There are sad stories and happy ones. I started my professional career as a TV journalist, where regrettably, often times the focus of the daily pieces were to depict the human tragedy. Nonetheless, the story I’m about to relay to you is none of the above. It is simply a fact, as destiny would have it, of events that merely unfolded before my eyes, never realizing that my life was about to change for the better. And the moral of the story is simple: embrace what’s about to occur to you today, tomorrow, or whenever it ensues.
Recently, I was visiting my hometown of Chihuahua, an industrial city in northern Mexico. Over the years, I have attempted to stay in touch with a few friends and, of course, my brother and his family who are the only members of my immediate family who still reside there. However, either because of lack of interest or time, I manage to return only once every couple of years at best.
On this particular occasion I was there for a 33-year anniversary reunion of my elementary school. There were events planned every day for the weekend beginning on Friday evening. I thus decided to arrive the day before, on Thursday. That night, I went to visit some friends and we had a great time. It was about 2:30 Friday morning when I was driving to my brother’s home alone. Fortunately, I thought, traffic was light on the six-lane road where I was driving. Suddenly, out of the blue, I spotted a tiny animal at the distance as it was walking along the same left-most lane. I thought it would cross over to the other side of the street, but no, it kept walking right in the middle of the lane, completely unaware or uninterested of what it could happen to it. I slowed down to a crawl until I managed to tell that it was a stray dog.
Nothing unusual about that in Mexico. In the US alone, it is estimated that about 12 million unwanted dogs are euthanized each year. It is not known how many are killed on roads and in other accidents. But through sheer personal observation (I have not found many hard statistics on the subject), I can easily assume that there must be at least as many dogs who are abandoned and eventually killed in accidents or treated inhumanely in Mexico, where dogs roam the streets virtually everywhere. Mexico, mind you, has a third of the human population of the US. I can only assume that most of these street dogs are unaltered, hence they reproduce willingly and often, thereby exacerbating the dog overpopulation problem that plagues, not just Mexico, but most developing countries where humane treatment of animals is just at its infancy.
Back to my late night (early morning) drive, I was stunned how this little guy simply stopped and turned around to look me right in the eye. It appeared as if he was challenging me. But, to do what? All I know is that I was forced to stop right in the middle of the wide street, unsure of what to do. My first reaction was to get out of the car and pick the petite canine and place him out of harm’s way on the side of the road. Two, perhaps three seconds went by as my head was deliberating how to react. Should I just leave the car there and save him? But by doing so, could I cause a traffic accident? And even if I did attempt to save him, there was no way to know if the funny-looking dog would simply run away and cause more damage if another car were to drive through.
As I was in the middle of this thought, I observed that another car was coming in the opposite direction driving at a considerable speed on that side’s left-most lane. Upon seen this car, in a surreal, slow-motion-type of moment, I also noticed through my rear mirror that another vehicle was approaching from the back on the middle lane. Involuntarily, my head began to calculate speeds and distances as if drawing geometrical figures and equations on a piece of paper. If the car ahead of me was driving at X miles per hour, and Mr. Little Dog decided to run at a perpendicular distance away from it at a speed of Y miles per hour, he would only be able to travel Z feet, while the car behind me, approaching at a speed of XX and at an approximate distance of YY feet, then the likelihood of severe impact would probably be P percent. It was a horrifying though, and even though all these concepts were crossing my mind, I felt completely numb, powerless to respond, as if my legs and hands were wearing cement blocks. There I was, witnessing what was a potentially deadly collision no more than three meters away from me, and yet I was paralyzed from my neck down. Only my stupid brain was reacting. The dog was still staring at me, his eyes directed at mine. “Save me”, it looked like he was saying to me, “I am no match for this urban jungle, and you are the only thing standing in the way between life and death.” Yet, I was there, watching the whole thing like a lifeless spectator of just another TV drama, like the many news pieces I produced and reported on when I was 25 years younger. Was that what I wanted, to see blood before my eyes? Would the spectacle of a nameless dog run over by a car cause any joy to my eyes? Would I be able to live with the shame of witnessing such tragedy, realizing that I could have prevented it?
Whatever! Before I knew it, every single mathematical calculation I projected in my brain was perfectly accurate. The car ahead of me scared the grubby dog making him run perpendicular to the road to my right, precisely where the automobile coming from the rear met him head on creating the horrific noise of metal against animal bone. The screeching agony of an injured and defenseless animal resounded loud and clear in my ear, as if I had been the culprit of his calamity. That sound, that yell of pain and innocence lost, pounded the inside of my heavy skull for days to come, relentlessly.
The car that hit the dog was a taxi driver. The conductor slowed down upon noticing he had impacted something, yet continued on realizing that he may have been better off leaving the scene, allowing just another animal to perish, as if he had simply squashed an urban rat. To all of this, I had been a witness, and by virtue of my inaction, an actively participating one. I could have prevented it. If only I would have not hesitated when Mr. Dog was in front of me, provoking me to react, I could probably have saved him. But I did not, I just watched. Powerlessly. Cowardly…
I couldn’t bear the guilt. I had to do something, late perhaps, but something nonetheless. I moved my car to the left lane as I saw the cab driving away. I stepped down and rushed towards the obviously injured dog. I found him rapidly spinning on his behind using one hind leg, while the other one appeared tense, probably broken, I thought. He was crying loud for help, making the familiar diabolic plea that dogs make when they are in real agony. But in the middle of the night, when no other sound was evident, I could hear that noise directly squared at me, and nothing else. As I bent over to raise him, his first instinct was to bite me. He failed miserably. I thought that he deserved to grab me in the hand and cause at least some pay back; I deserved it. To my surprise, though, he eased up, and his expression became soft, as if he suddenly understood that I was not there to finish the job, but rather to assist him. His eyes were small and dark, but they were pointing at me with such power that moved me. His hair was filthy and matted all over, and he was bleeding from the mouth. He was extremely light; no more than 8 pounds (4 kg) as I lifted him into my arms, and he looked tense and stiff as a wooden branch. He completely gave in, as if telling me, “Please do with me what you must, as I am at your mercy.”
And indeed he was. Still alive, it was up to me to make sure he would remain so. I couldn’t bear the thought that this small four-legged being would not survive. He had to live, and I would make anything in my power to right my wrong. I softly and carefully placed him on the driver’s seat, and frantically began searching for a 24-hour emergency vet. What, a 24-hour emergency vet, in Chihuahua?
My thoughts began to drift to the day when our Shih-Tzu was finally willing to let go. She may have been old, almost 19, but she was never in pain until that last night. Her eyes were rapidly moving side to side. She had had an epileptic attack earlier in the evening, but on other occasions when she exhibited similar symptoms, she had felt well after only a few minutes at most. Not that particular night. She kept getting up, and was quietly sobbing. By about 1:00 am, it was clear to us that her time had come. Being a Saturday night, there was no way we could wait until Monday morning to take her in with our regular vet, so we decided to bring her into a 24-hour, state-of-the-art emergency facility about three miles away from our home in Bethesda, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. The staff was caring and above all, professional. She was put down humanely as my wife and I watched through our teary eyes. It was a difficult decision, no doubt, but I was truly thankful that there was a place to mitigate her suffering at the time and day of her departure.
As I was driving around the streets of Chihuahua in hopes of finding something remotely similar for my new friend, it occurred to me to check online. After a quick search, I noticed that all vets I could find would not open until nine o’clock. That was about six hours away. The wait was torturous. I decided to bring him into my brother’s home and explain the situation later. For now, all I could do was to watch him rest next to me on the bed as I wrapped him with a shirt. I stopped the hemorrhage in his mouth with a warm cloth, and I guarded him while he remained immobile from the trauma, carefully examining his miniature body for any major injuries.
We made it into sunrise and he was still alive, albeit refusing water. By the time my sister-in-law came to assist me, I had already explained the situation to my brother. Both were very understanding and compassionate. Being an animal lover herself, she immediately searched for a mobile number from a vet, but to no avail. We had no recourse but to keep waiting until the veterinary clinics would open at 9 am. The interval was agonizingly long, but at least my small friend was alert and appeared alright.
I admit that I do not believe in miracles and the oversimplified explanations of divine intervention. But by the time the vet finally examined the rugged little guy, I was at a loss to explain how he had survived the accident intact. He did not have one single broken bone in his body and only a couple of loose teeth (hence the bleeding). He was a toy poodle estimated to be between four and five years old, and he was probably somebody’s lost dog because he still had some sort of mediocre hair style and was well nourished despite spending a few days on the streets. Yet, he had no ID or collar to identify him, unless he lost them while roaming free; something very unlikely, I thought. He probably belonged to some careless owner. However, to find the rightful family would have been extremely difficult.
When I finally saw him after the vet bathed and dewormed him, he was the cutest little thing. He was fluffy white with a killer, smarty look. He was more relaxed and was walking fine. So now I immediately turned to the question of what to do with him. I was leaving in two days to go back to DC, and for a moment I hoped that my brother’s family would adopt him. However, they already had a very territorial cat, and I could not conceive the thought to look for a permanent home in only a day or so, certainly not without making sure that the new parents would take care of him the way we would have if he had been ours. Deprived of sleep, I resolved to think about it overnight.
The following morning it was clear to me: If this little poodle had stopped before me for whatever reason, he had to come home with us. We already have two wonderful Cavalier King Charles, so having a third one was a major decision. It would mean curtailing some freedoms, like travelling, and certainly more work. No matter; I texted my wife with a picture and told her, “Meet the new member of the family!”
I took him back to the vet to administer all shots required to bring him into the US. Because all rabies and other shots must be applied at least 30 days before importing a pet into the country, the vet (who will remain anonymous) “forged” the date and declared that all vaccinations had been given a couple of months back. I then proceeded to call the airline and purchased him a ticket, and bought a small carrying bag for him as well. The next day, I took the bus to El Paso, TX, where my parents live, and immediately went to buy him dog food. We spent the night there, as we awaited our flight to DC the following morning. To make matters worse, my flight was diverted for mechanical reason, so I spent an extra night in Houston, where I made sure to order an additional chicken breast in the restaurant in order to feed him. Ultimately, we made it home tired but in one piece.
I decided to call him Tsutomu Yamaguchi (Tomu, for short), in memory of a Japanese national who lived to be 93 after having survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings during World War II. I figured that if he was fortunate enough to make it alive after the way he was run over in my presence, he is lucky enough to bear that name.
So this is how the story ends. Today, Tomu is in perfect physical shape and the best gift that came out of tragedy that I can remember. There were no tears in the evening news, no drama; just clear and decisive action and the invaluable assistance from several people who deeply care for a rescue pet. He is now getting along just fine with our other two Cavaliers, and we spent a small fortune neutering him and cleaning his teeth as soon as it was feasible to do so (he actually lost four teeth due to the injury and decay). He is registered with our county police, microchipped, insured, and is wearing a small harness with his name tag, just to make sure. He will never be lost again.
You can learn more about Rodrigo by visiting his website.