It was inevitable that I would become an animal-lover.
Even as a baby, I remember the faithful companionship of the family dog. Bought by my parents before I was ever born, Brutus was the closest thing to a sibling I ever had – and about as close to one as I ever wanted.
I relished in being an only child. There was just nothing like a quiet house, an empty bed, and no one to share my candy with.
But Brutus I would share anything with, and in turn, he put his life on the line for me.
I must have been in the first or second grade when it happened. My parents were probably sleeping when I decided to go for a walk with my four-legged bodyguard.
Halfway up the street, I noticed the neighbour’s dogs were out and about in her yard – a bad set. I knew the routine. My parents had taught me a thousand times. Pick up a rock and pretend to throw it if they came near. That should keep me safe. It had always worked before
– but not today.
As I held my rock in hand, the dogs bared their teeth, growled, and crept closer. I took tentative steps backwards, while Brutus bristled beside me – ready to defend his mistress. I made no sudden movements. If we were slow and quiet, maybe we could tippie-toe back to the house.
But we would tippie-toe nowhere.
The first dog rushed to attack, and Brutus jumped in to defend me – blocking him off. All at once, the remaining legion of evil dogs rushed down on him. Like an idiot, I stood there neither throwing my rock nor running. Instead, I was screaming at them to stop and looking for a good angle to get into the mix and fight them, too.
About thirty seconds into the massacre, I finally heard Brutus’ painful yelp. He was hurt. I sprang into action and ran back to the house to get my parents. My mother made me wait inside, while my father went to collect what remained of our beloved pet.
I cried and wailed and sobbed and cursed the neighbour’s dogs. Why didn’t she ever keep them chained up if they were so terrible? Our yards didn’t have fences.
Finally, my father returned with Brutus breathing weakly in his arms – the dogs had torn his belly open, but he was still alive. There was still hope. Unfortunately, he was a little too alive for his own good, and before we could do much for him, he bolted.
It took days for us to hunt him down in the big open yard, and by then, he was rotting and infected. My father held him down and picked all those maggots out one by painstaking one.
It was gruesome and dirty work, but necessary. We nursed him to health, and after a while, he was the same old Brutus again. He seemed to forget all about his brush with death.
But not me – I never forgot.
A few short years later, my biological father’s penchant for getting in the midst of scandal forced us to move to the other end of the island. As we packed up all our things, I was excited to go on this new adventure with my four-legged friend by my side.
Then one day, I noticed Brutus didn’t come to eat and my parents hadn’t left food out for him. Then the next day came, and the next, and the next, and the next.
“Where’s Brutus?” I finally asked my mother.
“He’s gone,” she told me. “He knew we were moving away, so he went away by himself.”
That didn’t quite make sense to me. Why would he leave us, for any reason? More importantly – why would he leave me? “But didn’t he know we would take him with us?”
My mother’s eyes betrayed more than she could tell me. She turned away and changed the topic. Sometime later she confessed that he had passed away and that they had buried him in the backyard. I ran to the back of the house and started to dig in the dirt with my bare hands.
I would find him – if even just his bones, it had to be there. I didn’t know what death was. I didn’t know enough to be afraid of what I might find if I kept digging. But I never found him and eventually, I returned to my room and cried.
Years later, I would find out that Brutus never left us. Knowing they couldn’t take him with us, my father had put a bullet through his head. He was probably old by then, or perhaps it was just selfish. Whatever it was, I was angry. He was my dog and I felt like I should have been consulted.
I never forgot that either.
But with time, the sadness went away, and new dogs came into our lives from all over the island. After settling on old family land, my father was always finding new strays to take home – new rescues saved from terrible conditions.
There was Tyke, who he had jumped into a roaring ocean to save from drowning when he was just a puppy. He was the only survivor of his litter. Then we took in Ruff from a family who thought it funny to pour boiling hot liquid on helpless animals. And finally, we found Trouble – whose name sums up just about everything you need to know about him.
And then one day, someone poisoned them.
One by one the massive dogs grew ill and weak and passed away. Once again, Tyke was the last survivor of the litter. He drew his last breath under the cellar of our house, and never moved again. Without even knowing it then, I vowed I would never own another dog – and I didn’t.
At least, not until 2014. I started off volunteering at an animal shelter, where I met the most beautiful Labrador mix I had ever seen. He was all skin and bones and dirty – but all I saw was a dog I could bring home to rehabilitate and love.
During that time, my work with the animal shelter was just one of many charity and volunteer projects I took on. I trained and participated in charity runs, donated to several causes, and overall became very wrapped up in a culture and habit of giving back to my community.
I lived on so little on my Third World island – a whopping US$525 per month after taxes, courtesy of Xerox Business Services LLC. But I knew there were a lot of people – and animals – who had it far worse than me, so I did what I could to help.
That passion for volunteering was a third of the reason I created this blog. But after coming to the U.S., my volunteer work was put on hold for a number of reasons.
Recently though, I received an offer from ForceChange.com to assist with petitions for animal rights, environmentalism, and social equality. While this isn’t quite the same as running for mental health causes, or nursing dogs back to health at an animal shelter, it’s good to be doing something for the greater good yet again.
For those of you who are a little more intimate with my story, you may be wondering what became of Skittles after I left Jamaica. Well, unfortunately, I couldn’t take him with me. But he’s in good hands.
After nursing him back to health, and investing a year in training him, I re-homed him to a more well-to-do family who could provide him with the life I couldn’t. He’s a constant joy to them and the source of half their bragging rights.
He’s the son they always wanted.
And him? Well… he couldn’t be happier.
I’d love to tell you that there’s some powerful moral to sharing this story, but this week, I only want to remind us to be kind to animals, and more specifically, our pets.
If there’s anyone that will literally fight to the death to protect you – you can count on a dog, and even cats, for that. Don’t take their love and loyalty for granted, because in this life, selfless devotion is priceless.
Have a good week guys – you and your furry loved ones.