The streets of Albania are filled with skinny, stray dogs. Qerret is no exception. They hang out on the beach, by the markets, and in the shade on the side of the road. Some of the dogs have “owners” who toss the day's scraps to them, but most of them wander from garbage to garbage. They are usually very wary of people, because Albanians are known for abusing stray dogs. I've seen kids walk up to strays and throw things at them or swing at them, for no reason but some strange fun. They even mistreat dogs with owners. We took Anja to the beach one evening and two young girls started chasing her and playing with her. They clearly liked Anja, and there was no doubt she belonged to us. However, when Anja took a break from running to catch her breath, the girls would get impatient and throw sand and garbage at her to make her run again.
There was one dog living under a bulldozer on the beach. We saw him almost everyday, and when he saw Anja, even from a distance, he would yelp and whine and run away with his tail between his legs. Anja just wanted to play, but he was terrified. One day, when we were eating at a restaurant on the beach, I saw him walking nearby. He looked very young and super hungry. I walked over with a piece of bread but he ran away. I threw the bread as close to him as I could and then went back to the restaurant. We did this a few times and then finally, he ran up to me and took the bread out of my hands. I started petting him and he was so excited that he peed (on me). We played for a while and then he bolted over to Anja, who was standing at attention, and they played for the next hour. We gave the puppy a lot more food and water and then went back home.
Then, we saw the puppy everyday. Every time he saw us, he barked and hesitated to come to us, but I would call him and whistle and he would run over and pee and play and eat. I loved him so much. Just after one little day I loved him. I begged Fabian to let us take him but he said no. He said it would be too much. I named him Dash.
One day when Anja and Dash were playing, we noticed that Dash's gums were bleeding. Fabian worried that he was sick and that he could make Anja sick. “Remember what the vet said before we left? He said they have different diseases in the Balkans. Between Hungary and Greece.” We decided to split them up, which is no easy job. Fabian and I walked far down the beach, with Anja in Fabian's arms. I clapped Fabian's sandals together in Dash's face and yelled, “Cutch! Cutch!” which is Albanian for “go away.” He knew what I was saying. Everyone says it to him. So he hunched down, raised his eyes to me, turned and ran away. That broke my heart. A few hours later, when we were walking home, we saw Dash laying half in the sun and half in the shade, completely asleep by the lounge chairs we were sitting in when he and Anja were playing. Broke my heart again.
I begged Fabian some more. I even cried this time. But he said no. He told me we could take him to a pound but I knew there was no pound. The next day, I saw Dash on the beach. He started running over to me and an Albanian boy saw him and picked up a piece of wood. I asked my friend Rudina to tell him not to throw it. He threw it anyway and almost hit Dash. I got in his face and yelled, “No! No! No!” but that just made him laugh.
That night, I found a shelter in Vlore, about 30kms from Qerret. Protect Me Organisation for Animal Protection in Albania was founded in 2012. The owner, Liljana, and takes dogs off the street, rehabilitates them, and finds them homes. I wrote her an email explaining our situation and asked if she would take Dash. I waited for an answer for two days, and in those two days, I didn't see Dash once. I even went looking for him. His house, the bulldozer, was gone, and most of the area was worked over. The area by a dumpster he frequents was completely under construction. I called for him but he doesn't know his name. It was hot and dry and empty on the beach.
This evening, I asked Fabian to come out with me and look for Dash. We brought Anja with us because I was half expecting not to find him. When we were a few minutes away from the beach, I heard something in the tall grass and I said, “Maybe that's Dash.” Fabian agreed and I started calling him and whistling. Fabian saw him first. Then I saw him and by then, we both knew he was badly hurt. He was barking and whining, and limping towards us as fast as he could. He was holding up his back leg. I went over to him saying, “No, no, no,” and I opened up the dog treats I had brought for Anja. He ate the whole pack in three seconds. He kept crying and whining and I cradled him as best I could without hurting him. “We have to take him,” I said. I picked him up and Fabian went ahead with Anja to get a towel for him.
He didn't cry when I held him. He wagged his tail, actually. And rested his head on my chest, with his face pointing up at me and his nose on my chin. I told him I loved him and that he was alright. I also told him we were going to give him all the food we had. He whined once when I touched his foot, but otherwise, he just let me hold him.
Back at the house, Fabian wrapped him in a towel and put him in a big bucket on the porch. It kept him on his side instead of on his foot. I gave him a bowl of water and a bowl of food, and then another bowl of water after he finished all of it. He was starving and thirsty. It might have been two days since he was hurt. I stayed with him for about an hour. I pet him and encouraged him again. I was so sad that he was hurt, but I was so, so, so happy that we found him. I am so grateful that we found him.
He's in the bathroom now. The ground is tiled and cool, and if he goes to the bathroom we can clean it up. He has water but I had to stop giving him food because he's had so much. I don't want him to get sick. We're going to Vlore tomorrow to take him to “Protect Me.” I hope they'll take him. Keep Dash in your thoughts, please!