The Curious Case of the Dog on the Final Day

#adventure, abandonment, animals, cruelty, dogs, environment, europe, fate, forest, kindness, Life, nature, neglect, Oddities, Spain, Travel

Going somewhere exotic to rekindle lost love can be as worthwhile as flogging a dead horse. Until, that is, a minor crisis connects you both in ways you never knew possible. Even if it’s not enough to save a relationship, a double act of kindness can prove a fitting finale to a great affair.

As befitting a relationship that bloomed then faded over two dozen countries in a dozen years, my long-term partner and I met for a showdown in Almeria, Spain. A beleaguered ‘marriage’ was at stake. The intervening years had taken their toll on our inseparability. We fought one another on many fronts in many theatres of war, but always patching up as spectacularly as we had torn each up. Love was no more in the air, though I had hoped it might start suffocating us again blissfully as it had done a decade previous. From my vantage point, this was our last crack at compatibility. And we were going to give it our best shot under the blistering Spanish sun.

To cut to the chase, the endeavour didn’t start well. The bickering picked up nicely after a couple of days. Minor irritants swelled to the point where failure to turn the key to the hotel door resulted in fits of rage the likes of which no Hollywood diva could match. When personal insults fly in the face of what are little mechanical glitches, you know the noose is tightening and the game is up. There was only one antidote to the bitterness: find a place of serene calm off the beaten track. Let nature be our balm.

At the headwaters of the Guadalquivir, lying in the Parque Natural Sierras de Cazorla, we laid down a truce. And, lo, it held. Autumn had repainted the landscape into the most beautiful hues of mustard and rust red. The poplars, standing tall and alone in the saddle of the Sierra, rattled like a thousand tambourines in the breeze. Myrtle trees dropped tiny leaves around us. Confetti for our renewed marriage vows? The portents were good until we reached the source of the once-great river, now reduced to a trickle. So this is the source of our love? The waters of the famous Guadalquivir, running dry because there was never anything upstream of any substance. Is this to be the quality of even the deepest love between two people?

On the Almerian coast we stayed on Cabo de Gatas peninsula, Spain’s southeast cape. A tremendously evocative spot – its rock walls plunging into the Med – we marvelled at the palaeontology of the place: ancient coral reefs submerged off the coast; at four hundred million years old, some of the world’s oldest recorded. A half-finished hulk of a huge hotel, intruding into the delicate coastal ecology. Abandoned before it was ever inhabited, the developers threw up the superstructure without soliciting planning permission from the municipality, as if local government would ever consent to an eyesore of a hotel in the midst of a national park. That chimed with me too. I saw parallels with my faltering love affair. We lay foundations on precious living bodies we have no right building on. That’s love for you.

By the holiday’s end, the salvage operation was about to be called off on the relationship. No amount of romantic landscape was going to inject new blood into old veins. With a couple of day remaining until our final farewell, the two of us wound our way to Baza, a forest high up in Andalusia’s very own altiplano. Elevated to nearly 900 metres, the air was rarefied and the sky cerulean blue. Night would bite. There the trees bristled in anticipation of winter as pines do. Knowing we were calling time on our amazing life journey together, a sudden calm came over us.

Driving through the forest, an animal ran out in front of us. Stopping, we saw it was a dog with big, lolloping ears and a cropped, silver-grey coat, known as a Weimaraner. How odd, we remarked. A handsome young animal with a great pedigree out here in the middle of nowhere. It was agitated, you could tell by the way it paced up and down the road as if looking out for a car that never appeared. Curious, we parked up and observed the dog, who was so distressed our presence barely merited a sniff.

Upset by the sight of this dog darting around in bewilderment, we resolved to do something. Approaching, I saw she was both a bitch and young. With swollen teats she was also a mother minus the pups. Being a Weimaraner, she was friendly and intelligent. Clearly, she had grown up in a human home. I lifted her underside to place her on the back seat and she trembled. Our drive underway, we noticed her quivering in fear and bewilderment. This dog was at best lost; at worst, cruelly abandoned.

Stopping to ask foresters we met in a nearby clearing, they explained that hunters often drive their dogs up to this remote spot where they encourage the young females, already having produced a litter or two, to hop out only to drive off leaving them there. The ones that do survive the wild are found in state of shock. No different from the global trade in trafficking west African women to the Gulf to service male needs then. Use them and abuse them then throw them away.

This news angered the pair of us. After years, we could agree on something. Determined to right this wrong, I drove down the mountain. Finding ourselves now on the plains where Sergio Leone shot the classic Spaghetti Westerns of the late 1960s, our purpose together had finally been revealed: find the dog a home before tomorrow when we go our separate ways forever.

Being a Sunday in a Catholic nation, not much commerce was going on. The streets were abandoned, probably explaining why the location was chosen for tense gunfights in A Fistful of Dollars. A curtain of golden light was falling on the day’s end and we were feeling pressured. The poor dog cowering in the back didn’t help. We called the vet, but the vet must’ve been at vespers in the local church. We called a dog shelter. That too was closed. Taking the Weimaraner back to England was out of the question at such short notice. As the day shortened, our problems lengthened. It was then that we pulled in to a ranch-style trattoria. It was vast and its interior plush in that rustic manner. Whomever owned it was a wealthy man. Again, with no sign of life the two of us wandered round the back to the kitchen where the door was opened. Popping our heads around, we asked for the manager. They sent the owner. He was a tidy-looking man without pretension. Explaining our situation he fell silent.

’Show me this dog you speak of,’ he said.

Impressed by what he saw, he backed away. ‘I have one already. I cannot take another dog,’ he lamented. ‘Even if she is such a fine animal.’

Disappointed, but understanding, we took our leave. As we were exiting his palatial roadside restaurant, a tap on the window. It was him.

‘Tell you what. Here’s the deal. I go to my Land Rover. Now, I don’t know if I left my own dog’s chain on the passenger seat. But if I have, I will take care of this dog of yours. If it’s not there, you’re on your own.’

Walking with him to his car, he swung open the passenger door. The seat was strewn with papers, but there was no chain. He slammed the door.

‘Lo siento mucho,’ he said.

Our hopes fading fast with the daylight, again we took our leave. Seeing the dog’s face forlorn against the window, my soon-to-be ex and I looked at each other with renewed vigour and certainty, for the first time in I don’t know how long. ‘We cannot just dump her by the side of the road.’

‘But I have to return to England tomorrow,’ I answered.

‘Not before we find the dog a home you don’t.’

Turning, I caught the trattoria owner out the corner of my eye. He was moving toward our car, his hands behind his back.

‘Look what I found in the footwell,’ he smiled. ‘It was under all those papers.’

In his outstretched arms he dangled exhibit 1, the dog chain.

‘Fate decided.’ He said with a warm reassurance we knew would translate into responsible ownership.

‘You will care for her? You won’t leave her abandoned a second time?’ You promise?’

Casting his hand as if to magic into existence his beautiful roadside trattoria, he replied. ‘I look after things. And I don’t give up on a promise.’

Without flinching he clicked the hasp of the chain onto her collar ring and calmly trotted off with the Weimaraner, who by now had ceased quivering. With the dying rays of the day warming an old wooden shack that could have been a stage prop in The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, we pondered the view and with it possibly the life we had shared for all those incredible years that brought us to this final day. It had all been thoroughly vale la pena. Worth the pain, as they say in Spain.

Satisfying Encounters from an Underworld of Goodness.


 If it wasn’t so alarming it would be comical. In the already emerged nations, warning bells on newsdesks everywhere chime with the moral mood of the beleaguered middle-classes. Western media outlets thrash out their tune off-key – from revelations involving a dragnet of massive wealth mismanagement in tiny Panama, to other anonymous offshore havens offering divine return for an extremely homicidal form of investment (read DAESH). The age of oil is ending and the age of roil well underway. Climate changes on two fronts, and I don’t mean the Al Nusra front, which is changing relatively little of Syria’s misfortunes.

As well as coral shoals being so offended by the state of tropical brine that entire ecosystems have been spitting out en masse the algae that gives them vividness and life and us a reason to spend heavily obtaining our PADIs, the climate of post war peace and prosperity is being blown out by a climate of fear, suspicion and sanctimony. Porn lovers of the world unite in condemning the moral turpitude that tax dodgers have fallen into, realising little that both camps get a kick out of stashing things in holes that nature told them they shouldn’t really be. The man next door, the one you never see or bother talking to anymore, wears a surgical gown of blamelessness while you die of terminal consumption. Yet he is the one with the IKEA boxes stashed behind the shed. Greed is a dirty word, oft mentioned with a contemptuous roll of the R these days, yet with everyone’s hands caked with contaminated soil no one knows what clean is anymore. The world is a basketcase, so let’s fill it while we can, down hypermarket aisles that are somehow magically restocked for unquestioning customers who haven’t the faintest idea how the global supply chain works. Never has a system operated so seamlessly as to make its eventual collapse feel both so catastrophic and inevitable, as if every single living soul is experiencing this mass Cassandra Complex that we see disaster in the offing yet no one is empowered to prevent it.

As for politics – the travelling tedium circus of the 21st century – never have the lion tamers put in such a lame performance. The big cats were declawed into indifference a long time ago, and the bullwhip held in complex derivatives that no one but the alchemists in pinstripe shirts and share options can fathom. Man, even The Simpsons saw it coming sixteen years ago in a episode where President Donald’s incumbency epitomises an America that has gone from Stonewall but democratic to completely off the wall and autocratic. King George W. might have been dangerous but he wasn’t mad and dangerous, which never stopped The Simpsons’ creators from pillorying him anyway as a feckless moron.

But the icing on the cake, or in the parlay of les Français, la cerise sur la gateaux, as if either icing or cherries is going to save our lazy, lardy arses, has to be the existential threat to the EU. Tell me, where did we go from simple resuscitation to declaring the body politic dead on arrival? All we had to do was shift a bit of weight, cut down the cholestoral and relieve high blood pressure. So where does amputation come into it? Risking life and limb so that we can either drift off into mid-Atlantic isolation or descend into cross-border bickering, eventuating in open conflict? Little Napoleons everywhere, you have been mobilised. Little Francos, Hitlers, and Mussolinis, too.

Therefore, in spite of this litany of woe, it comes as some surprise that there is still good in this world; that yes, you may absolutely ignore the cynical broadsides firing grapeshot and splintering wood into the poor iPhone where your heart used to be. There is, contrary to popular belief, hope for us all yet. Well, those of us not implicated in either the Panama papers or a paedophile ring, anyway.


Here’s why there is hope: despair, hopelessness and revulsion bask in the media limelight, but that light is trained only on a small, concentrated area. Little, cumulative acts of good occupy everywhere which is not the headline-grabbing limelight, in effect an immense area. Hands down, the digital mediascape likes its monuments big and ugly. But that is not the half of it. There’s beauty in the detail. Lifetimes worth of the stuff.

Not only are there infinitely more instances of virtue than vice prevalent on Earth every minute of every day, each act is more than a mere instance. Taken individually, acts of good matter. Taken together, they matter more. Still, the small, consequential things do not earn ratings or sales. It’s the paradox of good people doing malicious things or shady individuals seeing the light that makes the narrative a narrative worth hounding after. The media has gone into hyper-drive concocting a campaign of fear and paranoia, feeding our anguish and our loneliness. But it’s no more than stay-at-homers deserve.

Virtue exists as the least visible of visible acts. Never mind God as the big man, if it is to be found anywhere then the metaphysical must live in the smallest, indivisible quanta. Ubiquitous in the dark shadow, that cognizant force/energy that buzzes everywhere never misses a trick in spite of its diminutive size.


Case in point: a man listens to his conscience. It tells him,

You need to give something back for all the good fortune life throws your way.’

Prone to talking to himself, he replies,

That’s a fair kop, God of conscience.’

Knowing deep in himself while God (if anything) is pure energy and energy cares not for morality, there is nevertheless something akin to a cosmic ledger that requires balancing. Dutifully he succumbs to altruism, rises from his lazy arse, fills his bag with food and water, opens his gilded cage and prowls out into the night. Finding himself at the usual spot, that pile of rubble behind the local supermarket, the object(s) of his altruism is/are strangely absent tonight.

He waits, cupping an ear to the inevitable clarion of night which will guide his way to stilling the clamour of his conscience. Hearing it, he walks over to find a small stray puppy emerge from under the perimeter fencing of a nearby building site. Beside itself with joy, evinced in both the excited slinking of its not too emaciated body and its tendency of entangling moving legs by darting in and out with its jig of expectation, the man walks it back to the plastic dishes he has laid down. Two security men look on with mild interest. In the semi-darkness he does not know if theirs is a look of scorn, pity or admiration. Experienced by now in such matters, he adjudges indifference to be the mood that sets their countenance.

A minute later he sits contentedly looking on as the ten week-old stray, born in a pipe that is now built into the new complex of apartments across the road, wolfs back tender chunks of meat and laps clean, clear water. From nowhere a car approaches and slows to a stop. A window rolls down to reveal the glint of blackness on the face of the driver. Half-expecting to be met with the puzzlement of a white leper dying in a Calcutta colony, the man quickly loses interest in the car, in whose presence he feels a bearing down, but not necessarily a good one. Casting his eyes up again, the glint of streetlamp that catches the black visage catches more the white of a smile creeping across the driver’s face.

The man can see that the driver is most happy at the scene before him. Perhaps, though, it is surprise at seeing this act here in this place that provokes the driver’s interest more.

This is a very kind thing you are doing,’ he says to the man.

Bashful, the man smiles and shrugs.

‘What is your good name?’ he continues.


And where are you from?

From Britain.’

But where in Britain?

The man replies he is from Scotland originally.

Where exactly?

So the man tells him.

Edinburgh? I too was born there,’ says the black man whose accent is a amalgam of Africa, America and somewhere yet to be discovered.

Slightly startled by this, the man in turn poses the question.

What is your name?

The black man replies warmly, but the name is too indecipherable to make out in full, other than that he is a Dr. and the last two syllables are Y-Z.

Did your father study in Edinburgh?

The driver replies that his father was a South African diplomat, that the diplomatic life followed him into later life, as he now works for the US department of State, coming home this way but seldom on his long way back from his job in Abu Dhabi.

The man and the driver exchange dialogue for some minutes before the driver reiterates his reason for stopping in the first place.

I knew you couldn’t be local. They wouldn’t do this for a dog, least of all those on the street. This is a wonderful thing you do.

The man ponders a minute before answering.

We all need to give something back in life, even if it doesn’t amount to much.’

Nodding effusively, the South African son of a diplomat answers,

Oh, but it does. It means the world to that little dog. And to me.

May God be with you,’ he says as he drives off into the night. As the black driver appeared from nowhere, the man notices that he too has disappeared into nowhere.

The man looks around, seeing that the dog has gone, presumably to sleep off his dinner. On his way back to his hotel across a busy highway, the man wonders if traffic lights can feel and judge. He decides that if the lights turn red for traffic just as he is crossing then yes, they too would approve of virtue in the smallest of things.