as I would learn.
After the ceremony I dropped Manotas off for the last time at his crowded Quito dog hotel. We – my girlfriend Susan Hartland, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Administrative Director at the time, and I – had planned on just fostering him, but by the end of that day I had fallen in love with the boy and decided that he would stay with us forever.
The next day I traveled with Manotas and Carlos, who guided, shuttled and helped me throughout my stay, to the brand new Quito International Airport to get Manotas‘ paperwork done in order to fly out. That went remarkably smooth and close to midnight we boarded our flight to Atlanta. There I was able to pick him up and walk him for an hour – they had a small dog patch outside for Manotas’ beagle-colleagues that work the ATL airport – before our final flight to Seattle. At SeaTac, we were picked up by Yvonne Devereaux, founder of Seattle-based Lady’s Hope Dog Rescue, who would assist Sea Shepherd in finding homes for the remaining dogs from the Galapagos as they retired from service. Yvonne drove us to the ferry terminal at Anacortes where Manotas and I boarded for the last one-and-a-half hour stage of our trip towards his new happy home in Friday Harbor with Susan, his new canine sister Sally and two feline friends, Snake and Dolly. Manotas was undisturbed by the ferry ride – of course he regularly crossed from Santa Cruz to Baltra Airport on one, and he had inspected many ships in Puerto Ayora – and managed to chew up – completely – his first ever American baseball that he had gotten from Yvonne as a present.
Manotas quickly adapted to this new island life. The tropics were replaced with the chilly, rainy weather of the Pacific Northwest, but contrary to the almost treeless Galapagos, San Juan Island’s pebble beaches were strewn with sticks, branches and logs of every imaginable size and Manotas considered that the essence of paradise.
After kennel-life he greatly appreciated lounging on couches and beds and has always slept with us. Manotas never learned the concept of private space; he would place his paws, head or butt, wherever he thought it fitted best and that could just be your face.
On San Juan, Manotas experienced his first snow, his first pine trees, his first deer and foxes and eagles.
He still enjoyed the car rides: to join us for a beer – a bowl of water for him – at Roche Harbor; to go for walks in the forests, on the grassy slopes or on the many beaches; or to watch the orcas and seals at Lime Kiln, who replaced for him the marine iguanas and sea lions of his former home.
Manotas enjoyed the company of his feline siblings, but his canine sister Sally – blind & deaf and with some behavioral issues – needed more getting used to, but Manotas tolerance and patience were exemplary. I did, however, detect a slight frown when late 2014, we took in another blind & deaf breeding victim, a puppy this time, Manotas’ new brother (and shadow) Linus.
May 2014, Nico, Bosco, Kevin and Cristina were set to join Manotas in a well-deserved life of rest, love, joy and play after their service for the oceans and wildlife of the Galapagos. So once again I boarded a plane, this time accompanied by Susan and Yvonne, to meet the wonderful Sea Shepherd Galapagos team at their base in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, where the official handover of the four-legged heroes from the police back into Sea Shepherd’s hands would take place.
We visited the dogs at the kennel where they lived and were treated to a demonstration. Kevin, Manotas’ colleague for years on Santa Cruz Island, picked again and again the correct box out of three identical ones in which a piece of dried sea cucumber was hidden. When he had determined the location, he would sit next to the box waiting for his handler to treat him to some playtime with a tennis ball.
This reward form immediately explains Manotas and his colleagues’ obsession with (tennis) balls. In dog parks and on beaches, Manotas would go after every thrown or abandoned ball, retrieve it and keep it to chew on.
The demonstration was repeated at the well-attended open-air ceremony a day later, where the four retirees were showered with similar praise, Manotas was honored with half a year before.
Arriving at SeaTac airport on May 10, the dogs were in great spirits, especially considering the three multiple-hour flights: Galapagos–Quito-Atlanta–Seattle.
Although we did stay overnight in Quito. It was difficult to find a hotel there that would accept four dogs of Labrador size, so we ended up in the dog-friendly Quito Hilton. The rain poured down that day, the park next to the hotel turned into a mud-pool, so you can imagine what walking the dogs did to the hotel lobby, not to mention the white bed linen. Defending the ordered vegan pizza – a restaurant visit offered the same challenge with four dogs as finding a hotel room – from four smart Labs celebrating their new-found freedom, also proved to be a challenge.
At SeaTac, three of the dogs were greeted by their foster families, most of whom would predictably provide them with their forever homes.
In Friday Harbor, Manotas was briefly reunited with his buddy Kevin, before we dropped the latter off at his foster home.
I could not be there, for the retirement of he last three of these heroic dogs — Terminator, Luna and Jonathan — as in December 2014, I was on board the Bob Barker for Operation Icefish. Another formal ceremony was held in their honor in Quito on December 17, proving again the respect and gratitude the Ecuadorians hold for these K9 officers. All three found lovely homes.
In April 2015, four new dogs – Rony, Missy, Truus, and Xaver – were purchased by Sea Shepherd Global in the Netherlands. They were trained at the Regional Center for Dog Training in Quito. They now replace Manotas and the other K9 unit retirees.
The Galapagos K9 Unit remains one-of-a-kind in the country and one of only a few in the world.
If we can’t protect something as unique as the Galapagos Islands, we are doomed as a species.
Manotas was the only one of the retirees that left the greater-Seattle area, when he moved with Susan to the Netherlands, after she left her job as Sea Shepherd’s Executive Director. By then Manotas had seen a new puppy-brother, Linus, and a deaf cat-sister, Poes, join the family. On June 25, 2015, we celebrated his 9th birthday in Europe.
For an update on the retired K9 officers we did in November 2015 for the Sea Shepherd website, Susan had this to say on Manotas:
“We are currently living in the Netherlands and Manotas is doing really well! He loves his tennis balls, of course! He loves the walks to the dog park to visit his friends and play, he loves going to the beach and car rides. We have taken a few road trips to various spots in Europe so the dogs are well-traveled. We have 3 now, Manotas, Sally and Linus. Sally and Linus are both deaf and blind, but Manotas is wonderful with them, he is such a sweet soul, we are very fortunate to have him 🙂
He also loves food and treats. He gets VERY excited about meals and snacks.
Manotas also had erlichia when he was in Galapagos so we have been managing that issue and he also had TPLO surgery last Sept , otherwise he has recovered and health wise has been doing really well.
He has recovered well and is a healthy vegan dog.“
TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) surgery is performed on dogs who have torn their cranial cruciate ligament (referred to as dog ACL, analogous to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans), for which Labradors are predisposed. Most dogs completely recover, as Manotas did.
But dogs have two hind legs and early 2016 Manotas tore the ligament on the other side. More expensive surgery turned Manotas into an even more bionic dog, but he recovered and was as happy as ever.
As Susan indicated above, some of Manotas’ highlights of the day were the feeding times. He would bark, jump and wag in excitement and dance little circles.
Susan also mentions Manotas’ travels. Born and raised in Colombia, a working life in the Galapagos, retired to the Pacific Northwest and then travel to Europe. Besides day trips in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, Manotas and his canine siblings visited with us the great cities of central Europe – Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Krakau – and the rural areas surrounding them.
At his Veldhoven home, we’d walk through the parks. A regular stop was the home of my parents, where Manotas knew a snack would await him. He joined us on Sunday trips to the soccer field at Marvilde – where I had played the game since I was a child – and on summer weekend strolls to the pub – Café-Bar de Locht – that I’ve frequented for almost 30 years.
But we would be just as happy lying on the field in front of my house, Manotas chewing on his favorite green balls that my tennis-playing friends supplied never-ending amounts of.
Manotas got to be a Sea-Shepherd-for-a-day again when I had to travel to Bremen to testify for the police there, in the case of the sinking and boarding of the toothfish-poaching vessel Thunder. In the spring of 2015, we rented a car, loaded the canine kids inside and drove to northern Germany. While I visited the police, Manotas went on board the Bob Barker, granted Peter Hammarstedt the honor to pose for a photo with him, and played with the crewmembers of the Bob and Sam Simon, and the German Sea Shepherd volunteers, who were in the process of unloading the Thunder’s confiscated fishing nets from the Sam.
Besides being the sweetest, loveliest, most patient boy, Manotas had his quirks as well. Somewhere in the US, there lives a vet tech that will forever remember that Manotas considers shoving a thermometer up his ass extremely rude.
Manotas also disliked people with crutches, canes or other stick-like objects. As a result he would regularly embarrass us by barking at the elderly or physically handicapped.
Another group of people Manotas had an issue with were, strangely enough, street musicians; Maybe he just had an eclectic taste of music and abhorred how the average member of this ‘calling’ mutilates perfectly good tunes.
Late 2015, Susan accepted the job of Executive Director of the sanctuary Wildlife Waystation and all the canines travelled with her to Los Angeles, while I went back to sea.
Wildlife Waystation provides a forever home for over 400 animals: chimps, other primates and hyenas from biomedical research, lions, tigers and other big cats from the film and similar entertainment industries, local wildlife like pumas, raccoons, coyotes, black bears, possums that cannot be rehabilitated, domesticated animals such as horses and pigs rescued from kill floors, and various animals, including lots of exotic birds, from private owners.
We lived on-site on the property in the beautiful LA National Forest. While the job was tough on Susan, the kids and I loved the surroundings and walks out there. Here we all learned to coexist with coyotes, bobcats and rattle snakes, to deal with the heat and dust, and the dangers of flooding and bushfires.
I’ll never forget the day Manotas saw his first tiger; he looked and looked and looked again, but he just couldn’t believe his eyes that showed him a pussycat of these enormous proportions. He puffed himself up, almost trying to walk on his toes to increase his size, ready to investigate closer. That, of course, I did not allow to hapen.
When I was at sea, Manotas would often spend the day lounging beside his mum’s desk, regularly patrolling the rest of the office and ‘helping out’, which often consisted of putting his head in the trash and relieving Susan’s co-workers of the treats they knew to carry with them.
Off-site, Manotas loved the shaded, grassy park in La Crescenta, a rarity in the coastal desert of LA. But his favorite spots were, no doubt, the dog beaches of Huntington and Long Beach, making new friends, swim, run, raiding balls, and occasionally, in the absence of trees, lifting his leg to spray the ankles of inattentive beachdwellers.
To escape the summer heat we would spend long weekends at the cooler Pacific coast, at Monterey or Moro Bay. The last weekend outing before his death, he explored Bear Lake.
By then he had already been diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis. Early-2016 he had undergone his second TPLO surgery and recovered from it well, but by the end of the year we noticed how his breathing slowly became more labored. The first diagnosis was an enlarged heart, but this was later changed to laryngeal paralysis, an infliction common in Labradors. Laryngeal paralysis is a disorder in which the nerves that control the muscles and cartilage that open and close the larynx (voicebox) do not function properly. Normally, the laryngeal cartilages that close to prevent food going down the trachea (windpipe) are pulled open during breathing. In laryngeal paralysis, these cartilages do not open and close properly, making it difficult for a dog to take in air normally. Laryngeal paralysis occurs most commonly in older, large breed dogs and reported incidence shows males being affected twice as often as females. Why the nerves and muscles that control the laryngeal cartilages lose function is unknown.
It is operable, but with risks of pneumonia and choking on food. Manotas was ten-and-a-half by then. After the long recoveries from Erlichia and two TPLOs, we were hesitant to put him through more surgery, tough recovery and life-style changes. He was still a very happy boy, crazy about food and excited about his walks and the heavier breathing didn’t seem to bother him too much. We didn’t really want to exchange the great quality of his life for an uncertain quantity.
Manotas got to demonstrate his wildlife sniffing skills one last time. The Waystation office often houses smaller animals, just brought in, for quarantine or observation. One of them was Teddy, a baby possum that had fallen out of a tree, was taken in by well-meaning people, but by the time they decided they couldn’t keep him after all, he was already too imprinted on humans to be released. He’d normally spent the day dozing, rolled-up in his blanket in one of the offices, but one day he could not be found. The staff searched everywhere to no avail. It was, however, impossible he could have left the building. In the end, Susan got Manotas, let him sniff Teddy’s blanket, and in no time our boy located the escapee who had crawled into a box of t-shirts and burrowed under them.
Manotas, couch potato by choice, but still part-time hero if needed.
Some of the best times in LA, in my mind, we spent, sitting in front of our trailer at Wildlife Waystation, soaking up the rays of the setting sun, I with a beer, Susan a glass of wine, Manotas gobbling up a snack, in anticipation of the daily symphony. The wild coyotes would usually initiate the evening sing-song; the Waystation’s coyotes would chime in; the wolf-dogs added their howling to the concert; the peacocks would squeak and the chimps hoot; lions, panthers, tigers and ligers roared and we’d all agree, without a word or bark exchanged, that life was good.
I’m sure Manotas had one other thought on his mind, too: “It must be dinner time by now!” Manotas was a voracious eater; one reason the surgery on his larynx would have been difficult for him. Het ate as if, if he didn’t finish his bowl in under a minute, the V-dog kibble with assorted cooked veggies, fruits, sweet potatoes, quinoa, etc., would magically disappear.
After he finished his portion he would watch with anticipation how his more paced brother and sister would go about their chow. He knew that at least he would get to lick their bowls clean; Sally might leave some of the bigger chunks of carrot, broccoli or cauliflower and Linus might abandon his bowl altogether if he was either satisfied or distracted by something more interesting to investigate. Manotas would be there to take care of business.
It seems to be my fate that our kids die when I am away. I was at sea when our sweet foster Otis, a repeatedly abused and abandoned Rotti, died of cancer. I was locked inside a Japanese prison cell, the Christmas Tango, the red Aussie heeler that was Susan’s companion for 17 years, died of old age.
I was passing through the Suez Canal when I received Susan’s “call me!” e-mail.
I already knew that Manotas had collapsed on July 24, throwing up food, foaming from the mouth, unable to walk. Because his head was covered in spider webs from under the trailer, the first thought was that he’d gone into anaphylactic shock from a spider bite. He was sedated, put on oxygen and received treatment from the emergency vet. By the evening he was ready to be taken home again.
The 25th he had seemed somewhat better. He ate a bit, but was still wobbly on his legs.
On the 26th, LA morning, I had called Susan when ‘my’ ship was at anchor at Suez; Manotas had again eaten some canned food and was wandering around outside. Later that morning he collapsed again. The Waystation vets took him to their hospital. It appeared that his throat had collapsed. Manotas had a stroke and was gone.
Sally seemed undisturbed in the days following, but Linus was confused about the absence of his big brother. Two weeks after Manotas’ passing, he had still not eaten an entire bowl of food in one go.
When Manotas died, we were preparing for a new adventure, the voyage back to Europe. Although Manotas mortal remains will remain buried on the grounds of Wildlife Waystation among all the other amazing creatures that found their forever home there and passed, his spirit will travel with us wherever we go.
Manotas passing fills us with great sadness, but it is not necessarily an unhappy sadness, if that makes sense. We typically mourn for our own loss. Manotas is without worries, without pain. Besides loss, I also feel satisfaction, even pride, about how we filled Manotas life with love and joy and adventures. I hope that somehow we have repaid him a bit for his service and sacrifices for the oceans.
Manotas will be missed, but lives on in our memories, our dreams and in our hearts.