Harwich Family Finds The Dog Of Their Dreams...In Antigua

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Matt Eldredge and Bear meet at Logan Airport Dec. 15. COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH – Adopting a dog is high on the list of things people are doing in the pandemic. So high, in fact, that nationwide shelters are reporting that the supply of dogs has often not been able to keep up with the demand. A Harwich family recently found a creative solution to this problem and adopted a rescue dog from the Caribbean island of Antigua.

When Cheryl Eldredge and her husband Matthew decided the time had come for them to adopt a rescue dog, they found it wasn't as easy as they had hoped.

"The kids had been asking for a dog forever," Cheryl said recently, but with both parents working busy jobs and the kids in school, "it wouldn't be fair to have a dog home alone all day."

During the pandemic however, it was clear that being at home was much more likely. Olivia, 13, and Zoe, 16, were in hybrid and remote school, respectively, and Cheryl and Matt found their schedules now made it much more likely that someone would be home during the day.

A test run for the whole family involved dog sitting for the two Yorkshire terriers of friends for a week in the fall. After that, Cheryl said, "We were convinced the kids could be helpful," so the decision to get a dog was made. There were some conditions on the search for a rescue dog, Cheryl said.

"We were looking for a puppy and didn't want a pit bull." And, since the Eldredges are a camping family, a medium-size dog was needed "to fit in the camper," she added.

By Thanksgiving, Cheryl had investigated online options locally. "I was getting frustrated," she recalled, "not many places had dogs and I had a hard time getting in touch with people there."

It was during a family Thanksgiving Zoom call that they learned about the Dogs and Cats of Antigua Discussion Group on Facebook. A friend of Cheryl's sister-in-law in New Jersey was a volunteer for the group, so Cheryl reached out to her for help. Dogs and Cats of Antigua is a nonprofit group on the island that rescues dogs and puppies from the streets and beaches of the Caribbean island. After the dogs receive health exams and shots and are approved by a government veterinarian, the group works to arrange fostering or adoptions overseas.

The Facebook page included pictures of available dogs, and after narrowing their selection to two possible mutts, the Eldredges picked Jasper, a puppy who could be expected to ultimately grow to 55 pounds. Now how to get Jasper to Harwich? After obtaining all necessary shots and exams, when old enough he could travel in a carry-on size bag, but he would need a travel buddy to make the trip.

Enter Susan Peavey, a travel agent with an office in Harwich. Although she lived in Marshfield, she grew up in Harwich and knew Matt Eldredge. As luck would have it, she was slated to go to Antigua in early December as a member of the Antigua Travel Agent Advisory Board. Peavey was asked about serving as a courier to bring Jasper home and quickly agreed. When she told the seven-member advisory board, others volunteered as well and four puppies were escorted to their new homes on the group's mid-December return to the states.

Peavey was met by Matt Eldredge at Logan Airport at midnight on Dec. 15.

"The travel was quite easy," she said, "with the puppy in a carrier there was no problem." Peavey recalled the meeting with Jasper's new family in Boston with a smile. "Matthew got out of the car and he and Jasper were wearing the same cranberry colored sweaters! They bonded immediately and you could see the happiness in Matt's eyes," she recalled.

Jasper, rechristened Bear by Olivia, was a Christmas surprise for the family and a happy one, Cheryl said.  "He's five months old now and so good," she said. "He's just about housebroken, fingers crossed, and a quick learner in puppy kindergarten."

Cheryl has nothing but praise for the work of Dogs and Cats of Antigua and has learned more about the family that fostered their puppy there before his adoption.

"I’ve gained a wonderful new friend in Bear’s foster mom in Antigua. I hope someday our family can go down to see the rescue sanctuary and meet her," she said.

Bear is now 16 pounds, tall and skinny, and is "fitting in well," she added. "He's a Caribbean dog so anytime he finds a seashell he picks it up and carries it along!"