Stray Dogs and Sad Stories

by Brenna Holeman
Stray Dog 1 Stray Dog 2
Laughing! in Utila, Honduras

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.

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Audrey | That Backpacker June 22, 2012 - 3:50 am

Noooooo! That’s so sad to hear. Dogs melt my heart. I too am the girl who scratches every dog that crosses her path – the stray ones and the ones with owners.

Colleen Brynn June 22, 2012 - 3:53 am

I had a puppy like this on Easter Island. I saw people throwing rocks at him one day when I was wandering Hanga Roa with a local. I still wonder about him to this day. Doubtless the worst has happened by now. 🙁 🙁 🙁

Azizah June 22, 2012 - 3:59 am

Oh no!! SO SAD! It sounds like his last memories are of your kindness and warmth to him. Bless you and may his sweet soul rest in peace.

Shireen June 22, 2012 - 4:01 am

I live in rural South Korea and the farm dogs that have “owners” have somewhat of a worse existence than their stray counterparts. At least to me, the strays I see are well-fed from all the street garbage (there’s plenty in Asia) and can roam free. But people’s actual PETS are chained to a post 24/7, with only a small circle to wander in, back and forth, every single day. These are the dogs I walk by daily and pity. They roll on their sides for me to pet their tummies after walking by them and crooning every day for months. I wish I could free them, but they’d just add more to the stray population. Your story touched that very sensitive place in my heart reserved for animals. Thank you for that perspective,


Bailey@Lost&Found June 22, 2012 - 10:05 am

I have come across quite a few stray dogs and cats in my travels. I can only imagine how awful this must feel. I’m so sorry. If you ask me, I’m sure the last three days of his life, following you around, were a few of his best!

Katie @ June 22, 2012 - 11:24 am

It is not yet 7:30 a.m. I have not yet had one sip of coffee, and here I am bawling. Bawling.

I am the same way with strays — both animal and human. Though I have even more compassion for the animals because they don’t understand.

I think you made Boy’s last few days the best they could be. Dogs, in my humble little opinion, live for having someone to adore. You gave him that. You made him happy. That makes you a good person.

Karla Strunk June 22, 2012 - 2:19 pm

Oh…I’m sorry. Dogs have a very special place in my heart. In my opinion you came into his life at the right moment and provided him with the friendly, loving companion and recognition he needed prior to his departure. It’s amazing how much animals can teach us…their love is endless. Take care.

Curious Kinks June 22, 2012 - 4:44 pm

how sad. I walked past a dead cat on the sidewalk today, only God knows his cause of death. Stray dogs in Beijing are usually removed from the streets by the police after hitting them on the head with a stick! I don’t understand why people keep pets they know they can’t love 🙁

Curious Kinks June 22, 2012 - 4:44 pm

how sad. I walked past a dead cat on the sidewalk today, only God knows his cause of death. Stray dogs in Beijing are usually removed from the streets by the police after hitting them on the head with a stick! I don’t understand why people keep pets they know they can’t love 🙁

Nico June 22, 2012 - 9:45 pm

Hi Brenna!

Unfortunately, this is the way animals seem to be treated in this island, at least by locals.

We can’t be certain whether the dog was poisoned, but it was strange that he crawled under the house and broke the water pipes before dying, as if somehow trying to send a message?

Very sad…

This Battered Suitcase June 23, 2012 - 12:39 am

Thank you so much for your comments, everyone. It’s a sad reality that things like this happen all the time around the world, abroad and at home. I really appreciate your kind words!

amoureuse July 21, 2012 - 6:30 pm

I’m also the person who, no matter where I am, is stopping every 5 seconds to pet a dog! It became a running joke during the year I spent studying/traveling in France. I’m sorry about Boy, but it sounds like he had a very happy last few days with you 🙂

This Battered Suitcase July 23, 2012 - 2:20 am

Amoureuse – Yes, I am definitely that person, too. I can’t wait until I can have a pet of my own!

Glenn Dixon August 18, 2012 - 4:50 am

In Puerto Escondido on our last morning there I joined my wife on the beach for a bit. A stray was nearby. He was rather emaciated and was not begging food, just lying there. As we left I coaxed him to follow us. We ate at a sidewalk cafe near our ho(s)tel and I gave him a couple of tortillas with some leftover frijoles. He took them across the street to eat them without interference.

Later that day I saw him hanging out at another restaurant table, and I felt that maybe I had taught him some survival skills. Maybe he would last a few days or weeks longer.

I sometimes think that the domestication of wild canines has had some very cruel unintended consequences…

Kimberly James November 7, 2013 - 8:40 pm

BRING HOME THAT DOG! It’s easy -the fleas disappear with a bath using regular shampoo or soap; the worms with de wormer you can get from a vet on the mainland or when you return home. You require only “health papers” and a distemper shot – also a rabies shot IF the dog is old enough for them. If not, tell the vet on the mainland if he/she pricks the dog’s skin with the needle giving them one drop, it is STILL “A” rabies shot and therefore you can have the paperwork. Chances are US AG/Homeland Secrurity won’t even ask to see the paperwork or the dog. That’s my story; it was easy despite what a multitude of people with “experience” in this told me. I simply called my airline to see what was necessary. The airline was correct; the multitudes of “experts” including ex pats were not.

I brought home one of those pups from Utila only after the airline informed me it was too hot to fly the Mamma dog home in cargo. On the mainland I found a soft sided carrier at a vet’s to slide under my plane seat. 14 years later, she’s still the best dog I’ve ever had – smarter than a million. Rumors of poisoning were rampant in ’00, which is why I was moved to bring this one home. Utila island dogs, and street dogs from anywhere, are genetic results of clever genes staying in the gene pool. Grab one of those dogs and you will have a genius and HEALTHY dog that will last for years. No inbreeding/genetic issues with those dogs.

You will know if the dog has rabies; signs will be clear enough. Any other disease or worms endemic to that region is easily fixed once you get home – usually some antibiotics, IF that is needed. My pup was older and had just worms. GRAB THE VACATION ANIMAL and give it a chance! Once you do, you’ll find everyone else wants the pooch. Grab a couple more and bring them home as an exotic offering to folks you work with and that live nearby. People will take them. Get a soft sided carrier at a vet’s on the mainland. The vets are inexpensive and will work with you; glad to see some animal have a chance at a nice life.

I’m sorry you lost this dog. The poisonings do happen on Utila and other islands from time to time. Perhaps it was that dog’s memory that will cause you to just bring one home next time. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s a good investment. Spread the word.

Brenna Holeman November 8, 2013 - 2:30 pm

This is a lovely idea, and thank you for the tips – but it is not always practical for someone to adopt a dog. I am a nomadic traveller, for example; I cannot own a pet, and there is no way I could have adopted a dog from Utila (or anywhere else, for that matter). I think a better solution for a place like Utila is to address the problem on the island itself: setting up more shelters and clinics, spaying and neutering dogs, educating the public about the problem, etc. While it is an incredible thing to bring a dog home, that really only helps the one dog. I would be more interested to help the entire island of them.

Thank you for your comment!

Kimberly James November 8, 2013 - 8:34 pm

Agreed – my hope is you and others will pass the word along – it’s a LOT easier to bring home a stray dog/puppy/cat than many onsite will have you believe. Call your airline and ask for help in guidelines; remember the usefulness of “prick the skin/it counts as a “shot” for the ones your country says are needed for incoming – but the little ones may really be too young for. You still get the required paperwork that way. Agreed the issue of education and low cost clinics are needed, but there are some areas that’s unlikely to occur any time soon; economics one reason. What drove your idea about “education” home for me was the reaction of local kids to me carrying around my chosen pup for a few weeks before I went home. Show the kids the animal has feelings and is something to treat kindly; gently – and then becomes something of comfort, entertainment and value, and you’ve got an audience on your hands. The kids are the future for some locals that will chase decency, kindness, and perhaps, given the idea, lead Big Change in their neighbourhoods in years ahead. Thanks for posting the news; I was sad to know dog poisoning is still going on. I think many travelers are just not aware how easy and NOT costly bringing home a “Vacation Dog” or cat may be; don’t even have the idea to do so! Pass the word in your travels! That alone may spare at least one a sad and tortured fate!

Fernando González Van Kemenade June 18, 2014 - 2:48 pm

Que triste historia Brenna.
Pero gracias por compartirla y sobre todo GRACIAS por ser tan amorosa con los animales.
Mi novia Rocío y yo también amamos a los animales. Y más aún a aquellos desamparados.
Tenemos la casa lleva de perros y gatos rescatados (Rolo, China, Lenny, Zoe, Moro, Aquiles,Col)
Tenemos algunos viajes realizados y es cierto que en cada lugar que visitás te encontrás con estos queridos seres. Siempre están para alegrarnos. Yo los veo como “trocitos” de amor que andan vagando por ahí y que están al alcance de todos nosotros. Son completamente incondicionales y lo mejor de esta vida.
Saludos desde Buenos Aires. Argentina.

lily November 21, 2016 - 8:21 pm

Why do people do this to poor cute dogs and puppies this is reallllllllllllly bad I really feel sad for that dog. I agree may his oul rest in peace.

lily November 21, 2016 - 8:22 pm

I meant soul.

Alex April 8, 2022 - 6:24 am

I literally cried just thinking about this😭.


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