Kelsey Sabo of Glens Falls always dreamed of going into the Peace Corps to teach. She was chosen to go to Africa, but little did she know it would be more than teaching English.
Her education would go far beyond the classroom; it would be teaching an entire village about something that you just don’t find in a textbook.
“I see this little thing under a pile of leaves,” she said. “Then she comes out, and it was so little I could hold it in my hands [like this]. It was an 11-day-old puppy.”
Kelsey’s journey was 7,000 miles to Uganda in East Africa. Her village, Arua, was located in the northwest corner on the West Nile close to Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“You see every color of green you could ever imagine,” she described. “My bus ride, which was about 10 hours to the capitol, went through a game reserve, and you could see elephants and giraffes. There are coffee bean plantations, tea plantations. As you go through the mountains, they have hikes, and then you come up to the north. It is much flatter and drier and windier and dustier. That’s where I lived.”
At first, her mother Kim, was very nervous about the trip, but once she saw Uganda firsthand, she felt so much better about Kelsey being there.
“The people of Uganda are so welcoming, so warm,” Kim said. “She stayed with her initial family. They took her in as a daughter. I felt much more safe for her after meeting these people. They just absolutely loved her and opened their house to you; have a meal everywhere you went. Everybody knew Kelsey.”
“Everyone knows everyone. It was a very small village. Of course the villages are all next to one another so tightly packed. You really didn’t know when you crossed the border from one to another,” Kelsey said. “The people are beautiful. The culture is amazing because there are so many different micro cultures.”
In this part of Africa, the people don’t treat dogs and cats like in the United States.
“Typically, with cats and dogs, cats are kept to keep the rats and mice away, and dogs are only seen as guard dogs,” Kelsey explained. “So during the day most of them are locked up in small boxes, and at nighttime, before the family goes to bed, the man of the house will give them any scraps of food and they will be put out patrolling. It’s never really enough food, and the dogs are trained to be very aggressive in order to protect the house from thieves or whatever it may be.”
Kelsey’s job was to teach many of the children in the village.
“I was a literacy specialist teaching reading and writing in English because Ugandans are very interested in learning English, which is great,” she said.
“There are three goals of the Peace Corps,” she continued. “First, come and do your job to teach the technical training. For me, I was a literary specialist. The second goal of the Peace Corps is to teach people in your community about Americans, so it is the cultural exchange. The third goal of the Peace Corps is to teach Americans about your culture. The culture of the host country you are living in. It was keeping a blog.”
But there was a fourth goal, and Kelsey didn’t even know it.
“I went to go for a run one day like I always did, so I saw these kids – my neighbors – that I always play with,” she said. “I see them throwing rocks, so I stopped. I took my headphones off, I turned and I looked and I realized something was hiding under the leaves. Without consciously thinking about it, either I take action, or she will die.”
“She is very disoriented, and I realize she had wounds down her neck and there were flies all around her head,” she recounted. “Kids were chasing her up and down the path. So I just get down on the ground and say, ‘Come on. Come on,’ and I had no idea why she has this wound totally down her neck. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She’s struggling and scared and disoriented. Of course, you’re going to help her.”
She named the little puppy Ellie, and before long, Kelsey had six puppies. They were all rescued from a small, muddy pen and were covered in worms and feces.
“I had her for about two days before and she was recovering at a little bit a faster rate than the other ones,” Kelsey said.
There are no real veterinarians for dogs in the area. The livestock has better vet care.
“So they called a vet for their cows or if their chickens are sick,” Kelsey said. “They treat their livelihood; those are worth money.”
Their care was 24 hours a day. They received fluids and milk every 15 minutes. Unfortunately, four did not make it.
“The worst part – I was calling these vets with a stethoscope and just tell me their hearts had stopped,” she said. “Tell me we can just bury them. That’s all I wanted.”
And little Beans was in a coma for five days.
“The amazing part is Beans comes out of the coma,” Kelsey said. “She’s definitely a little miracle baby.”
Then, someone dropped off Hazel.
“I don’t think Hazel is a biological littermate, but they’re sisters nonetheless.”
Now, Kelsey was teaching without even trying to teach.
“A lot of people and the kids that weren’t in school would go and just stand at the fence and watch me,” she said. “I would hear them say, ‘She is touching the dog. She is touching the dog. The dog is running.’ Because they had just never seen that before.”
People in the village feared dogs.
“It was my favorite part of all of this – the unintended cultural exchange,” Kelsey said. “It was maybe my best project, and I didn’t even need to do.”
As they grew healthier, the villagers learned so much.
“They will not bite you, and they never bit anyone,” she said. “If you love something, it will love you back. If you treat something well, it will love you back.”
Kelsey’s three years in Uganda was coming to an end. Decisions needed to be made but not really.
“After this emotional experience, after everything that happened, it came down to there is no way I can leave these dogs,” she said. “They are my children; they are my family.”
It was time to get Ellie, Beans and Hazel back to the U.S.
“Man, it is so expensive to rescue dogs no matter where you are in the world,” she said. “One of my friends from high school mentioned you should check out Steve Caporizzo’s Pet Connection. I’m sure he gets a million messages a day, but I think you got back to me in two hours: ‘Yes, we would love to help.’ I sent you pictures, and I think within two weeks we had all of the funds.”
It was a long, 21-hour flight home.
“We land in JFK; I got my family all together,” Kelsey said. “It felt like the world had been lifted off my shoulders. I said, ‘Girls, we are home,’”
They are almost one year old now. Ellie and Hazel are going with Kelsey to California, and Beans is a perfect match for her mom.
“Beans fits right in,” Kim said. “The other night, they were all sitting around with just Beans and our other pets, and she just was there with them, and she is going to fit in perfectly. She has quite a personality. She’s just so sweet and loving.”
“I was just so amazed by how many people were just so willing to help and people that I didn’t know and will never meet,” Kelsey said. “Thank you so much because this would have never happened. The smallest little bit of help all added up together can really move mountains.”
Kelsey taught a village to respect and love dogs. They now walk them on a leash at times. Recently, the school painted Ellie, Beans and Hazel on the outside of their school to honor them.
Kelsey taught them something you can’t find in a book but only in her heart: to save three puppies.