Juno is my dog, a mexican street dog. I thought I was saving her when I coaxed her into my car two years ago. But I was wrong.
Juno was the saddest, thinnest dog I have ever laid eyes on. Thin isn’t the right word. She was emaciated, so weak from starvation she wobbled, a walking skeleton with some skin stretched on top. I first saw Juno on a rainy, cold summer day in the mountains outside Mexico city. She was standing along the side of road, nose to the ground, looking for garbage to eat. I noticed her because she is a dalmation and her spots were hard to miss. Dalmations are popular in Mexico. People sell dalmation pups by the bucketful, along the sides of roads, in lines of traffic at toll booths. Dalmations are popular until they grow up. Then they get tossed. I’d see them all the time, wandering the streets, lost, hungry, ill-equipped for the scavenger life. Juno was just another abandoned dog, but somehow worse. The word that comes to mind is desolate. She seemed like a dog that had just about given up on the world. And she was a mama. Her full teats hung low off her bony frame. That first time I saw her, I pulled over and tried to get her to come to me but she wouldn’t approach. So I left her a pile of dog food and drove on.
Every few weeks, I’d see her again. Thinner, sadder, wasted. I thought of her often. I gave her a name. Once, I tried to follow her and find her pups. She wouldn’t move while my eyes were on her. Then one day, I’d had enough. I figured her pups, wherever they were, must be grown or dead. I needed to end Juno’s suffering. I went looking and found her, wandering along the road, searching, once again, for scraps of garbage. I made a path of hot dogs that led to my car. I shoved her into the backseat as she tried to grab the food inside. That’s how Juno arrived in my life.
For weeks Juno huddled in our laundry room, snarling at anyone who approached except me. She was paralyzed by fear and tortured by stomach problems as a result of her advanced starvation. She’d cringe when I lifted a hand to touch her. She had endured many beatings, I could tell. But Juno seemed to understand that I was her friend. I was the only one who could get near her. It was a beginning. A place to start to heal.
This past summer, I left México and moved to a small farm in Maryland. I live on a hill, surrounded by trees and pasture. It is quiet. In the summer, the air smells of grass and leaf. At night, the stars shine strong in the sky. I have horses and take long morning walks in the woods. Juno has been with me for two years now and she cannot get enough of this new life. She is young and strong again, and often, I see happiness move through her body like a wave, as she runs through the woods, or rolls in the creek like a pup.
Juno’s joy is my antidote to the sadness of this world. When I read of the Taliban shooting a girl in the head because she desired an education, or of deadly hurricanes spawned from climate change, or any of the other endless atrocities of this world, it feels like there will never be an end to the darkness, the bad news. The problems seem insurmountable. But then I look at Juno and feel better. This is the gift that street dogs give us, that Juno gave me. They forgive. They heal. They respond to love. They let us help them. That’s it, more than anything. She allowed me, in some small way, to make a difference, to change a life for the better. Of course, I wish for more, I want a kinder world for my children, for all the children. But when I look down at my dog, curled at my feet, and she looks up at me with her big brown eyes and gives a thump or two with her tail, I think, I’ve done this at least. I’ve made this dog happy. It feels good.