At the beginning of Autumn, I rode my bicycle to the next village, a now familiar route along the river. The day was warm and the air fresh and crisp. As I rode along, the smell outside brought tears to my eyes, as I could not contain myself thinking about my daily walks with my dog Nuts, my permanent companion for the past 16 years. He passed away at the beginning of summer this year.
I brought him home as a baby, he was one of a litter of 5 abandoned puppies. At the time, I had myself three babies, ages 1, 4, and 7. I picked him up at a local rescue center. I paid for his medical check-up, his vaccinations, and took him home. I brought him in a cardboard box curled into a small fur ball. My kids went wild when they saw him… he was frightened… We were living in Guatemala – Central America.
His favorite place…always next to one of us.
He was so frail when he arrived, he slept the whole day, I could not leave him alone, he would cry, so I found myself with two babies. I would take my youngest daughter into the car seat, and Nuts in his cardboard box on the floor. From that day on, our life took a turn, and for the past 16 years, almost every decision we made, had a factor Nuts in it. If someone would have told me then, what was ahead of us with Nuts, I would have never believed it.
Throughout Nut’s 16 years of life, we lived in 5 countries, we left everything behind so many times, our homes, our friends, schools, affections, and the only concern for our kids at those times of stress was that Nuts would arrive safely to our next destination. He was a soldier, he knew when he got into his cage what was comming. His mission was to survive, our mission became to keep him next to us… and we did.
One of the so many stories I could tell about Nuts…
Rescuing Nuts from “street gangs territory” in Guatemala
Nuts soon became fit, and unstoppable. He would take any opportunity to run outside the house and we found ourselves running inside the gated community looking for him. It was 2002, at the time Guatemala was one of the most dangerous countries in Central America, they had gone through 30 years of civil war, and a large majority of the population were armed. We lived for 3 years in a gated community guarded by private police. However, one day, the extreme security did not prevent Nuts from escaping outside the gate.
Everything was heavily guarded in Guatemala, the first time I went to the local bank, I noticed a set of lockers just outside the door, with a small sign, “please leave your pistols in the lockers”. Sure enough, people left their guns, cell phones, as well as any metal objects in the lockers before passing through the metal detector to enter the bank’s offices. We had a security system in place at school, food stored, and a chain of communication to reach parents in case of emergency. I might add, we made use of those measures more than once during our time there, due to political unrest and street protests, kids were looked in school until they could be evacuated safely.
During the time we lived in Guatemala, we never walked on the street outside the gate, except on Sundays, when the main avenue “Avenida de las Americas” next to our house, was closed to traffic and open to pedestrians and bicycles. A polarized society, where the division of poor and rich was still too evident. Crime was a question of opportunity, so anyone walking alone on the streets was a potential target. We always moved by car, to the parking lots of shopping centers, banks, etc., those were always guarded. More than once I left my shopping cart full of groceries at the supermarket and walked out when I saw someone walking in with their bodyguards. My feeling was -I don’t want to be in the same place with someone that needs so many bodyguards. Street shootings, murders, and kidnappings were not rare. I wanted to become invisible, so I wore jeans and a black t-shirt every day, no jewelry… since them my favorite look.
When Nuts was missing, I was crushed, and my kids crying… I printed his picture with my phone number on A4 sheets and went all along the main avenue placing them on every light pole. Huge security infringement, people did not do that in Guatemala. My neighbor told me: “if the dog is gone, he is gone forever, nobody will come forward, and if someone calls you, it would be to get something from you, and provably robe you”.
I kept going along the streets outside the gate for a couple of days looking for Nuts, finally asked at a gas station. A kind man working there told me he had seen Nuts tied to a pole down the street, and he knew the man that was holding him. I asked him if he knew where that man lived, he answered positively. I talked to him for a while and finally asked him if he would take me to him. Without hesitation, he went to ask his boss inside the office and came back to tell me that we would accompany me. I was alone, I hesitated and asked him to wait a second. I called my husband and told him where I was, and what I was up to. I asked him to come so we could go together. I must have been determined, because he did not hesitate and came very quickly in his service car, full of official stickers. So off we went with that kind man by my side, my husband followed us with his car.
We drove into unknown territory down the hill to a poor section of town known for street gangs, no gates or private police there. Our cars were out place there, no one looked like us. We went through small streets to finally stop in front of a small roadhouse. My new friend went out ahead of us and knocked on the door. A young man opened the door halfway, we could see a dark simple room inside, with furniture piled against the walls. He was surprised to see us standing there, to say the least. He stepped out, partly closing the door behind him; I asked him about Nuts and showed him his picture. He seemed absent and without many words, he just turned, went inside and brought Nuts back tied by a rope. We paid the ransom, thank him, took Nuts and left. On my way back, I left the kind man at the gas station, gave him a tip and took Nuts home. My husband and I looked at each other in disbelieve of what we just did. When I told my neighbor the story, she laughed and made me promise I would never go there again.
Our 3 years in Guatemala were beautiful. For all the insecurity, private police, and gates, it was a world full of kind people. From the day we first set foot there, we felt at home. We made great friends, we still keep in touch… We arrived from Germany with 3 small children, my youngest daughter was one month old. Now thinking about it, having picked up Nuts in Guatemala was crazy… but he made our life so much richer and loving… We could not have landed in a better place than Guatemala and with a better soul than Nuts… We miss him every day.