Poverty In Dog Years

Every time I scratch a Honduran dog behind the ear and see them light up, I think of Pelusa.

For a while, I’d refrained from donating to other causes because stipend money was short. But then there was a crack in the dam when I saw a GoFundMe page for a dog named Foxy.

Anybody who watches my Snapchat could tell you that I love dogs, so when I saw Foxy it tugged a special heart string. Foxy was a gold-colored mutt who suffered a hit and run with her owner in Colorado. The owner tumbled over the hood of the car, but Foxy went under. Her bottom teeth were jammed into the roof of her mouth and her front paw was busted. Blood was everywhere in the photo. Surgery was going to cost $5,000.

I pressed a button and donated $5 to the cause. It felt good. Me and a bunch of other people were banning together to save this dog’s life! I closed my computer and headed to work. There was another dog on my mind that day; a dog named Pelusa.

In Honduras, dogs aren’t taken care of in the same way. The common courtesy to show your dog affection is not to hit their face when you punt them. Obviously they are cared for, but most get the belt and then some for minor transgressions. This means that when you pass a dog and reach down to pet it, they will very quickly go ears down, crouch, and skitter away from you as fast as they can. If you actually get a hand on their head, it’s like magic. Their eyes go wide; their ears perk up; they look at you like what? Is this real? Do humans show affection? And then they love you for the rest of time.

I’ve gained many K9 friends in the communities, but the first dog I had this experience with was Pelusa.

Pelusa was a gem. She and I were inseparable for three minutes everyday. She lived with a client at the head of the community. Each afternoon I’d pass her house, wait three steps, and then whirl around. There she was – appearing on the road out of nowhere, ears down, approaching me slowly in a crouch. When I said her name she’d bound with joy and start lolloping towards me. She had black matted fur with brown fringes and a stupid grin. Her claws were always too long and she loved putting her paws on my chest, leaving mud marks on my torso. I’d give her a scratch and a hug and send her home.

This had been my routine for over a year. When Pelusa had puppies, my Snapchat was full of them. They gave away the litter and kept one, naming it Bobby. Now there were two dogs to greet me every day. Bobby and Pelusa were like Batman and Robin, mother and son style. They’d swoop in all happy, play with me and the kids for a few minutes, and then send me on my commute down the dirt road.

It seemed painfully ironic that as soon as I heard about Foxy’s tragedy, I also witnessed Pelusa’s.

Pelusa hadn’t appeared outside the house for a few days. Then the kids came running out and told me Pelusa had been hit by a car. I followed them into the back yard, into the shell of a house that wasn’t built yet. They burned their trash there and the ground looked like a bomb crater: the dirt was jet black with rancid trash, broken furniture, and food waste. The client’s home was quite nice, but this was like their garbage bin in an unfinished extension, and there lay Pelusa.

I knelt next to a rusty spring and a charred t-kettle to say hello. She was weak and foggy eyed, but her tail twitched when she saw me. She raised her chin and licked my hand.  Her back leg was split in two. Protruding from the red flesh were two ivory white bones that looked like knives and almost touched points in a right angle. Her lower paw and her upper thy were completely disconnected, hanging by a thread. The smell was foul.

My heart sank and I felt a warm tugging at the back of my throat. I sat there for a while with her head in my lap. The kids waited solemnly at the window ledge. The owner told me how they found her in the street. How she was pregnant with another litter. How Bobby had gotten sick the same day and died of a fever. They told me the vet could do the operation for $75, or put her down for $50. But where were they supposed to get that money? They were still paying rent and buying food.

I pushed the feeling down in my chest and stood up with purpose. Charging back into my apartment that afternoon I opened my computer and started writing everyone I knew. If Foxy could raise $5,000, I could manage $75. I owed it to Pelusa for every happy visit she’d given me. First, my buddy donated a few dollars and then some more. Soon I had half that and then an old high school teacher kicked in thirty! I made $75 by the end of the weekend. I jumped up and ran back to tell them.

We lifted Pelusa from the trash heap and took her to the vet. The family allowed me to stay for the operation and even let me carry her back to the car. She spent the next two days woozy on meds, and she can’t come out to the street anymore, but she always wags her tail and gives me a big stupid grin when I visit.

I was happy for a moment, and then the fantasy that had played out before my eyes vanished as suddenly as it had begun. I was still sitting in the black crater, Pelusa’s head in my lap, watching her shallow breaths. Reality was seeping in:

Even if I did get the money in time, the wound was obviously infected. The operation would be even more serious. She’d need months of rehab and medication which neither the family or I could support. She was in pain. She wasn’t my dog. I could only do so much in community affairs. Could I really step in and save every animal in peril? Even if that animal was Pelusa? I didn’t say the answer out loud.

Instead, I stroked her ears, and told her it was going to be okay. I lay her head back into the ashes and went into the living room where I talked with the grandmother for an hour, kind of consoling each other back and forth. I left through the front door and passed through the hedges, trying not to vomit.

Today, Foxy is recovering wonderfully. She has a pink bandana and a tiny pink cast. She gets plenty of rest and takes her meds like a champ. There were 168 people who donated to her cause. Pelusa spent her last twenty-four hours licking the bones in her leg. The next night, the owner came with a flashlight and a branch the size of his arm. He shined the light in her eye so she couldn’t see and then bludgeoned her to death. The man cried and put her into a sack. He drove her to a farm one mile down the highway. The family didn’t own a shovel, so they couldn’t make a grave in the rocky soil. They dumped her by the side of the palms and left her to the vultures.

I sat on this story for a long time because I wasn’t sure it was mine to tell. What’s more, it seemed like one of those things you try to swallow, chase it with a tums, and live with it. Yet, somehow the timing with Foxy’s story and the sheer irony continued to nag at me. It just seemed so crazy that the moment I saw one dog saved, I watched another slip away; that $5,000 could feel like a small obstacle, and $75 could feel like a mountain.

I wish I had a better conclusion. If anything, let this short story be an ode-to-Pelusa, so that everyone knows: there was once a dog-named Pelusa. She was happy and silly and made her owners smile. She had an adorable son named Bobby, and I would consider them both good friends of mine. Every time I get close enough to put my hand on a Honduran dog’s head and watch them light up, I’ll think of her.





One comment

  1. Richard Paddock · · Reply

    That one’s going to stay with me.

    Coincidentally Freedom Service Dogs has adopted me as their unofficial photographer for adoption promotion. Will send you some pics.

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