ROCHESTER, Minn. — Early Friday morning, Dani White returned to her Rochester home after an exhausting 3,000-mile road trip from Rochester to Tucson, Ariz., and back.
White is a dog lover. She fosters dogs. Her business is centered on dogs. Her journey was made for one purpose: To bring home a 6-month-old puppy she found on Mexico's streets and give it a proper life.
Not everyone might understand such a time-consuming and costly undertaking, but dog lovers would.
It wasn't one dog lover but a slew of them, in both Mexico and the U.S., who worked together and helped White bring Bonsai, a black lab mix, to Rochester.
As White headed south for the hand-off in Tucson, Ariz., people on social media following her adventure cheered and donated money for coffee and fuel. On the other side of the border, volunteers in Mexico were driving north in a day-long journey to deliver the dog.
"The kindness of strangers goes a long way," White said. "People in Arizona and Mexico who were complete strangers to us were willing to go out of their way for a dog. The biggest thing we learned is that there are good people in this world."
When White and her girlfriend, Sejal Dave, planned a Mexican vacation, it included time to help out at dog shelters in Mexico.
White is owner of Pooches and Palomas, a Rochester business that combines a quirky mix of fear-free dog training and craft cocktails. Flying to Mexico, they brought an assortment of dog gear donated by the community — collars and leashes, treat pouches and harnesses — to give to the shelters they planned to visit.
But finding Bonsai on July 4 was unplanned. White spotted the dog as they were driving near Punta De Mita, an hour's drive away from Puerto Vallarta. It was a "beautiful black dog" with floppy ears, and with the outline of its ribs showing through its fur, clearly malnourished.
He was eating a stick or possibly roadkill in the middle of a busy street. "I just had to pull over," White said. "I don't know what it was, but I just knew that I had to take care of him."
They took him to a veterinarian to get him vaccinated. The initial idea was to take the dog to a rescue shelter, so he could be cared for. But that plan, they soon found out, was not feasible. Mexico is a country overpopulated with dogs. Its shelters are overcrowded with strays, and no shelter had the space to take him.
Still, Bonsai, named after the male hyena in "The Lion King" and as an homage to Dave's African roots, knew his situation had improved. It was evident from his tail-waging gratefulness.
"About three or four days after we got him, it was a complete 180 in just his behavior," Dave said. "You knew that he was super grateful."
Returning the dog to the streets was unthinkable. They decided to bring the dog with them on the flight home. They picked up a crate a couple of days before the flight. But as they were checking in, they encountered a glitch. The crate was too small. Bonsai was an inch too tall under the airline's regulations. Even though he could comfortably lay in the carrier and turn around, airline officials denied him entry. He couldn't come with them.
They left the dog with two friends they had made at a dog shelter. Bonsai kept trying to follow them into the airport.
"That was heart-breaking," Dave said. "We were both in tears. It was the worst flight, to be honest with you."
When they touched down in Houston, White began making calls to different trainers and others, making arrangements for a rendezvous with Bonsai. They got word that volunteers could get him to Tucson. But the times and date kept changing as circumstances changed. They boarded a flight for Minneapolis.
Back in Rochester, White got into her Jeep Renegade and headed south for Tucson. She brought along Moka, her dog, for company on the one-way, 1,600-mile, plus-25-hour trip. White stopped at gas stations along the way to sleep and refresh. More than 20 strangers following her progress on social media supported her by sending a total of $1,000 for coffee, food and gas. Any unspent dollars will dedicated to her foster dog program, White said.
White's progress south was matched by a counterpart journey in Mexico. Volunteers Pablo and Luis of ShareCar.Pet, a pet-relocation service, drove more than a 1,000 miles to transport Bonsai from Puerto Vallarta to Tucson. A representative from Arms of Angels, a dog rescue haven in Tucson, was present to take Bonsai and hold him until White's arrival.
Bonsai was clearly happy, judging how "super wiggly" he was upon seeing White. "He licked my face a lot," she said.
White is now considering opening a dog-centered nonprofit and calling it "Because of Bonsai."
"It starts with one dog. Right?" she said. "I mean, if you can focus on the little things, that's how things get better."