The desert was an unending scene out the back windshield of the car. Movement in the dull landscape was only discernible by the flicking lane lines and the receding mountains far in the distance. To my left were three Chilean men and two Chilean women.
A moment before I ran to the middle of the road holding a bleeding Savannah and waved them down. The Chileans hurried us into the back and strapped my cart to the top of their SUV.
The most outgoing of the Chilean men wore a shirt patterned with marijuana leafs and sat in the back right seat. Sometimes he turned to say something to me, but the Chileans spoke a difficult Spanish to understand and I wasn’t in the mindset to answer with a thoughtful reply, I could only think of getting Savannah to a vet.
I kept a hand to Savannah’s nose, attempting to halt the blood with a bundle of toilet paper. But the blood overflowed. She’d hemorrhaged and there was no coagulation, the blood drained from her like water. My shirt was soaked red. My arms were twists of bloody streaks.
She was losing too much blood. She was going to die. I could already see in her eyes how weak she was.
Where had I misstepped? We avoided the worst of the heat. We’d taken a two hour rest at midday, but immediately upon standing something popped in her nose and the blood began. Should I have waited longer? Should we have been walking at night?
But we’d walked through worse before. Texas was hotter. El Salvador was hotter. Costa Rica was a nightmare. We’d gotten through them all. What was different about Chile? Why couldn’t I stop her bleeding?
Savannah and I met in Austin four months after I started The World Walk. After a hundred nights spent camping in whichever hiding spot I could find I came to realize why man and dog had evolved together. It was for protection. Many nights I was kept stark awake listening for something approaching. With a dog I’d be able to sleep while she listened. And when passing through populated areas a dog would provide some deterrent for would-be muggers.
I found myself at Austin Pets Alive!, squatting by a cage looking in on two mangy pups; one purple and black, the other a mixture of skin tones. After spending two hours around the adoption center trying to make a connection with discarded pits and boxers the soft faces of two puppies were a welcome sight.
The puppies were brought in only minutes before. Someone had found them cowering on the side of the highway and called Austin Pets Alive! to pick them up. The sign on their cage wasn’t typed up like it was for the other dogs, in sharpie it read: Tara and Lou-Lou, Breed: Australian Shepard, Age: 2-4 months. Usually there was health and behavioral history for the dogs too, but Tara and Lou-Lou were too new.
A middle-age woman smelling profoundly of dog squatted beside me. She had blonde hair sapped of nutrients from being colored regularly throughout a lifetime.
“Australian Shepards are a brilliant breed,” she said. “I have two already. Best dogs I’ve ever owned, endless energy and so freaking smart. All I have to do is wave to them and they come running.”
I looked to the puppies with heightened interest. High-energy and smart, that’s what I needed. “They have long hair though don’t they?”
“Oh yes. They lose hair like they’re caught in a wind tunnel.”
I nodded, thinking of all the other dogs I’d been looking at. Short hair was preferable. A short-hair breed would be cleaner in the tent and be able to stay cooler in the sun. None of the short-hair breeds appealed to me though. I asked to see one of them, a muscular grey-haired pit of two years named Rocket. There was a yellow sticker on his paper – some behavioral problems, but of generally good health. I figured since he was only two I could still work out his bad habits.
With a worker I took Rocket into the play area. I kept myself at his height and stroked his side, trying to catch his eye to make some sort of connection. Rocket ignored me. He was watching a dog walking by on a leash and when the dog came close enough Rocket charged the fence as though he’d caught sight of his woman with another man.
He was too aggressive for me. I knew I wanted a dog, but Rocket wasn’t the one.
Still, I wasn’t sold on the puppies either. They were cute, of course. And if I were living in Austin I would have snatched one of puppies immediately, but taking a puppy on the road was a different story. I’d have to tend to the puppy for months until it was trained and could walk a full day with me. It would need leash training, potty training, it probably meant pushing the puppy in my cart when it couldn’t walk any further. That was a lot.
The advantage however was once the puppy was grown it would know only me and life on the road. We’d be living the same life, passing every hour of every day together. In time she’d become needy for hour long walks and uncomfortable with a homebound existence.
I called my mother with my dilemma – adult or puppy?
My mother didn’t vote one way or the other. She said any adoption was going to be a gamble, but adopting a puppy was slightly less so, a puppy would be tougher in the beginning but would be more likely to take on my personality in the long run.
I went back to Tara and Lou-Lou.
“Such beautiful puppies,” the woman with the straw-like hair said.
“Are you going to adopt one?” I asked.
“I shouldn’t. My husband wouldn’t want me to bring home a third dog, but I’m seriously considering it. And it’s now or never, there’s always a rush of people here after work, these puppies won’t see a single night here. That’s a good thing though.”
I squatted beside the woman. Tara and Lou-Lou were pressed against each other in the concrete corner. Their short hair was spiked from recent baths and their eyes were as wide as you’d expect from caged animals. I wanted to reach out and tell them they’d be alright.
“You can look at the tan one,” the woman said, half-jokingly. “I’m going to adopt the black one.”
I’d been focusing on the black one. She was a beauty, her hair purple behind the ears and not as mangy as her sister, but I shifted my gaze to the tan pup.
“Can I see her?” I asked a worker standing nearby.
“The tan one.”
The cage was opened and Lou-Lou was brought around to me in the arms of the worker.
“She’s not allowed to touch the ground outside the cage until she’s had all her vaccinations.”
Lou-Lou was surprisingly heavy, a bulky little thing. Her hazel eyes flitted around, clearly not enjoying being apart from her sister or held above the ground.
I tried to feel something for her. If I was going to adopt her I thought I should. I looked her in the eyes and stroked her head. Just like Rocket, Lou-Lou ignored me. But where Rocket was distant, Lou-Lou was helpless, and that endeared her.
After only a few minutes my arms were tired so I passed Lou-Lou back to the worker.
“She’s such a wonder,” said the straw-haired woman, so clearly enjoying every moment spent around a dog. “You should adopt her, I can see you have a connection. You’d be a wonderful dog owner.”
“I hope so,” I said absentmindedly.
Calculations were burning through my mind. Adult or puppy? I couldn’t see the path clearly. The months I’d spent imagining what it’d be like to have a dog with me I only ever considered getting a grown dog. The idea of getting a puppy hadn’t even occurred to me. I wanted to go back to my cousins to sleep on it, but knew I couldn’t. Like the woman said the puppies wouldn’t spend a single night at the adoption center, they were too desirable.
I went to a bench to think. Around three sides of the bench were cages holding the adult dogs. Tara and Lou-Lou were set apart from the adults as a way to keep them protected from kennel cough and other infections. My gaze swept over the dogs I’d spent two hours taking notes of. I’d examined their medical and behavioral records, marked potential adoptees in my phone, and weighed my options as objectively as possible.
But I didn’t want a single one of them and I wanted that puppy. I wanted Lou-Lou. I wanted to get a dog that would know nothing but me and the road, a dog that would grow with me, become an extension of me.
“Mam.” I stood and waved to a passing worker. “I’d like to adopt Lou-Lou.”
“The tan puppy that was just brought in. Around back.”
“Oh wonderful! Come up to the office and I’ll have someone bring her to you.”
Twenty minutes later I was filling out the adoption paperwork with Lou-Lou nestled on my lap. A college student sat at the desk beside me with Lou-Lou’s sister, Tara. Both Tara and the girl had rich black hair and brown eyes. They were a good match.
Beside them, I felt oddly fated to be holding Lou-Lou. So many things had to align for me to be at the correct adoption center at the correct time. If I started The World Walk a day later, if that dog-loving woman hadn’t said she was interested in Tara, or if I decided not to make one last lap around the adoption center…
I signed the final piece of paper passing ownership of Lou-Lou to me and felt the sudden weight of responsibility. It was a weight I’d always been wary of. Responsibility wasn’t a thing to be taken lightly. I started to worry. I prayed I made the right decision, that I’d be able to take care of Lou-Lou as well as she deserved.
Hot tires searing over hot asphalt in the Chilean desert and I had to contort my legs to find a bearable position in the back of the car. I’d been packed in with piles of car parts. I put my feet on the giant gears of an axle and adjusted myself to lean against a muffler. The muffler wasn’t such a bad backrest since it gave a little in the middle.
I kept Lou-Lou tight in my arms. She’d grown a year and been given a new name, and despite being covered in hair she was somehow pale. The paleness was in her eyes, they had the resigned look of a sick child. My heart broke looking at her.
What killed me was that there was nothing more I could do. I’d waved down the car the moment I realized her nosebleed wasn’t coagulating, I used up all the gauze in my first aid kit trying to stifle the blood, but I was in the middle of nowhere. I had no more resources. There was no Walgreens or Vet around the corner. I didn’t even have cell service to look up emergency ways to stop a nose bleed.
The monotony of walking everyday had made me forget what a tremendous task I was undertaking. I’d forgotten crossing hundreds of kilometers of desert wasn’t a common thing because it wasn’t an easy thing.
The stony-eyed young man in the backseat turned to me. “Forty minutes, my friend.” He tapped at his wrist although he wore no watch.
The car couldn’t drive fast enough.
The two girls in the backseat were turned to watch Savannah. Both had their head leaned against the other’s. “Poor baby…” said one of them.
I stroked Savannah’s back, my hand so covered in blood I painted Savannah’s hair. “It’s alright baby girl.” I kissed her forehead. “We’re almost there, we’ll be there soon, we’re almost there.”
Savannah’s eyes weakly flicked to mine. She trusted me. I prayed I wouldn’t let her down.