A Starving Stray Puppy Upended our Mundane, Retired Lives: Finding Purpose After Finding Yiuka

During the past 18 months my husband and I have come to know some extraordinary dog people, all because of a homeless puppy we rescued over two years ago in beautiful Costa Rica—a fortuitous encounter that changed our lives.

Yiuka was on the street and near starvation when we found her in January 2019, driving back from a day of hiking near La Tigra.

We passed several free-range dogs, a common sight there, and we started tossing some kibble when I noticed this one destitute puppy visibly struggling to wobble over to the food.

She appeared to be resigned to her fate but, not knowing what to do in the moment, we just drove back to our Airbnb—but we vowed to do something.

With 48 hours remaining until our flight back to Canada, we had to fast track some arrangements. Our host recommended we contact Cristina, a woman who for over 20 years has been singlehandedly caring for injured and abandoned dogs in an idyllic setting outside of town. Despite her imminent move, she agreed to take Yiuka—now we had to go find her.

After three attempts to locate Yiuka where we’d first spotted her, we finally found her on the last day of our vacation. She gazed up at me with enormous brown eyes and let me gently wrap her listless body in some towels.

Cristina met us at the clinic, and coincidentally the vet was on duty that weekend. Yiuka was dehydrated, full of inflammation and anemic, but at the end of her examination the vet smiled and declared “Good news! This one wants to live!”

After only a few hours, I’d already lost my heart to this pitiful little stray and she managed to make me sob with relief.


We left for the airport while Cristina brought Yiuka home, pampering her with nutritious food. After sleeping for more than a week, the dog finally ventured out to meet her other canine companions, all of whom were welcoming and curious about the newcomer.

Ten weeks later, we flew back to Costa Rica to check on Yiuka’s progress. Her swollen joints were almost normal and although her skin was still patchy, she was lively and playful. For that vacation, we’d randomly booked a place near the town, not really sure of its exact location. We turned off the main highway and my jaw dropped at our good fortune: our hotel was but a 5-minute walk from Cristina’s new property!

Johanna Deheer

In December 2019, we returned for a third time to Costa Rica and met Scott of Costa Rica Dog Rescue in the nearby tourist town of La Fortuna. He has over 20 dogs he calls his own and finds adoptive families for other homeless dogs that he rescues. He suggested we contact Save our Scruff in Toronto and they directed me to Charlie’s Angels, yet another pup refuge south of the Costa Rica capital.


Our future has been radically reshaped because of a scrappy little dog that blocked our road one sunny, steamy afternoon in 2019: We intend to help Save our Scruff and Charlie’s Angels with re-homing dogs to North America. Naturally, we can’t wait to resume our lives, support these amazing dog saviors—including Cristina (at cristinasrefuge.org)—and see Yiuka again before she can forgets how much she means to us!

– Submitted by Johanna Deheer

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