The Dogs That Don’t Belong to Anyone

Compiled by Michael Roston and Dulce Ramos

April 18, 2016, New York Times

There are an estimated 750 million street dogs, village dogs and free-breeding dogs in the world. And while they may not have owners, that doesn’t mean they keep their distance from people.

We asked Times readers on many continents – both English and Spanish speakers – to share some of their experiences with these dogs. Some were rescued. Some appeared like apparitions and were never seen again. All made a strong impression on the people who shared their stories, and on us, too.

India/ One of the Neighbors

As in any Indian town, street dogs are prominent residents of my hometown, too.

My younger brother once brought home two stray puppies, whom we named Jimmy and Tommy. Tommy died young from rabies, but Jimmy survived. He had a shiny black coat and an adorable disposition.

Every day when I came home from college, he would run to me with his tail wagging and jump all over me in joy. It was unadulterated love. He became a part of our life and a part of our neighbors’ families as well. He would go to one neighbor for lunch, take a nap on another’s porch and have dinner at his own house (i.e., ours). He lived a quasi-street-dog life.

Sadly, a few years later, he died from rabies as well, leaving us heartbroken. These stray puppies are growing up to be the future Tommies and Jimmies. – SOMA CHOWDHURY

Chile/ Company Far From Home

El Guatón (“the fat one”). I remember the first time I saw him two years ago: It was raining, and Alvarez Street, where the subway station is, was a swamp. There he was with his happy face and wagging his tail. He looked like a ball of mud and fur.

His image cut through my immigrant silence, and brought me a consistent sense of familiarity. He kept me company with his sad eyes or hoarse bark. There he was in the street; there I was in a strange country. We were both foreigners, linked by our solitude and longing for the past. For him, it was the home where he had once lived. For me, it was Venezuela. – DANIUSKA GONZÁLEZ GONZÁLEZ

Tajikistan/ Absolutely No Rescues

Before we arrived I was adamant. No matter how many sad and abandoned animals we saw, there was absolutely no way I was going to rescue any of them. I’m probably the biggest animal lover you’ll ever meet, so that realization was hard for me. But we had three young, healthy pets. and I couldn’t endanger them in any way.

But then Soya wandered into the right yard at the right time.

It was raining. And dark. And cold. We showed up at a friend’s house, and there she was. A tiny black puppy out in the rain.

She had followed people into the yard and sat there shivering and looking miserable.

It really didn’t take much persuasion. By the end of the night she was in our house. By the end of the weekend she had a name, Soya, which is Tajik for “shadow.” She’s our permanent street dog. – KRISTEN CROCKER

Venezuela/ The Happiest Dog in the World

I met the happiest dog in the world. He lives on the beach and belongs to no one.

My girlfriend and I named him Lobito (“little wolf”), but eventually we learned that the locals of La Guaira call him Guasa. He might have German shepherd blood, given his intelligence and looks. The visitors of the beach and the “tolderos” (stand vendors) give him leftovers, and every weekend we bring him kibble.

Since we met him, he made friends with our Dalmatian, Blondie, and every time we reach his home – a plot of land by the sea that he shares with a toldero named Gabriel, and his hens – he runs to us and kisses us. Unlike other solitary and stray dogs, Guasa or Lobito looks healthy and happy. Once we thought about taking him with us to the city, but taking the sea out of him may well be like letting the air out of him. – DANIEL GARRIDO

Venezuela/ A Lover of the Arts

This is a very cultured dog. He likes the arts. He lives in the National Gallery of Art in Caracas, Venezuela, and the museum guards take care of him. You can see him by the door, greeting you. He’s very calm, social, and everyone loves him. As curious as it seems, almost all of the museums in Caracas have their own stray dogs. – SANDRA SANTINI

Translated from Spanish

India/ The World’s Most Spoiled Street Dog

I used to live in India and had a neighborhood reputation for looking out for street dogs. One day a friend found a two-week-old pup who had been abandoned by its mother and was badly infested with maggots. I took the pup, thinking she might not make it through the night and intending to leave her with a vet in the morning. The vet ended up giving her a good prognosis, so I decided I would foster her until I found her a family. Weeks turned into months, and I hadn’t looked very hard for a new home. It’s now almost three years later. My street pup received official Indian state travel papers and made the trek from Mumbai to Chicago with me. She’s the world’s most spoiled street dog. I even have a tattoo portrait of her. – LAUREN DEAN

Thailand/ Where the Puppies Go

In late November, a neighborhood dog gave birth to a litter of seven puppies under the tree in my front yard. Her mother gave birth to a litter in the yard next door, and her sister another around the corner.

Within days the puppies started disappearing, through death, neglect or displacement. The dog in my yard took up the nursing duties for all the remaining puppies of the three litters.

Once they started exploring and became a nuisance, my landlady bagged them and took them to the back side of Buddhist temple around the corner, not to the area where the monks would notice them and tend to them. There’s a strong rivalry between the monk’s dogs and these “others.”

A few were adopted, but the majority have died, being run over, starved, injured in fights. The dogs that remain are left to scrounge. – RICH AMBUSKE

South Africa/ Dog, Beach and Sun

Dog lived in Llandudno, Cape Town, the sort of place where people want for nothing. Especially not a big, smelly dog like Dog.
Dog was something of a Labrador, and judging by his glacial gait, approaching 10 times 7.

Whenever you found yourself on Llandudno Beach, you’d see him limping from picnic to picnic, looking for a morsel to eat. He never gave any affection in return and seemed totally oblivious to the touch of human hands. Dog was deaf to the shrillness of children’s play and above butt sniffing.

He only seemed to see the sunsets. For hours, Dog would stare intently at the sun’s track into the waves. He would watch the sky change from azure to orange to pink to purple to black. Then he’d drag himself up the hill to hide among the massive houses to be back the next day. – LEON JACOBS

Mexico/ A Highly Recommended Guide

My boyfriend and I visited the Teotihuacán Pyramids, not far from Mexico City. On the way to the top of the largest – Pyramid of the Sun – we saw a small black dog dozing on the steps. I took a quick break to give his head a little scratch before continuing on. When we reached the top and were admiring the amazing view, we realized the black dog had become our shadow. He followed us to the top, sat with us while we rested, and trotted down the pyramid behind us. Much to our amazement, he then led the way to the next pyramid – Pyramid of the Moon. When we stopped, he stopped. When we turned, he turned. We reached the top of the second pyramid and knew we needed a photo of our furry tour guide. – CARLA SCHAFFER

India/ There’s Always a Stray

I’ve spent about a year and half total at various points of my life in India. Each time there’s been a stray dog. During a summer in Delhi there was one, affectionately named Bhura Bhai, who lounged outside the house of my host family and cried when he saw you. He was fed by members of the colony. There was a pile of sand outside of the house, and he’d make himself comfortable on top of it (a little king). I remember a businessman stopping by once and asking him kindly in Hindi, “Kya takleef hai?” (what’s the problem) as he whined. It was thrilling for me to hear people chat with him, as I loved dogs and had just started learning Hindi. Years later, living in Jaipur, I met another lovely dog who would jump up as I walked home and accompany me the rest of the way. – TALI DATSKOVSKY

Argentina/ Coaxing Him Home

On a Sunday, I was playing squash, and a dog came next to me. He was running away from the security officers who didn’t want him near the sports club.

After noticing the resemblance to a dog I had when I was 17 years old, I said to him: “Manti (the name of my late dog), if you wait for me, I will finish this game and I’ll take you with me.” The dog – I later called him Benji – sat beside my bag and waited until the end of the game.

Because of his condition as a stray dog, it was difficult to coax him into the car to take him home, and train him to not run away as soon as I opened a gate. Nowadays he walks freely on the streets, with a full stomach and soft hair. He’s confident and joyful. He makes me happy. – ELENA MARÍA BARRANDEGUY

Turkey/ A City That Cares for Dogs

We have many street dogs. About 20 live in our neighborhood park, and another five by the taxi stand, where drivers built shelters for them.

Municipalities routinely vaccinate, fix and tag them, and place recycling stands around the city where dog food is dispensed in exchange for empty bottles. Neighbors generally take care of them – there is even a Facebook group where we can check with one another to find out the latest on our neighborhood dogs.

One best friend is Sofi. She follows us as we go for several hours of walking around the city, patiently waiting for us if we stop for lunch or coffee. If we run into her on our way to work, she walks us to the metro station.

We don’t feed her – it’s all about affection and company. – CHIAKI YAMAMOTO

Uganda/ A Dog’s Lesson

When visiting the beautiful country of Uganda, I befriended a stray dog in Kisoro. As I reached a lake, he ran toward me. Barking, he beckoned me to follow him, running forth and stopping often to look behind and check on me.


So I followed.

He stopped at a dock around the corner. As I stayed, he remained at my side and chewed on my shoelaces.

I learned during my trip that attitudes toward dogs are different in Uganda. Villagers scorn dogs, considering them terrible pests for killing chickens. Since poultry is an indispensable part of a typical diet, this view is very justified. As a Westerner growing up surrounded by ideals of the perfect family pet, learning about this aspect of Ugandan culture is a perspective changer. Having the resources to raise dogs as family is a luxury that dog owners should not take for granted. – KELLY HSU

Thailand/ Simple Name, Simple Life

I was told not to get attached to any of the dogs at the research station I’d be living at for the next month and a half.

“If they go missing, it may be because a family was hungry,” my mentor and translator told me, quite nonchalantly.

Of course, being the dog lover I was, I did not heed his advice, and the pooch I endearingly named Dog began sleeping on my porch at night after roaming the forests and mountains of northern Thailand during the day. I haven’t heard what became of this tough canine, but I like to picture him still tromping through the woods and terrorizing the cooks, a happy and free dog. – BECCA ACETO

Macedonia/ Back to the Junk Yard at Night

It started with Annie. I fell in love with her after arriving in a small town in Macedonia to begin my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

There were a lot of street dogs. Some were wary of me, most of them were dirty, skinny, and showed scars from fights or limping from accidents. But she came right up to me, put her paws on my shoulders and started to talk to me.

I named her Annie and started to feed her. She followed me on my walks and at night she went back to the junk yard.

Then another hound showed up, Joe. Then another and then a little black dog. Annie had thirteen puppies and she almost died. Only one puppy survived past two months. Every day I would feed five of them and whatever cats showed up. They all ate together. And all they wanted was love. – MARGERY RUBIN


0 thoughts on “The Dogs That Don’t Belong to Anyone

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