Kelsey Reider went into the high Andes Mountains looking for frogs. She came back down with a dog.
Reider’s research on temperature extremes, climate change, disease and their impacts on amphibians led her on a two-year adventure in the Andes. She would alternate between two weeks at her research site in glacier-filled Cordillera Vilcanota and — to avoid altitude sickness — two weeks in the city of Cusco, Peru. Cordillera Vilcanota is remote. Life there is isolated. Reider lived in a 4-foot by 7-foot tent with no electricity, no plumbing and no permanent cover. Temperatures vary so greatly, it’s like summer every day and winter every night.
The bi-monthly journey to the research site was difficult, but made easier by a family of alpaca herders who she befriended along the way. They would share meals in their sod hut and Reider learned to speak a little Quechua, a language spoken by indigenous people in South America. During one of her visits, she met Karina, a spirited, fair-haired puppy who was quick to greet Reider with licks and tail wags. She was a stark contrast to the timid, dark-haired wild dogs that populate the mountains.
With each visit, Reider watched Karina grow, and Karina became increasingly attached to Reider. Eventually, the family allowed the dog to leave their hut and accompany Reider on her treks up the mountain. Karina kept Reider warm at night in exchange for ramen noodles — pretty much the only food Reider could haul with her. After four months of camping trips together, Reider and Karina formed an unbreakable bond. The biologist worked up the courage to inquire if she could keep the dog, asking the family to name their price.
Hesitant at first, the family slept on the request. The next day, they agreed to a trade — the dog for a stove. Reider’s excitement quickly gave way to logic — what kind of stove? But the simple family only wanted a simple upgrade, so Reider purchased a two-burner cooking stove and even threw in a couple of tanks of fuel. She spent a total of $35 to officially adopt Karina.
Reider ended up extending her research trip for a third year with Karina by her side.
“My field work pushed me to my physical and emotional limits,” Reider said. “Karina made it so much better. I don’t know how I would’ve gone through another year without her.”
Reider eventually returned to South Florida. She did her due diligence in following USDA guidelines for Karina’s relocation to the United States and stressed over transporting her beloved companion as cargo. She begrudgingly purchased a crate and proceeded to decorate it with pictures, little cut-out hearts and adoring phrases in Spanish, just so any cargo handler would know the animal was truly loved. Two years later, Karina has acclimated to living near sea level and the subtropical weather of Ft. Lauderdale. Her hunter’s instincts remain — she spends her days chasing squirrels in the backyard.
Reider earned her Ph.D. in Biology from FIU in December. She is a post-doctoral research associate and instructor in FIU’s Department of Biological Sciences. The human-canine duo is as close as ever. For a dog who developed dental issues as a mountain puppy, Reider lovingly refers to Karina as “Boca Sucia” or “Dirty Mouth” in Spanish.
“I see a lot of dentist bills in my future,” Reider said. “I work hard so she can have a good life.”