A few days into our journey I passed through a tiny village and stopped by the roadside to drink water. A big black dog, with a goofy smile on his face and tail wagging, was on his belly with both paws stretched out in front, inching his way playfully towards Maria.
Just as I had spotted an open wound on his head, Maria bared her teeth and growled a warning and he ran away scared. Eager to get Maria to Dogs in Brazil, I thought about getting on my bicycle to continue, but I knew an open wound left untreated, was serious for a street dog in a tropical country because of the likelihood of maggot infestation. I had already witnessed horrific cases from dogs rescued by Dogs in Brazil.
I decided to search for the black dog and walked my bike and Maria back through the village to make sure he was okay. I eventually found him and at first he cowered away from me. I could see he was missing an ear and in it’s place was a hole into his head, which had infected gunk oozing out. One of his eyes was injured and he was infested with ticks and fleas which covered his whole body. The stench coming from him made me gag.
I held my breath and knelt down beside him, speaking softly and cupping his face gently in my hands. He responded with a wagging tail. The infection and smell was so bad, I knew he had been like this for some time and needed treatment. Again, I took a deep breath and held it to avoid the stench and ignoring the fleas and ticks, I pulled him in, to give him a big cuddle. That was all it took. I had gained his trust. Although black dog needed a vet, the nearest town was the one Maria and I had left earlier that day. I had no mobile phone reception to check if there was a vets there but it was a chance I would have to take.
It was a difficult situation. I knew the only way to reach the vets, would be to cycle with both dogs, but both needed to be kept separate, until I knew black dog didn’t have heart worm or some other infectious disease.
I decided it was best to cycle with black dog in the trailer with Maria walking beside us. I had a strong bond with Maria, we had already travelled together and I knew she would be fine. I threw some of Maria’s food into the trailer and black dog jumped in. He began gobbling the food, taking no notice as I zipped the trailer closed, leaving the head space open. I waited for him to finish and he turned round and stuck his head out. I petted his head and told him he was such a good boy and not to worry because we were helping him. He made no effort to escape or get out the trailer and just accepted fully what was happening.
I crouched down to Maria and explained softly, we had to help this dog. That he was like her and we couldn’t leave him like this to suffer. I knew she wouldn’t understand my words but I always found when working with street dogs, if I took time to speak to them, they settled into whatever was happening, with no fuss.
I got on my bike and was just about to set off when a man on a motorbike pulled up beside us. He told me I couldn’t take black dog. In my limited Portuguese, I explained that he needed to see a vet but still the man insisted I couldn’t take him. There was no way I was leaving this dog in the state he was in. I repeated firmly that I was taking the dog to a vet and began pedalling away slowly. I was relieved the man didn’t follow and so began the slow journey back to town.
Before reaching the town I used Google Maps, to find a vet, but it was closed when we arrived. There was a market next door and I went in to buy some antiseptic gel for my hands. I asked if the vet had an emergency service but was told no and to come back the next morning.
Back out on the street, I realised I had nowhere else to go. I knew no hotel would accept me with a dog in such an infested state, so I sat down on the pavement, knowing I had no other option than to wait there until the vets opened.
It was going to be a long night and I planned to sit awake all night. I put a lead on black dog and tied him to the trailer and then sat a little distance away with Maria, making sure to use the antibacterial gel on my hands, arms and face. Black dog was so thirsty and I’d never seen a dog drink so quickly. But I limited his food and water as I didn’t want him to get sick.
Staff from the market came out and handed me an antibacterial spray for black dogs’ wound but refused payment. I was so thankful for their consideration and kindness. Then night time fell, the market closed and we were left alone, on our pavement, with only town centre traffic passing by.
I posted a video on Facebook of our situation. Within minutes it was being shared by cyclists I’d met along the way. Then local people picked up on the post and it was being shared in local Facebook groups. People began to arrive. Complete strangers, all carrying food and water. I couldn’t believe it. The police arrived to make sure we were okay and said I could use the bathroom in their building down the street. A family arrived and offered us to camp in their garden, but they had a dog and so I refused. A few local animal warriors arrived and remained with us, until I insisted they leave in the early hours of the morning, as they were exhausted. I am still in contact with these big hearted people, I met that night and am forever grateful.
The town’s people made me feel so safe, I actually got my travel air mattress out and lay down when it was close to dawn, and even though I didn’t sleep, it was good to be off the hard concrete.
When the vets opened I was disappointed … they only dealt with farm animals. I got directions to another vet and put black dog back in the trailer and cycled with Maria beside, controlling her with my voice, through the rush hour morning traffic. I am always so thankful to Maria for being such a good dog. I had spent the last few years wanting a dog but knowing my lifestyle meant I’d probably never find a fit. But Maria and I fitted perfect as human dog companion.
We got to the vets and he did a blood test and treated black dog for his ticks, fleas, cleaned his wound and gave antibiotics. He told me that black dogs injuries had been caused by a large animal and he would have the blood results back the same day.
I didn’t know where I could go in this busy town centre with two street dogs, whilst keeping them apart from each other and other dogs. So I sat down in a corner of the vets car park and waited. I hadn’t slept, or washed and I was exhausted. But the kindness shown to us by locals filled me with appreciation, which made everything so much better.
A family arrived to make sure we were okay and to translate if needed. When they realised we were sitting on the concrete ground of the carpark they offered us their spare ground floor apartment. It was newly built and so was unfurnished. They drove slowly, whilst we followed behind. I just couldn’t believe their kindness. They showed us around the luxury apartment, then left and returned with even more food.
I set up my mat and sleeping bag and drifted in an out of sleep for a few hours, with Maria sleeping beside me and black dog sleeping in the shade of the garden, enclosed by a high wall.
I received messages on Facebook, that I was to return the dog to the village straight away, as someone saying she was his owner had come forward. She was very angry I had taken him from the streets and I was filled with anxiety as I read her posts. But I couldn’t make sense of it. If black dog had an owner, why was he in such a terrible state. I knew from the stench of him and all the beasties over him he hadn’t been looked after. I checked her social media and whilst I saw photos of her with other dogs in her home I saw none of black dog. I honestly didn’t know what to do and for the first time felt a little fearful.
We returned to the vets for the results and the family and an animal activist came too to translate. The vet told us that apart from the injuries, black dog was a healthy dog. But as with Maria, I had a bad feeling that I just couldn’t shake.
I called Jan, one of the founders of Dogs in Brazil and explained the situation I was in. She reiterated the state black dog was in and that he hadn’t received medical attention. I asked if I could bring black dog as well as Maria and she whole heartedly agreed. To have backing from one of the worlds foremost experts in street dogs in a tropical countries, gave me the strength to do what was right.
Donations were coming in from the World Bike Girl online community, which was amazing and I used to pay the vets fees. Cyclists who had hosted me in a previous town, arranged a ridiculously low price for a taxi driver, to transport myself, the dogs and all my gear to Dogs in Brazil. Word was spreading about our departure and the towns’ people arrived to say goodbye and wish us well. Just as the taxi arrived, the ‘owner’ too arrived demanding I give black dog back. She explained she fed the street dogs in her village and she loved black dog. (His name then was Portuguese for Wolf). I thanked her for feeding the street dogs. The local people stepped in and explained to her that if she loved black dog she would let him go. That he wasn’t receiving the medical care he needed. She agreed and said goodbye to black dog.
I asked the World Bike Girl community to come up with a name for black dog and Murphy got the most votes and so he was named, as he wasn’t responding to his Portuguese name of Wolf.
As soon as we arrived to Dogs in Brazil, full blood tests were taken for both Maria and Murphy. Both had advanced tick disease. Murphy was given a few weeks to live and Maria was in an even worse state and was giving just 2 weeks, until she was dead. Treatment began straight away. Dogs in Brazil offered us their visitor accommodation where volunteers can stay. Most volunteers are visitors to Rio de Janeiro and donate a few days of their holiday to Dogs in Brazil shelter, having an incredible experience, whilst making a positive contribution to the country they are visiting. If you would like to volunteer at Dogs in Brazil click here.
The World Bike Bike Girl community, raised all the money for both dogs treatment. Murphy’s ear healed. But it turned out he had been shot and had shot gun pellets all over his head. Murphy had no vision in his damaged eye and his body was beginning to reject this eye. Dogs in Brazil used their contacts to discuss with specialist surgeons about the possibility of saving his vision but this was out of the question. With expert advise I made the decision to remove Murphy’s eye. Inside they too found shot gun pellets. I nursed Murphy after his operation and it was heart breaking to see the big black stitches and swelling and to know a human had caused this. I understand the problems faced by street dogs, but something I will never understand is people deliberately harming them. Brazil has sickening rates of torture and rape to street dogs.
Murphy deserved his happy ever after. Being blind and deaf on one side meant he was in no way suited for my life on the road and being 8 years old he needed an easy life. A Scottish family came forth and offered to adopt Murphy.
Murphy and Maria both arrived to Scotland at the end of February.
I’ve never shared the identities of Murphy’s adopters online, nor have I shared any photos or videos of them together in their new life. This is to protect the identities of the two sons who are adopted. Both boys helped in fundraising efforts and did a sponsored run and took local dogs out for walks in return for donations, both are a true inspiration. One has cerabal palsy and it’s amazing to see how he lives life to the fullest and doesn’t allow anything to hold him back.
The family adore Murphy and he them. It’s turned out a perfect fit but then I knew it would be. At first, like many street dogs, Murphy couldn’t work out glass doors. He tried over and over to walk through the closed door, not realising the one beside was open and he could walk through. He follows his family everywhere and loves playing with teddies, throwing them into the air and catching. He is a celebrity in his wee village and everyone loves him. I am so thankful to everyone in the village for helping with fundraising and giving Murphy such an amazing happy ever after.
Maria is with me and we are about to begin the 96 mile long West Highland Way walk in Scotland. Everyone around Maria has fallen head over heels with her too. When I went to this years Cycle Touring Festival, friends became dog walkers for the weekend as old Jack is recovering from a broken back. When I returned, they didn’t stop dog walking because they fell in love her so much and every few days arrive to take her for a big walk.
I am so thankful to Lucy, the first street dog I rescued. Because of her, I always follow my gut instinct with animals and so far I’ve never been wrong. If it wasn’t for her, Maria and Murphy would both be dead. It’s incredible how one dog’s life can have such a positive affect on so many others.
Such a happy ending would never have been possible, without everyone’s help and I want to say THANK YOU to each and everyone of you. To those who helped on the street, to those who donated, to those who shared social media posts and of course a huge thank you to Dogs in Brazil and their incredible vet Dr Andre Luiz Bastos of Teresopolis. I could never do what I do without the incredible World Bike Girl community and I am always so thankful.
Ishbel, creator of World Bike Girl, has spent her life on bicycles, from road racing, to velodrome sprinting to cycling the world. She has pedalled across 20 countries solo and promotes commuting by bicycle. Much to the dismay of her friends, she is an avid wearer of socks and sandals.