September 22, 2023

The Choices We Didn’t Know We Were Making.

Last month, I hit a little dog with my truck.

I braked, but I couldn’t avoid the heart-sickening thump and the ensuing yelp, as I swerved into the oncoming traffic lane.

To be clear, the oncoming lane did not pose a threat to me. Rather, it was an invitation to avoid tragedy.

At eight in the morning, “traffic” on these two-lane rural highways in Nicaragua consists of repurposed school buses used as local public transport (aka chicken busses). “Traffic” means there are carts led by duel oxen or single horses; motorbikes piled with families of four, and rusted-out bicycles ambling along with single, non-hurried riders. School children, untethered pigs, and stray dogs mill about the muddy mid-rainy-season roads. And trucks like mine.

My truck also sports rust. It’s a 2002 diesel 4×4 Toyota Prado, with a solid engine and good brakes. Just maybe not good enough on this dewy, sunshine-y weekday morning.

It was a morning that had started off jovially—I was on route to the airport to pick up a large family group arriving in Nicaragua. We had plans and optimistic expectations for their first-time arrival.

And then, just like that, a tiny flash of blond fur darted into my peripheral line of sight. Brakes slammed, hands gripped the wheel, and a “no no no no No No NO NO” plea filled the inside of my truck as I did all I could to stop the movement of all that was in motion. My truck. The little dog. Time.

Just up ahead, I pulled over on the crumbling tarmac and into the greasy side where the green grass mingles with the well-traveled road. In the rearview, I could see the tan-colored dog on its back, its skinny legs shooting straight up into the air in shock.

I didn’t even think about my wallet, my cash, my phone, my computer—my valuables that were loose on the seats. I left everything open and ran back along the road toward where I’d hit her. There were a few local kids on the side of the road who had seen the whole terrible accident.

“Donde?” I shouted. “Donde?” Where is she?

As I approached, the little dog was no longer on the road.

I don’t remember if I saw the young kid run out into the road and pick up his pup, or if my panicked brain imagined that scene later on, but either way, that’s what happened. The pup’s owner was a kid, who’d witnessed the entire unfortunate thing and had run into the road to save his dog.

This section of the two-lane highway slopes back into grassy homesteads, and further back becomes jungle. The road cuts through a stretch of farmland that is lusciously green this time of year. Here, there were a few local, simple homes. The kind of local homes with dirt floors hidden behind muddy brick walls, and an entrance blanketed with overgrown rose-colored bougainvillea flowers, adding a quaint charm to the ruddy, muddy Nicaraguan farm. Scrawny chickens peck about, their feathers a mess.

I stepped onto the muddy front slope of the square house, so tiny it seemed more of a shed. There I saw the little boy, under a low, leafy tree, running water from a spigot in the yard over his injured pup. The little dog was bloody, and shaking, but alive.

Lo siento, lo siento, lo siento mucho,” I said, and “Venga su perrito.”

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I am so, so sorry. Bring me your pup.

The boy carried his dog to me, and said quietly, “No camanando”. She’s not walking. And we looked at the lanky, scrawny legs of this local Nica dog, wet, bloody, and thin.

What may look like a street-abandoned animal to us “gringos” is easily the beloved pet and much-loved member of the family sometimes. No collar, no shots, no tricks for treats. But there is no shortage of love and companionship between human and dog, and the day-to-day camaraderie that any dog owner living any way of life would understand.

I stroked the dog’s head and tried to look closely for wounds. There was a gaping hole in her chest and she wasn’t moving much.

Alright. I incited a frantic exchange of Spanglish. I told the young boy, who may have been 10 or 11 years old, that I would take the dog to the vet immediately. There was an animal hospital 20 minutes away. I could take care of the little dog, and maybe she would survive. Maybe she would be okay.

Returning with the boy carrying his dog to my truck, I realized the contents of my truck are ridiculous. I have a First Aid kit, a crate of engine fluids, a bucket I use for sea turtle rescues, empty coffee cups on the floor, an orange inflatable guitar bouncing in the back seat, old scissors in the center console, sanitizer, and a selection of towels draped in the back.

I reached for the biggest, softest towel, and the young boy and I wrapped the dog up, covered the parts that were bleeding as gently as we could, and made a small bed for the pup in the front seat next to me.

Quiere venga conmigo?”

Do you want to come with me?

I realized I had just asked a young kid who I was a stranger to, a stranger who had just run over his dog, to drive away with me—but…it’s different here in Nicaragua. More often than not, there’s no question about jumping into a stranger’s car when someone needs help, and another is offering to give it. It really is that simple.

But the kid couldn’t come—he had to go to school, he said.

And so I was off—driving away with this kid’s injured pup, curled up and quivering in the front seat next to me, my left-hand steering, my right hand resting on the back of her head, neck, and shoulders, trying to comfort her. She just lay still and bled.

By the time I reached the vet, I was in tears. My cat Tino has had her share of kamikaze missions, so I was familiar with this particular vet. He was kind, quick, and gentle as he carried the pup from my car, the towel soaked through with blood, to the operating table in the back of the hospital.

The poor pup.

My fellow pet owners will know what it’s like to look into the eyes of your dog, and the ocean of connection we feel when we do. When they look back at us with hope, worry, or concern—there’s an emotion flowing, a knowing trust in their eyes that is beyond words.

They sweetly look through to our soul. They connect their eyes deeply to ours, and whether with curiosity or playfulness, eagerness to be taken outside to play or to be fed their breakfast, or bone-shaking nervousness when they travel to see the vet. The emotion they emit is real. They look at us in ways that we just can’t deny, and seem to know what we’re thinking. They see us.

That’s what this little pup did with me as the doctor felt up and down those twiggy legs and examined the open, bleeding wound. The pup just turned her little head, big ears flopping, and leveled her soft brown eyes right at me, and locked in. Locked in innocently deep, questioning, and trusting.

Ohhh my heart.

How could things go so wrong so quickly? One impulsive jaunt into the street. One ill-timed glance at the rear-view mirror instead of looking straight ahead.

What if I had taken more time to finish my coffee that morning? Would that have created a bit of a delay so that my truck wasn’t speeding down the road at the same time the kid was out playing with his dog? I had left 15 minutes earlier than planned that morning. What if I had just stuck to my own schedule? Then I thought, what if it had been a child that ran into the street? Or a motorcycle I didn’t see?

The “what-ifs” start piling up if we let them. “What-ifs” for the worse and the “what-ifs” for the better. The worse lead to inevitable sadness that’s unfounded, but damaging nonetheless. The “what-ifs” for the better can lead to unrealistic expectations and a false sense of control.

It’s just not wise to allow the “what-ifs” to frolic in our minds.

I left the pup in the skilled hands of the vet and continued on my way to pick up my group, tears falling hard.

It wasn’t even an hour later that the vet messaged me with the good news that the scapula was broken, and had been cast, and the wound treated and dressed. The little dog was going to be just fine. Hurt, but alive. Which of course, led to an outpouring of more tears, relieved that the little girl was going to make it.

I don’t know if swerving (which I know you’re not meant to do) is the reason I hit her, or if swerving and braking saved her life, and only led to broken bones. There’s no way to know if my reaction helped her or hurt her.

Circling upwards and outwards, this is the way of life, isn’t it?

Do choices we make in a moment pave the way for a smooth ride, devoid of accidents and tragedies, or do our choices skid us off the road, taking others out with us?

How can we know where our choices will lead? It’s not often possible to connect a decision in one moment to the outcome in the next seemingly disconnected moment.

This inability to know which choice means what…this is crushing. To do all we can to aim for the good, then watch helplessly as bad things happen anyway.

The best we can do really is to look out for each other. Take care of one another if we see someone fall.

We can try to careen through this life unscathed, but when the terrible rises up, when it collides with us in motion, then the next thing any of us can do is try to repair what damage was done as well as we can. To fix things.

I wish this hadn’t happened at all. But if that license was granted, then there would be so much more in life I wish would never ever have happened.

But this story does end well.

The little pup, bleeding and shaking and small, was wrapped caringly in a tight, colorful cast, given some food, and all the medicine and love her little, rapid-beating heart could take.

She will heal, and be just fine, reunited with her boy soon enough.

And the takeaway from this story for us? Aw, man. Just to do the best we can. Even when we don’t know where our choices will lead us exactly. Even when we collide with others in this hectic, fast-paced life.

Just do the best we can.


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