Adopting Bin Face

Niko was delivered to us like a pizza. It was January 2021 and we were stuck at home in Panama under some of the world’s madest pandemic regulations. He was a “tinacaro” which translates as “bin face”; a street dog in Panamanian slang. He’s come a long way; from starving on the streets of Panama to bounding around the Irish countryside

We were an Irish/English family just arrived in Panama when the pandemic hit in 2020. We hadn’t even met our neighbours. Suddenly we were facing some of the world’s strictest lockdown restrictions. Adults were only allowed out for 2 hours twice a week based on the last digits of their passports, children were not allowed out AT ALL! For months! My husband made the mistake of trying to walk them to a nearby dental appointment one day and they were escorted home by the police.

We were lucky; we had a lovely house and garden, but I was going nuts. I would have lost it totally shut into an apartment for so long, and my heart goes out to everyone who was. Private schools shut for 15 months, public schools for 2 years. There was even “ley-seca” – a prohibition on the sale of alcohol for 3 months. How can any parent homeschool their kids without drinking?! Thank goodness for the black market of over-priced wine that quickly lurched into full swing from any restaurant that would deliver. “Queiro algos churros… y con 12 botellas de vino blanco por favor?!”

With no friends or family anywhere near and my husband working long hours from home, I felt very isolated. When I did try out my beginner’s spanish on my weekly dash to the supermarket, masks made my understanding of any replies impossible. It took me 6 months to work out what they always asked me for before I paid at the till. Turned out to be about loyalty cards!

Like everyone else all over the world, I thought a dog would help take our minds off the apocalypse and make our endless walks around the block feel slighlty less monotonous.

A neighbour recommended I contact a rescue centre called Colitas y Narices. I was expecting visit the place with the kids and choose a dog that we liked. That’s not what happened! Due to all the restrictions, we weren’t allowed to drive anywhere and the centre wasn’t allowed any visitors.

So, I rang and spoke to a friendly lady called Carey. I told her what we were hoping for: a male dog, over a year old (so wouldn’t chew stuff), with lots of energy and not a bad bone in his body… with 3 young kids that was crucial.

Carey said she had just the dog and she’d bring him over the next day. Wait! What?! What if we didn’t like him?! What if he didn’t like us?! She sent me photos and videos and he looked lovely, funny and waggy, but I was worried…

Niko’s first time in a car on his way to our house. He looks pretty worried too!

Meeting Niko

When Carey and Niko arrived, he was petrified of us. He kept hiding behind Carey and running away from the kids. Carey stayed for an hour while he got a tiny bit more used to us. I was alarmed by how frightened he was. Carey told us to give him time. She said to see how he was in a day, then a week, a month, 3 months… even 6 months. He’d settle down. And, if it didn’t work out, she would come back from him, and we could try a different dog.

After Carey left, Niko quickly bonded to me and that lasted for months. He’d shadow me around the house all day long, dogging my every step. He’d flatly refuse to go for a walk with the kids unless I came. He’d stiffen up his whole body and they would try to drag him, but he’d always slip his collar and zoom back to the house. I was worried that he would never become a family dog.

He was worse with my husband. For weeks, when my husband would dare to emerge from his home office after hours of tense zoom meetings, Niko would bark and growl at him, then bravely run off to hide in a bush. Now, my husband is a worryingly tall man at 6 foot 7. Niko had almost certainly never seen anyone that big. People assumed he’d been mistreated by a tall man before we got him but that couldn’t have been it. He’d been taken into the rescue centre as a puppy and treated well (probably by more reasonably-sized people) ever since. Maybe it was my husband’s alarmingly bushy eyebrows. Maybe it was my husband’s calcuations of just how much it was going to cost us to one day bring this dog home to Ireland. Maybe it was because of the dog’s strong attachment to me. We just couldn’t work it out.

It was strange, annoying and eventually upsetting. We didn’t know how to get round it. We googled advice, rang Carey a few times for guidance and just kept on trying. My husband would spend ages lying on the floor, throwing bits of meat to the dog while looking the other way. It took weeks for Niko to come forward and accept a treat from 6 feet away, let alone nearby. After months of this carry on, with my husband and I arguing about whether he was trying hard enough, we nearly told Carey we’d have to give up. Then finally, Niko took a sausage from my husband’s hand. Hallelujah! It was pretty much like Dancing with Wolves, only even more tedious.

Niko turns a corner

Suddenly things began to improve. I don’t know why it took so long and we’d all nearly been driven to distraction. But, I’m delighted that we kept on trying. Now Niko adores my husband. He jumps onto his lap at any opportunity and weirdly tries to sort of sit on his head which never turns out very well. Although Niko still often looks back to see where I am, he will happily go off for walks with the rest of the family without me. He’s turned out to be a loyal, intelligent, fit, athletic and fantastic dog. He’s still pretty wary of my husband’s eyebrows but, as long as they’re up, he’s full of confidence, easily trainable and very, very funny.



4 thoughts on “Adopting Bin Face

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  1. Dear Lizzie,
    Loved reading about Nico and wanted to congratulate you on getting him home to Ireland safely and without mishap. It’s a testimony to your dogged (!) determination to keep the newest member of the family as your forever dog!
    Well done – if anyone could do it, you certainly could. You did all your due diligence and it paid off. We’re both really impressed – HUGE Congratulations!
    Much love,
    Jude & Christo xxx
    Sent from my iPhone

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