This is Zorro.
He was a once stray, unloved pup, who we found on the streets of a small jungle city in Peru.
But nine months ago, he was sleeping in the road, surviving off what scraps he could find, weak and riddled with illnesses.
That was, until we decided he deserved a lot more than this.
I noticed him first as we whizzed past in a motorcar; I thought to myself that his body looked to be sinking into the ground he was that emaciated. From then, the next few days I kept on thinking about that ‘poor dog’ and at the first opportunity I got my hands on some left-over chicken (aka Marco’s lunch) I went looking for him.
Only a few metres from where I first spotted him, there he was, curled up fast asleep, precariously napping in the middle of the road. I called to him, he instantly looked up, his fluffy ears alert whilst he hurried over. The chicken was consumed within a matter of seconds and I was glad that at least for today, he wouldn’t go hungry.
Another week passed and on a rare day-off Marco and I decided to wander around the city in the immense midday heat. As we set off, I asked ‘Can we just go and feed a dog quickly first..?’ (for me, that's not really an unusual request). Arriving to his block, there he was, in almost the exact same position, his favourite spot - asleep in the middle of the road.
After calling him, he came over; those fluffy ears once again alert and friendly. We sat on the curb whilst he ate out of our hands until he could eat no more. Marco suggested we give him water, so I went over to the nearest shop to buy a bottle. After a few minutes being held up in the shop, (as the owner and her family insisted on studying my incredibly insect-bitten legs - blame a horrible microscopic mite called the ‘Isango’), we filled up a small plastic bag and let him drink from it. We must have refilled the bag about three times, until his insatiable thirst was quenched.
He stood by us, not really sure what to do with himself and us equally unsure what to do with him. This thick auburn fur was crawling with fleas, so much so, neither of us dared stroke him. Marco then suggested (to my delight) we take him to see a vet. We knew of one 24-hour vet which would be open on a quiet Sunday afternoon, just four blocks from where we were. So we set off walking, not sure whether the dog would or even could(!) follow us that far. But he did; walking very slowly and swaying from side to side, he even stopped with us at the traffic lights to cross. During this walk, I made a passing comment that his colour reminded me of a Fox (Zorro = Fox in Spanish) and from then on, his name stuck.
The Vet sprayed his fur to rid him of his fleas and within a few minutes the stainless steel table was covered with thousands of them. I could only think what an incredible relief that must feel like. He told us Zorro was only around 10 months old and that it was very possible he could have Canine Distemper; but this would need further testing.
Luckily, our landlord was happy to let Zorro stay, under one condition; that 'he doesn't make a mess!'. We assured him he would not! The next morning, we both woke at 5am, awoken by a mixture of excitement by the novelty of having a dog in our room and worry that he was going to wee on the floor. There was a long corridor to make it down before reaching the front door. I foolishly walked ahead quickly, thinking the dog would hurry along behind me with such haste. Unfortunately he didn't, managing to wee the entire length of the corridor and leaving the biggest puddle right outside the door to our landlords room. So that morning, I found myself at 5am(ish), blurry-eyed and half asleep; down on my hands and knees, mopping up dog wee as quietly as I possibly could.
In the days that followed this, we were at the Vets almost everyday; for blood tests, injections, intravenous drips (taking 4 hours each time) for his severe anaemia and dehydration, anti-parasite medicine and medical baths.
It was on the morning of day three when we saw the first little tail wag. We had just woken and looked over to him on the other side of the room, curled up on an old jumper of mine. We said 'Buenos días!' to him and his tail began tentatively wagging, he then came over to the bed to say hello. It was obvious then that he was starting to feel stronger and that his condition was improving. That moment made my heart sing a little and completely confirmed that we had done the right thing.
Jumping forward nine months, I cannot lie and say it’s been the easiest ride – because it hasn’t. Stray dogs don’t tend to come fully trained and perfectly sociable. They come more on the semi-wild side - or at least Zorro did. In this time he’s managed to: kill chickens, shit inside, eat soiled nappies, howled throughout many long nights, knocked toddlers flat on their face and stolen their toys, fought with other dogs and chased every single cat he's seen! It's been challenging.
But aside from all the above, we must give him credit as he has learnt to sit/stop/lie-down/wait on command and we continue to see improvements in his behaviour. Zorro demonstrates his gratefulness every single day, never letting either one of us go somewhere alone. He's become so incredibly friendly and known to many people around where we live. To everyone who enters our shop, you will be greeted by him, most probably by licking your bare legs(!) He even now has a group of dog friends who turn up to the shop everyday just to play. He's just a little ray of happiness and mischief in one and we adore him.
It is a sad reality that in places where people suffer; animals suffer further and Peru is no exception. Here, it's difficult to walk even a few blocks without passing a stray or abandoned animal. All they want is a loving home and if you have to means to provide this for them - it is an incredible gesture of kindness.
You will undoubtedly change their lives and in return, they will yours.
I cannot talk about stray Peruvian dogs without mentioning the work of an incredible woman called Ursula. Having adopted a street dog from the same city a year ago - who now lives with her in LA. Ursula has made it her mission to return frequently to help the remaining thousands of dogs and cats; many of whom are in desperate need of medical attention. With her team, they take animals off the street, heal them and find them loving new homes. They run very successful free campaigns to help local people care for their animals - continually spreading the message of love and respect for our four-legged companions. Ursula puts her whole heart into her work and quite honestly in a hero of mine.
For more information:
Find them on Instagram @projectstreetdog
And their fundraising page to donate, so they can continue their invaluable work: