Finding Love in the South Pacific

From lost in a hurricane to finding his forever home, Coconut Mutts Tuni’s life changed the day Board Member Alanna Olear scooped him off a cliff. And Alanna would say her life changed as well.

Tuni was found on a Saturday afternoon during the end of the ferocious storm in American Samoa that everyone was calling (as you may have guessed) Cyclone Tuni. Earlier that day, some friends and I decided to venture on a hike within the village of Vatia. It was rumored that you could see swells that reached up to 15 feet high at the end of this trail. Naturally, we traveled to end of the trail and sat on the edge of a cliff so we could get up close and personal with the action. We were relaxing and enjoying each other’s company for a couple of hours and a few of my friends were reminiscing about all of the great times they’d had in American Samoa due to their soon to be departure from the island.

My friend Kristin and I were talking and laughing and suddenly she stopped cold in our conversation to reveal some breaking news, “Is that a puppy?!” I turned and stared deep into an area of tall grass until I could see two small brown eyes staring back at me. I got up quickly and raced to the grassy cocoon the animal had created for himself. There was in fact, a puppy hiding in the grass. The puppy looked into my eyes with the saddest look I had ever seen on an animal’s face. His ribs were visible and he was so malnourished that he couldn’t even stand. Tuni was flea ridden and had pussy bite wounds on his neck and torso that we suspected to be from a dog attack. I picked him up and slowly friends gathered around me asking what I was going to name my puppy.

Tuni’s first night in safety involved food, a bath, cleaning of his wounds and removal of hundreds of fleas. The cyclone continued to rage outside

Slowly the realization came over me that I had acquired a puppy. As a recent grad who had fled home at the first chance she got to go to an American territory 5,000 miles from home for her first job, any type of commitment seemed daunting. Friends had warned me not to adopt a puppy any time soon because it is like having a baby. My apartment at the time wouldn’t let me have pets and to my surprise, my new friend Kelsey volunteered to take Tuni in until I was able to move into my new apartment. We took him back to her apartment that night, fed, and bathed him. Our night was capped with us sitting on the couch together, picking fleas off of the puppy and flicking them into a jar. Kelsey and I took him to the vet the next morning to get him vaccinated and cleaned up.

It took awhile for Tuni to overcome whatever psychologically traumas he endured

After he was cleaned up, the emotional trauma that he must have endured took a toll on him. It took him a while to open up to other people and animals. We moved into my new place and he was so terrified for the first month that he didn’t even want to leave the house. Eventually, I eased him into going outside, and he was not thrilled about it. Every time a dog looked at him, he peed, everywhere.

Today, Tuni loves going on adventures outside my house with the neighbors dogs and barely wants to come inside. He can be found kissing every dog and person that comes within a five foot radius. I take him on hikes, and he always walks near me to make sure I am still trekking on. I have never put a leash on Tuni, because he doesn’t need one; he listens and respects me. Having an American dog is way different than having a Samoan dog. Respectively, it is like comparing a small infant with your best friend Joe that comes in to check on you once and a while. Having Tuni around doesn’t create hard work; having Tuni gives me an unstoppable friendship.

American Samoa is an island that exemplifies impermanence in many ways. There is a constant flux of contractors coming and leaving the island. There are many old store areas that remain vacant. Tuni gave me something that nothing and no one else from American Samoa could give me. This dog has given me someone who will be loyal and care for me for as long as he lives.

Tuni and Alanna taking in the view on top of Mount Alava – the mountain that he was rescued from the bottom of a month earlier