Travels with a Blind Dog
When I got back from my trip around the world, I was short of money so I took a three month teaching gig at a remote aboriginal community. I packed all my possessions into my car and set off on a new adventure.
The first person I met there was a dog. I was unpacking my car and saw an old reddish colored dog whining next to my car. One eye was badly damaged, his coat was greasy and unhealthy looking and he was very skinny. I told him I was a vegetarian but found a half-eaten egg salad sandwich in the car which I gave him. He wolfed it down in one bite and my fate was sealed.
He hung around while I unpacked the car then followed me up the stairs to my balcony. He laid down with a sigh when I went inside. I have only owned small dogs for many years and this was a very big dog. His muzzle was scarred and so were his legs. I guess that the local hunters had used him as a pig dog and it seemed likely that his badly damaged and now blind eye had been the result of an encounter with a wild pig.
His other eye gleamed green in the dark when a light was shone on it and on closer look, I could see he had a big cataract over that eye. As far as I could tell, he was legally blind, but it didn’t affect his attitude. He knew his section of street and on that turf he was king. He beat up any other male dogs who dared to intrude and he flirted with all the female dogs.
I bought a bag of cheap dog food and put an old blanket down for him to lie on. He was so filthy that I only used two fingers to scratch him on the top of his ears and as soon as I won his trust, I wormed him and took him into the shower for what could have been the first bath of his life. Then I could pet him.
Wherever I went, he was right there with me. I called him Buddy. Some of the ladies at the school said they had been feeding him for a couple of years but it was just scraps. They said his name was Bruiser but I preferred Buddy and he didn’t seem to mind.
Someone warned me not to claim him as my dog if anyone asked. Apparently someone would come around and demand payment if I did. So when the local children asked me if he was my dog, I knew to say no and claim that although he followed me wherever I went, I didn’t know why.
Buddy became my constant companion. He walked me to school in the morning and then waited patiently for me until it was time to go home. When I went for long walks, he was right beside me. I was amazed at how well he did without eyesight. It wasn’t just smell either. He had a prodigious memory and once he had been somewhere, he could find his way back. He trusted his paws. If they told him he was walking on pavement, he forged ahead, safe in the knowledge that roads didn’t have fences or other barriers.
Sometimes he turned his head to the side and I think he had a tiny bit of vision that way as light came through the side of the cataract. But for the most part he just depended on all his other senses and his wits to work things out.
He knew every inch of his territory and once we were beyond that, he had the sense to stick close to me, again being confident that if I was moving forward, he could too. The only problem we had was other male dogs. Once he was in another dog’s territory, I had to defend him from attack.
Unlike many humans, Buddy spent no time fretting over his disability. He just got on with life. In fact he didn’t even know he was disabled. This was the world he lived in and he was lucky to live in the moment and not worry about it.
As the term came to an end, I debated what to do. Many of the boys had sling shots, even though they were illegal, and I caught them shooting at Buddy’s ‘good’ eye several times. I didn’t think he would survive very long without me.
I debated whether to try and find his owner and pay for him. But whoever it was did not care for the dog, did not feed him or provide for him at all. So I didn’t see much point in being made to pay for a dog they didn’t want and couldn’t use for hunting anymore anyway. In the end I just made room for Buddy in my car and took him with me when I left.
Buddy was very trusting and permitted me to put him in the car. When we stopped and I let him out, he sniffed around and quickly realized that he was not at home. I was driving 2000 kilometers, from Far North Queensland back to my home in New South Wales. Each night I found a pet friendly motel or caravan park for us and in the daytime I made frequent stops for him to stretch and have a pee break.
I think that each time he got out, he expected to be back home. But each time he was somewhere unexpected and completely new. I had a leash and collar on him so I could make sure he didn’t get lost or walk out into traffic. In his old home, cars slowed and went around stray dogs but not out here in the world of fast cars and heavy trucks.
The third night, I think he finally got it. We walked in to our new temporary home, he sniffed around and then plonked himself down in a corner with a big sigh, as if to say, “I don’t know where I am and I don’t like it.” I gave him a hug and nice bone with his dinner and explained to him that I would never leave him again but he would just have to put up with the fact that I wasn’t going to stay in one place for very long.
He would have been happy to call any of those motels and parks home. He was eager to get out of the car each day and reluctant to get back in the next. But each place we went, he moved around easily by my side and most people had no idea that he was blind.
We finally reached my son’s house and had a permanent home for a few months. Buddy looked forward to walks each day and avoided my car. He did not want to move on!
I took him to a vet who removed the bad eye and sewed it up. He looked much more handsome without that horrible dead eyeball half hanging out. The vet removed some rotten teeth as well. I asked how old he thought Buddy was, hoping he would say about ten years old. But he said that Buddy was at least 15. All I could hope for was that his constitution would give him many more years of life.
He was such a gentleman, that old dog. Wherever I took him, he was kind to kids, women and other small animals. The only times he arced up and growled were when he felt cornered by males, dogs or humans. I got the impression that they may have used him in illegal dog fights, throwing him into a ring and taking bets on the outcome. Perhaps that is how he lost his eye. Whatever the case was, he was not vicious and only growled or fought if he thought he was cornered, especially by a big male dog. Otherwise he was a perfect gentleman.
He was my constant companion for two years. I loved him as much as he loved me. He danced with joy whenever I took him for a walk and he was always there for me. But one day I came out and his body was there but he was gone. It looked like he had heard the call, got up and walked right out of his body, which just fell down in a moving position.
I buried him in the back yard and shed a lot more tears than I thought I would. I had known when I got him that our time together would be short. He taught me so many lessons about acceptance of whatever life throws at you and he showed me how to be brave in the most trying of circumstances. He was just about the best dog I ever had and I have had some awesome dogs. He stayed with me through months of travel and he didn’t leave me until I was Home. He will be in my heart forever and when I cross to the other side, I hope to meet him there.