I live in a mostly abandoned neighborhood at the edge of the city, facing the world’s tallest active volcano. In fact, it’s recently become very active and is gearing for a major eruption, one that will likely wipe my neighborhood out of existence, hence it’s abandonment. By people. The space has been filled with dogs. They sleep in the vacant lots and half-finished houses. The roads have begun to be taken back by nature, with weeds and grass coloring some sections green again, and since there are so few cars that pass by the dogs often nap right in the middle of intersections. This is their neighborhood.
For the most part, I love it here. I have a garden, an amazing view not just of Cotopaxi but also two more snow capped volcanos, and the constant soundtrack of dogs barking has become a sort of white noise for me. There is something of an issue though; the dogs can be rather vicious and packs of them have attacked me multiple times.
There is no bus service where I live and it’s a bit far to walk into the city so I ride my bike. Every day, multiple times a day, I come and go on my bike. And they hate my bike; they hate all bikes. When I go by foot, their reaction is much tamer. Maybe some barking but sometimes not even that. But they go wild when I’m on my bike. Twice in one week I was attacked and bitten by separate packs. The second time was by a group that hangs around the intersection right next to me, the one I pass through every time I come and go. That one was especially disturbing.
I had thought we had worked out an agreement. I only rode my bike in, and since they recognized my house as my territory and there wasn’t much room to chase, it seemed to be okay. On the way out I walked my bike past them a bit before getting on and exiting the neighborhood. For some reason, they seemed to be okay with the bike as long as I walked alongside it and not rode on top. But this day, while I was walking the bike out they surrounded me, all furiously barking. There were six of them, including one new one that I didn’t recognize. All of them big dogs that lived on the street. The new one was being extremely aggressive and the rest of them seemed to be following his lead, whipping each other up into a frenzy. He lunged for my leg and bit me. I was holding my bike and swung it in a quick circle, aiming for the new dog. They all jumped back and avoided my bikes arc. I threw my bike to the ground and picked up two handfuls of rocks from a nearby pile leftover from an abandoned construction project. I pulled my arm back, as if to throw. This scarred them back even farther and I was able to pass through.
In Ecuador, some people throw rocks at dogs and all dogs seem to instinctively fear a human hand with a rock inside it. I started carrying a rock in my pocket everywhere I went. I had tried to be nice and make friends when I first moved in but had decided that wasn’t working and was more willing to use threat of force if necessary.
My neighborhood was making me hate dogs.
Then, one Monday evening, I met B. I had started riding my bike the long way around to avoid that particularly nasty group. I turned onto my street from the other direction saw a Pit Bull on the sidewalk, nearly in front of my front gate. It wasn’t one of the regulars and I immediately assumed the worst. But he didn’t bark or growl or chase. As I slowed my bike and hopped off he very slowly rose to his feet and walked toward me. He had a bad limp on his front right leg and his ribs bones poked out from his skin. He looked up at me, not with anger, but sadness and desperation. I let him sniff my hand and then pet his head. He tried to enter my house but I wouldn’t let him. I left him on the street with a bowl of water.
The next morning he was still there. When I saw him my resolve broke. I had plenty of fruits and vegetables but no meat or anything I thought he might want to eat. I gave him a bowl of peanuts. He ate everything. I was going to the market that morning and bought some dog food while I was there.
I knew I would be leaving Ecuador in two weeks so I wasn’t in the position to give any sort of long-term aid but my theory was that he was recently injured and that had prevented him from getting much to eat. I’d try to get him lots of rest and fatten him up then he was on his own. I had rules though. I decided I would never let him inside my gate. I’d give him all the food he could eat but also wanted him to be independent so he’d be alright after I left.
Within a few days, someone else let him in while visiting, and I decided he could stay. I have a compost pile of food scraps in my garden. It’s full of moldy fruit and rancid vegetables. B started eating from it. He soon after threw up—and ate it again. That’s when I realized just how hungry he must have been. He must have been at the point of starvation when he found me.
I began to realize that this wasn’t a street dog as I first assumed. He was extremely docile and was aware of things he shouldn’t do in a house, like go on my bed. He was also able to sit in my kitchen, see food that was close enough for him to grab and wait.
As he got his strength back he wanted to go out with me. When I went for a long jog he trotted alongside me. His leg seemed to be getting better. The next day he tried to follow me out on my bicycle. I went faster than I had jogged, in part because I was trying to lose him as I had a very long ride ahead of me, too much for a recovering dog. He tried to keep up anyway though he was obviously struggling. Finally, I turned around and we went home. I gave him an extra-large bowl of food and peddled off as quickly as I could while he was occupied eating. When I returned his leg seemed to have gotten worse.
He was extremely loyal and while he slept most of the time he also wanted to go anywhere I did. But I thought he needed rest and didn’t want him to reinjure his leg again. So every time I left I gave him food to distract him. Sometimes inside my gate if it was to be a short trip, or on the sidewalk if I expected to be gone longer. And I started looking for people to adopt him. B was a pure breed Pit Bull. I hadn’t thought about this until someone pointed it out to me, but street dogs are always mutts. He was almost certainly someone’s pet at one time. Buying a pure breed Pit Bull could be expensive here and since I was happy to give him away it seemed it would be easy to find him a nice home before I left.
Then, a few days ago, he left. I had given him a large bowl of food and pedaled away quickly and that was the last I saw of him. The plan from the start was just to allow him some rest and food so he could move on, on his own, and that’s exactly what happened. Though I’m a little sad that he’s gone.
He taught me some valuable lessons. When we met, I was bitter and angry with his species. He made me remember not to let a past bad experience cloud how you view an independent, future one.