Workers at the Panamanian port of Atlantico were shocked when they opened a shipping container that had arrived from Spain and was believed to be empty.
Inside was a dog, still alive despite being trapped for 40 days as the container crossed the Atlantic from Andalusia.
The caramel-colored dog, about a year old, was thin, dehydrated and bruised.
It’s a miracle that this little animal was able to survive for so long, which is why we gave it the name Milagros (miracles) or Mili for short.
Hugo Turillazzi, veterinarian at the canine unit of the Panamanian Ministry of Agriculture.
Now, after months of rehabilitation and training, Mili has secured a job at MIDA’s Ministry of Agricultural Development.
“We don’t know how it got in, or how it went undetected,” said Cecilia de Escobar, national director of animal health at the ministry.
“It’s the story of a heroine because a small animal that has been in a container for 40 days, without water, without food, how did it fight for its life?”
The December 2021 ocean voyage had lasted 20 days before the container lay in port in hot and humid Panama for another 20 days in January.
“Part of the container was corroded and we found a small hole. We suspect she opened the hole with her paw and drank some rainwater.”
Both during the trip and in Panama it rained a lot.
After her discovery, Mili was taken to Panama City and treated by veterinarians and quarantine specialists.
She weighed only nine pounds (four kilograms) when she arrived, said Hugo Turillazzi, veterinarian and administrator of the MIDA canine unit.
Mr Turillazzi believes Mili was physically fit when she entered the container and managed to survive on her body fat.
In addition to the rainwater, she could have licked the condensation off the inside walls of the container or even drank her own urine.
“It’s a miracle that this little animal was able to survive for so long, that’s why we gave it the name Milagros (miracles) or Mili for short,” he said.
“And since she was from Spain, we called her Mili the little Spaniard.”
Now fully recovered, Mili weighs over 12 kilograms and is in great physical shape.
In the five months since her discovery, Mili has spent time recovering and undergoing training at the ministry’s canine unit.
Having learned to detect the aromas of fruits and vegetables, Mili started working a week ago “with good results”.
The dogs in his unit work at the capital’s international airport, detecting fresh food in travelers’ luggage to prevent outside diseases from entering the country.
Whenever she detects suspicious luggage, she scratches it and then sits next to it waiting for her reward.
“Mili has the four basic characteristics a dog needs to join the unit: friendly, gentle with people, good appetite and playful,” said dog trainer Edgardo Aguirre.
“We said to ourselves: this little dog has potential, she will be able to throw fits.”
Mili has already succeeded in detecting cereals, fruits and deli meats.
She is now training to detect the giant African snail, a species that can ravage local agriculture.
“She’s a scanner that doesn’t cost very much, just the food and affection we give her, and she’s very trustworthy,” Turillazzi said.
It is now Mili who helps those who saved her.
“They say everyone has a purpose in life, and I think Mili should be embraced by Panama and do our country a great service,” Ms De Escobar said.