True Travel Stories: The Haunting Puppy From Nepal
Intro: Backpacking the world causes an explosion of emotions for any traveller. We expect to feel wonder, amazement, amusement, excitement; a whole host of positive emotions. After all, why do we choose to travel if not to actively seek these great feelings? Of course, we also expect to feel sad, homesick, humbled, and empathetic to those less privileged than ourselves. Yet some of the more complex emotions strike us suddenly and without warning. They are strong and stay with us for years to come. This series of ‘true travel stories’ is a way of sharing experiences that have caused me such emotions. If you’re a backpacker too, perhaps you can relate, let me know at the end!
“There’s nothing you could have done,” my boyfriend told me as I sobbed at the side of the road. I willed myself to believe him, but a knowing voice inside muttered objections.
Flashes of online news articles flittered through my memories. Ones with headlines like ‘Backpacker adopts starving street dog’ and ‘Couple travel the world with their rescue cats’. How did those travellers know what to do, I thought solemnly.
“The monks will take care of it,” my tour guide offered half-heartedly. I nodded briefly, partly appreciative of his attempt to ease my conscience, partly affirming it to myself as the truth.
In my mind’s eye though, I couldn’t stop picturing that small huddle of dark fur against crumbling stone steps, faced with the prospect of a bitter night battling the winds of Nepal.
I’d almost missed the puppy altogether, too engrossed in the reflective gold foil and colourful triangular flags that linked the many trees surrounding Swayambhunath Temple. It wasn’t until I’d returned through the courtyard, perched high over the bustling city of Kathmandu, that a slight movement in the far corner had caught my eye.
Eagerly I’d approached, cooing at the small brown puppy like it was a family pet. As I drew closer though, I noted the way the puppy’s fur twitched and wriggled, despite no movement from its body. Up close, I could see the yellowing gunk that glued the animal’s eyes almost completely together.
Within seconds of arriving at the lonesome puppy’s side, it was obvious to me that this was the runt of its litter. It had been abandoned, and it was suffering from a flea infestation and who knew what else.
My heart began to strum with pain.
At a loss for what to do with my discovery, I peeled off one of the layered tank tops I wore and wrapped it tightly around the puppy’s tiny body. Then I took out my water bottle and filled the lid with liquid for the puppy to drink. I slid the water directly under its nose so that it would not need to move to reach it, but the puppy did not drink.
Passersby stopped to watch, curious as to why I stood above a puppy with tears dripping down my cheeks. I appealed to a nearby stall vendor, “This puppy needs help… food… drink…” but my pleas were in vain.
The lady smiled at me with empathy in her eyes, but a small shrug of her shoulders told me all I needed to know. It spoke of the precarious position many Nepali people found themselves in following a traumatic earthquake just months before. I knew she could do nothing.
Dave started to coax me away at this point, assuring me I couldn’t do anything more for the puppy’s fate. I let him lead me away, but swelling in my chest was a feeling of failure.
I can’t just walk away, I told myself. I should do more. Then I racked my brains for what more I could do, because somebody, another traveller, would surely know how to have helped. They would have refused to do nothing.
Yet there I was, boarding the comfortable bus that would transfer me to the shelter of a hotel in the capital’s centre.
Suddenly, I had an idea. I could call the local animal charities. There must be one that would fetch the puppy and take it to a shelter.
So, I returned to my hotel room and immediately called the only local shelters I could find online. Any hope that remained evaporated fast, as every single one told me regretfully that they “could not help”.
The fight to save the puppy left me then. It was replaced instead by the knowledge that, for the rest of my life, I would be haunted by the bleak fate of that Nepali puppy.
It was just a single instance, but as a strong ache of helplessness lodged itself inside me, I knew it would not be the last time in my travels this feeling would take hold.
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