March 28, 2012. It’s the middle of the week, Wednesday, and I’m going for a jog. I pull on my clothes, lace up my shoes, put my iPhone in my armband and my earbuds in my ears. As I stretch, I decide I want to go a full 5k, so I need to exit our winding little neighborhood and hit the main road, ZhuGuang. If I jog straight down to the hospital and back, I’ll hit roughly three miles. There are plenty of side roads, too, if I get bored going down the wide boulevard.
I normally don’t get too bored, though. Jogging down the boulevard gives me plenty of things to see and watch as I go, even in Hsinchu, even at night. The side lanes, sheltered from the main traffic by narrow plots of grass, will keep me safe from crazy drivers.
Earbuds in, I open our big front door and step into the night. Taiwan’s pollution isn’t great for a person’s health, but neither is obesity. Off I go.
I slowly jog to the end of the lane, wait at the light, then cross YanPing Lu to the mouth of ZhuGuang. Tonight I’ll go along the left side, the side where you can see the rice paddy stretching out a few blocks west.
A quarter of a mile into my jog and I pass the junkyard by the rice paddy. A few people are standing outside talking, and they smile and stare as the foreigner jogs past.
As I cross their path, a small black puppy bounds past them and toward me. It couldn’t be more than a couple of months old. I try to ignore it to encourage it to return to the people, but it follows me. I stop, turn around, and pantomime to the people that their puppy is following me. They look confused. It’s not theirs.
Oh, no, I think.
I continue my jog, praying the puppy stops following me and returns to her family. Every time I turn around, she’s gleefully behind me, looking at me, wanting attention. Panicking, I turn around, hoping that going past the junkyard again will make her go back to her dog family. I speed up. I try to lose her.
I can’t adopt her. My mind is racing, and my heart is breaking.
If she gets hit by a car following me, what will I do? What if she gets lost and can’t find her way? What if, what if, what if?
Back on our street, I briefly turn and don’t see her. I’m relieved.
A bit further down, I instinctively turn around again to check for traffic. There she is, happily trotting behind me.
My heart is in my stomach. I reach the house and sit on my parked scooter outside our walled-in front entry. She sits behind me on the concrete. By this time I’m crying, begging her to leave. I can’t take her. All I want to do is sit cross-legged on the dirty ground and love on her, but I can’t.
I can’t won’t stop screaming through my head. It’s debilitating, and I’m frozen, unable to decide what to do.
Finally, ten minutes later, I stand up, open the gate, let myself in, and lock her out. She immediately starts crying. I escape inside the house, lean against the door, and cry, too.
Up the three flights of stairs to my room, and I can still hear her. I’m freaking out, and reconsidering my actions. Maybe I can take her. Can I? Can I?
She stops crying, and I climb the stairs to the roof. Silently, I creep to the edge and look down to find her. The neighbor is petting her.
Okay, I think. She’s safe. She’s okay. I’m reassuring myself, albeit poorly.
The next morning, I can’t stop thinking about the puppy. After work I walk the neighborhood, trying to find her. I want to make sure she’s okay. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I find her, but the longer I look without any sign of her, the more heartbroken I am.
She’s nowhere to be found. Where did she go? Is she okay?
Then, some days later, I’m on the roof again, reflecting. Across the street, in our neighbor’s tiny front porch, I see something. The puppy.
I call down to her, and she sits, just as she did behind my scooter. She sits, staring up at me, her tail wagging furiously. She’s happy to see me.
That was over two years ago.
Before I left Taiwan in August 2012, I frequently looked down at the puppy, now taking up residence on my neighbor’s patio. I desperately wanted to go over and love on her, but I never did. As far as I could tell, she spent all her time on that patio. She didn’t go inside, or for walks. She was just… there.
In April 2014, I went back to Taiwan to visit. We stayed in my old room in my old house. I went to the roof, looked down, and there she was. She was bigger. She noticed me and held my gaze. I felt like she recognized me, but was no longer happy to see me.
I’ve been in animal rescue since early 2011. We like to say that an animal will choose you, that you know when you meet the right dog. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a special connection between human and animal when an animal immediately, explicitly trusts you. Loves you. Chooses you.
The puppy chose me.
I abandoned her.
Before we left Taiwan this past April, I went to the roof with my camera and took a picture of her. As she lay there, I composed the shot. My heart was numb.
She lifted her head to look at me. I held my breath. She put her head back down, bored. I no longer mattered to her.
This is the picture of the puppy, now between two and three years old. This is likely the last time I’ll ever see her, as my former roommates moved out of the house this past June.
I have a hard time looking at this picture. It breaks my heart. I regret that night, and I wish it had never happened.
I keep it to remind me not to let it happen again. If another dog ever chooses me, I can’t say no.
Happy birthday, teacher Mandy!
😀 Thank you!
This is absolutely heartbreaking. I feel your remorse. It could have been worse, though. At least someone took her in.
Most everyone involved in rescue back in Taiwan think she’s better off now – she’s safe, healthy, and fed. That’s a better fate than most Taiwan dogs get. My trouble is that I imagine the kind of life I would’ve given her, and that comparison is what gets me every time.
It was an important lesson for me to learn, even if it sucked, even if I still feel the guilt. So I guess I should be thankful for that.