Workers at the Atlantico port in Panama were shocked when they opened a shipping container that had arrived from Spain and was supposed to be empty.
Inside was a dog, still alive despite being trapped for 40 days while the container was crossing the Atlantic from Andalusia.
The caramel-coloured dog, about one year old, was thin, dehydrated and bruised.
It is a miracle that this little animal was able to survive for so long, which is why we called it Milagros (miracles) or Mili for short.
Hugo Torellazzi, a veterinarian in the Police Dog Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture of Panama.
Now, after months of rehabilitation and training, Millie has landed a job at the Agency for International Development’s Ministry of Agricultural Development.
“We don’t know how it got in, nor how it was not detected,” said Cecilia de Escobar, the department’s national director of animal health.
“It’s a heroine’s story because a small animal has been inside a container for 40 days, with no water and no food, how did it fight for its life?”
The ocean voyage in December 2021 took 20 days before the container sat in port in hot and humid Panama for another 20 days in January.
“Part of the container corroded and there we found a small hole. We suppose she opened the hole with her paw and drank the rainwater.”
During the trip and in Panama, there was heavy rain.
After her discovery, Millie was taken to Panama City and treated by veterinarians and quarantine specialists.
She weighed just nine pounds (four kilograms) when she arrived, said Hugo Torellazzi, a veterinarian and official with the Meda canine unit.
Mr. Turillazzi believes that Millie was in good physical shape when she entered the container and managed to escape with her body fat.
In addition to rainwater, she could lick condensation from the inner walls of the container or even drink her own urine.
“It’s a miracle that this little animal was able to survive for so long, which is why we called it Milagros (miracles), or Millie for short,” he said.
“And because she comes from Spain, we named her Spanish little Millie.”
Mielle is now fully recovered, weighing over 12 kilograms and is in great physical shape.
For the five months following her discovery, Millie spent time recovering and training in the department’s canine unit.
After learning to detect fruit and vegetable aromas, Millie started working out a week ago with “good results”.
Working in her unit at the Capital International Airport, the dogs detect fresh foods in travelers’ luggage to prevent foreign diseases from entering the country.
When you spot a suspicious piece of baggage, you scratch it and then sit next to it waiting to be rewarded.
“Mili has the four basic characteristics that dogs need to join the unit: friendly, kind to people, good appetite and playful,” said dog trainer Edgardo Aguirre.
“We said to ourselves: This little dog has potential, she’s going to be able to have seizures.”
Mili has already managed to discover cereals, fruits and charcuterie.
She is now training to spot the giant African snail, a species that could devastate local agriculture.
“It’s a scanner that doesn’t cost much, just the food and affection we give it to, and it’s very trustworthy,” said Mr. Turillazzi.
Now it is Mielle who helps those who saved her.
“They say everyone has a purpose in life, and I feel that Meles will embrace Panama and do a great service to our country,” said Ms. de Escobar.