How I made the heart-wrenching decision to travel the world and leave my pets behind
I love dogs. I always have. I love all animals in fact but, at a push, I’d call myself a dog person. When I left home for university and endured a 4-year dog-free existence, I decided that enough was enough. It was time to fill the puppy shaped hole in my life. Choosing which breed to go for was easy enough; I loved big dogs but knew it would be unfair to have one whilst I worked full-time, so wanted to find a compromise, something with small enough legs that it didn’t need long rambling walks twice daily, but a huge personality to make up for it. Enter the pug.
Pugs are often referred to by the Latin name ‘multum in parvo’ which means ‘much in little’. They are known for their fun-loving, clown-like personalities and their cheeky charm, but also renowned for being relatively lazy. Much like someone else I can think of (well they do say dogs are like their owners…) Pugs are also sociable little creatures so it didn’t seem right to only get one; if we’d be leaving them on their own for hours at a time, I wanted to make sure they had some canine companionship. Or at least that’s how I justified getting double the number of puppies to friends and family.
After a finding a responsible breeder who bred for health not looks, James and I quickly became the owner of two little bundles of personality – Baloo and Mowgli.
The months went by and the little bundles became bigger and bigger, until they were so much part of my life that I couldn’t remember what my days looked like before, couldn’t imagine not returning home to the chubby, cheeky affections of ‘the boys’.
All our decisions now revolved around the dogs – How long could we stay out on a night out? Where would they stay when we went on holiday? Could they come with us on a weekend away? – and we accepted this as part of the responsibility of dog ownership. Until one day, a decision came up that we just couldn’t get past:
We want to move abroad and travel the world…so what happens to the dogs?
Slowly, I was forced to accept that our dogs and our travel plans just didn’t mix. In the whole process of selling the house, saving up money, handing in my notice and saying goodbye, this was the only decision that caused me to falter. Could I really turn my back on the pets I’d poured so much love into for the last four years? After weeks of batting this question back and forwards, a conversation that would always deteriorate into tearful, guilty canine cuddles, I decided that we’d have to bite the bullet. In the back of my mind, the truth was lurking – the dogs weren’t going to be coming with us – and every time this ugly truth stirred, it broke my heart a little bit more. The stress of dragging this out for the months that led up to our departure would be too much to bear.
We called the breeder and asked if she knew anyone who would want to rehome our amazing little pets. In just a couple of days, we’d met with a couple who lived a few hours away in Norfolk. Working from home, they would have all the time in the world to give our pugs the attention and love they deserved. With a beach in spitting distance from their house, and a large, rambling garden, it sounded like the perfect place for the dogs to live out a long and happy life with a new family. But it was with a heart heavier than granite that we drove our dogs into the lush, British countryside and said our bitterly painful final goodbyes.
Flash forward 6 months and I’m living in Honduras, acting out the lifestyle that I wanted over the constraints of a mortgage, a desk job, a pair of loving but high-maintenance furry housemates. There are so many new experiences and new challenges in my life that it’s easier to forget how much I miss having a dog around…
On my first day off in Roatan, I travelled to the other side of the island to explore the mangroves. Whilst horsing around in the water, I cut my leg open pretty bad; the water surrounding me took on a pinkish tinge and one glance at the wound was enough to make me feel woozy. We jumped in the boat and chugged our way over to the nearest floating restaurant to find something to staunch the bleeding, and as soon as the boat pulled in to the landing dock I hobbled off and stretched out on a bench, arms dangling pathetically either side of me. Whilst my friends went in search of some sort of DIY first aid kit and began cleaning the wound I tried my best to think of anything but blood. I am incredibly squeamish when it comes to “insides” and even the thought of cuts and breaks can make me a little weak at the knees, so as I was trying desperately to keep my mind on happier things it came as a pleasant shock to feel something soft and warm rub up against my fingertips. Waggling my fingers around I latched on to a perfectly silky little ear and peered down to discover that the tiniest dog I’ve ever seen had wondered over in my minute of need to offer some compassionate companionship.
Once the wound was nicely covered up, I pronounced myself no longer a feint risk and sat up to get better acquainted with my self-appointed patter dog. Looking into her orb-like, world-weary eyes, I knew I was a goner, and spent the next happy half hour gently tickling her fragile little head as I cradled her in my lap. Her happy little snuffles accompanied by the occasional lick on my arm revived me more than iodine and a paracetamol ever could have. But, inevitably, time drew on and it was time to go, and I faced another tiny goodbye. That small injection of canine affection had been enough to remind me just how much I missed having dogs in my life.
Whilst one wound was beginning to close over, another had been prised open, and the memories of my wonderful pets came flooding back; how they careered through long grass on summer walks, their little legs working overtime as they leapt and bounded like gazelles with sausages for legs; how Mowgli would fall asleep with his chin resting on your outstretched fingers, or Baloo would try and blend in with the sofa to avoid discovery at bedtime; the nicknames we’d call them – MonkeyBear, The Krill, Piggy Smalls and 2 Fat – and the way their heads would tilt in perfect unison at the mention of “dinner”; the strange, ritualistic dance they’d do following a bath, rolling around on the sofa with their legs flailing in the air before breaking into the ‘pug run’ – tails extended flat out behind them like a rudder whilst the back legs tried their best to overtake the front.
Or how they’d force their way under your arm and onto your chest for optimum cuddles; the way they’d sleep tucked perfectly into one another like a furry yin and yang; or the times when I was home alone and spooked out and they’d pile into bed with me, cosying up under the duvet, their reassuring weight and warmth enough to keep the worst of my demons away for the night.
My dogs were more than just pets, more than just furry balls of entertainment, they were my friends. Saying goodbye to them, making the decision to leave them behind was, without a shadow of a doubt, the hardest part of planning to travel. They were there to celebrate some of our highest highs and offered a loving distraction during the lowest lows.
I wanted a change, I wanted to travel, and try as I might, I just couldn’t make my dogs a piece of the puzzle that my life was becoming. But, although I think that deep down I made the right choice, I can’t help but harbour a small, hard knot of regret that I can no longer call them my own. I miss them every day, and will never quite be able to forgive myself that I let such charismatic, entertaining and unique little personalities go. But I know that they’re happy, and so am I. And, for now, that’s enough.