They were everywhere you went in South America, wandering around in their endless pursuit of food, water and a place to rest in.
Yet despite their numbers and rough overall appearance, they never really bothered anyone. And that was just fine by me. I would occasionally stop and admire one that was particularly easy on the eyes, but my interactions with them mostly involved shooing them away or simply stepping over one that was in the way.
The truth was, I’d never been a dog person. And although I did deplore seeing so many of them suffer on the streets, with their crooked legs and swollen bellies and raw, scar-covered snouts, I had little trouble brushing them away from my mind the moment I had walked past them. I mean what could I do, after all? It was just the way things were in South America.
“Can I have some of your ice-cream?” I asked the two girls half-jokingly as I kept badgering everyone at the hostel to sign up for a tour. It was to take place the next morning, but after a few last minute cancellations, the hostel had put me in charge of finding a few more people to make running it viable.
“Of course!” Said the taller one of the two. She spoke with a slight German accent.
“Do you have a spoon?” asked the other one.
“Do I look like I go around the hostel carrying a spoon in my pocket?” I laughed.
“Haha, well, you look crazy enough to do that. Here, you can use mine.”
The ice-cream was divine. Between mouthfuls of pure pleasure, I learnt that the two girls were travelling around the continent together for a few weeks, sharing their easy laughter and ice-cream with strangers. They decided to join me on the tour, and by the end of the night, had helped me recruit a few more people.
The dogs were already up and prowling the dark streets as our tour driver stopped for breakfast at a small market the next morning. I ordered the customary plate of rice and eggs from one of the food stalls. The girls did the same, except that they ordered three plates and put the extra one down on the ground.
“Are you going to feed them all?” I said, taking a mouthful of steaming rice.
“I know there is too many of them,” Said the taller one, gesturing towards the dogs who were already gathering around us. “But these ones here, they are not too many, are they?”
And that’s how they told me the story of them and a dog who had not been too many for them.
They had named her Pucky. They couldn’t remember why. Perhaps it was a play on the words perky and plucky. After all, a dog had to possess both of those qualities to have any chance of survival in the wilds of urban South America. She had started following them one day in Chile and had simply never left.
“But she was so happy and energetic that we simply couldn’t tell her to go away. We fell in love with her as soon as we saw her, and I guess that’s how she felt too.”
They both laughed as they recalled their troubles convincing bus drivers to let Pucky on their vehicles. But eventually, they became so skilled at it that they could sweet-talk their way onto any car and even into hostels. They showed me photos of the three of them on the streets of Chile, in their hostel rooms in Bolivia and waiting for buses in Peru. And finally, a photo of them hugging Pucky goodbye in a farm in Southern Peru, where the kind owner had agreed to take Pucky in.
The girls left the day after the tour. They were planning to visit Pucky on the farm before flying home out of Cusco and promised they would let me know how Pucky was getting by.
But a week later, I lost my phone, and along with it, their contact details.
I will never know if they managed to see Pucky again, or if she was doing okay on the farm. But what I do know is that we all have the ability to choose that our, or this world’s problems, are not too many. That we can help at least one Pucky out there.
And for that, I will forever be grateful to those girls, and to the dogs of South America.