Workers at Panama’s Atlantico port were in for a shock when they opened a shipping container that had arrived from Spain and was meant to be empty.
Inside was a dog, still alive despite having been trapped for 40 days while the container crossed the Atlantic from Andalucia.
The caramel-colored dog, about one year old, was skinny, dehydrated and bruised.
After months of rehabilitation and training, Mili has a job at the Panamanian Ministry of Agricultural Development.
“We don’t know how she got in, nor how she wasn’t detected,” said Cecilia de Escobar, the national director for animal health at the ministry.
“It’s the story of a heroine because a little animal that is inside a container for 40 days, with no water, no food — how did it fight for its life?” she said.
The container’s ocean voyage had lasted 20 days before it sat at the port in hot and humid Panama for another 20 days in January.
“A part of the container was corroded and there we found a little hole. We assume she opened the hole with her paw and drank rain water,” De Escobar said.
There was plenty of rain during the journey and in Panama.
After her discovery, Mili was taken to Panama City and treated by veterinarians and quarantine specialists.
She weighed just 4kg when she arrived, said Hugo Turillazzi, a vet and administrator in the canine unit at the agriculture ministry.
Turillazzi said he thought Mili must have been in good physical shape when she entered the container, and then survived off her body fat.
In addition to the rain water, she could have licked the condensation off the container’s inner walls or even drunk her own urine, he said.
“It’s a miracle that this little animal was able to survive so long. That’s why we gave her the name Milagros [miracles]or Mili for short,” he said.
“As she came from Spain, we called her Mili the little Spaniard,” he added.
Now fully recovered, Mili weighs 12kg and is in top physical shape.
During the five months after her discovery, Mili spent time recovering and being trained at the ministry’s canine unit.
Having learned to detect the aromas of fruit and vegetables, Mili began working a week ago “with good results.”
Dogs in her unit work at the capital’s international airport, detecting fresh food in travelers’ luggage to prevent outside diseases from entering the country. Whenever she detects a suspicious piece of luggage, she scratches it and then sits down beside it waiting for her reward.
“Mili has the four basic characteristics that a canine needs to join the unit: friendly, gentle with people, a good appetite and playful,” dog trainer Edgardo Aguirre said.
“We told ourselves: This little dog has potential, she will be able to make seizures,” he said.
Mili has already managed to detect grains, fruit and meat.
She is now training to detect the giant African snail, a species that can ravage local agriculture.
“She’s a scanner that doesn’t cost very much, only the food and affection that we give her, and she’s very trustworthy,” Turillazzi said.
Now Mili is the one helping those that rescued her.
“They say that everyone has a purpose in life, and I feel that Mili’s was to be adopted by Panama and to provide a great service to our country,” De Escobar said.
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