I met the dog you see in the photos above in Utila; he was the sweetest thing, so happy and loyal and eager to please. I had seen him around town during the two weeks I spent on the island, always recognising him despite the hoards of stray dogs that live on the island. Belonging to nobody, they fend for themselves, inevitably relying on scraps of food found in rubbish piles or given to them by a generous hand.
I never named this dog, but called him boy, as one does. If that can be considered a name, let’s consider it his. One day, Boy decided that I was his, or he was mine; either way, it meant he followed me around the island day and night, going so far as to jump on my dive boat as it was trying to leave the dock. He slept outside my door every night for three nights, and I heard him sniffing around or occasionally whimpering during rainstorms. I desperately wanted to let him in, but I knew I couldn’t – a wet dog covered in fleas would wreak havoc on my hotel room, let alone my belongings. I never once fed him or offered him more than a loving hand and some nice words, but he refused to leave my side. He followed me to the main dock on Tuesday morning and waited until I boarded. He then stood on the dock as the boat left, and I saw him standing there until I could see him no longer.
For whatever reason, he was loyal to me, and I adored him for it.
In every single guidebook and on every single travel website, you will be advised to not touch or even go near stray animals. Dogs and cats carry disease, and could very well have rabies. A bite, scratch, or even a lick from a rabid animal could cause infection, which, if not treated immediately, eventually causes death. It’s serious stuff, and I always tell myself, “I should know better.”
Well, I do know better, and yet I can’t help myself. Animals hold a very special place in my heart, and I’ve donated to shelters in the past; I even started fostering cats the last time I was in Canada. I so often pet animals when I travel, and so often make one my companion for whatever town or city I’m in. While I never go near an animal that I’m afraid of or one that looks aggressive, I’m always that girl cuddling the stray cat that wandered into the hostel, or giving a dog’s head a good scratch. I’ve seen so many animals abused while travelling – animals kicked and hit and yelled at and even tortured – and I just want to give them one moment of kindness and compassion, one moment of few like it in their short and difficult lives. Nearly everyone I travel with shudders when I touch these animals, and I understand why, but I do it anyway. In Honduras and Turkey, Thailand and Morocco, Nepal and Greece, I have always fallen for, literally, those damned puppy-dog eyes.
I got an email from my friend Nicolas yesterday, who is still in Utila. It turns out that my dog, Boy, had been poisoned or somehow ate poison the day that I left. He died a violent death, sick and alone. I feel awful about it – was I somehow responsible? Wasn’t it because of me that he was at the hotel? Shouldn’t I have let him in my room that last night, his very last night alive?
It may sound trite or trivial or anthropomorphic, but I’ve thought about that dog quite a few times in the past day, and have been very upset about it. I only hope that, for the last three days of his life, he was happy.
Please note: I am not condoning touching or petting animals when you travel, as not everybody is comfortable with this and it is definitely not always safe. If you’d like to lend a hand, you can research how to help animals in the country you are in; many organisations are now attempting to spay and neuter strays around the world, and there are plenty of options for donations. You can also volunteer for or donate to programs such as the Humane Society, the SBA, or SPCA, which has locations all around the world.