One day while working on a farm on the little island of Skyros me and my friend took a walk up to a little chaple. The way was that kind of sandy dirt road with grass growing in the middle. About 400m down form the main road, we started to hear some angry barking from ahead of us. When we got closer we found a little (or rather mid-size) brown dog. A second look told me it was a he and he was still young, maybe half a year old. The little guy was one of Skyros’ so called barrel dogs – dogs that get leashed up somewhere with the job to bark at goats and sheep so that they don’t pass certain points. Depending on the owner they get more or less food and water. Some of them are lucky enough to have an old oil barrel as a home (hence the name). This guy wasn’t one of the lucky once. He had a bush and he had managed to wrap his leach around some of the branches in a manner that he had a meager 10cm leash left. He pretended to be angry but he was just scared. I couldn’t leave him like that so I started to approach him slowly while talking to him in a soothing manner. My friend said “oh dear, be careful” and I could hear my moms voice in my head “CINDY, don’t go close!” But I trust my intuition and my abilities. It wasn’t hard either. Quickly I was nuzzeling his nose, then touching his face and then unwrapping him from his branches. He lost his fear quickly and showed a jolly, happy attitude. What a sweetheart he was and still such a baby. I certainly was a bit in love. I had been in love with dogs all my life and it was only a question of time when I would come across a companion to join me. I had already considered it when I met a beautiful soul in Portugal. So the idea was a logical one but it was only that – a little spark. The first local I told about him was the opposite of encouraging. The shepherd would want 200€ from me. Aside from the worth itself, I wouldn’t want to support the ways of the barrel dogs with my money. So the idea was off the table but at least I could make the life of this little fellow a little happier as long as I was around, for it is better to have loved and been happy – even when you experience loss – than to never have seen any light (my opinion on this very philosophical question). I was told to tell the police as there are certain rules to keep these kind of dogs but I was wondering what would happen then? He might just be hanging on the next tree… (now we could ask if it is better to die than face a life of missery…another interesting question).
So instead I chose to love. A few times we brought him food and water. Every time he got more trustful and showed us his happy character. We named him “Zarti” from the German word for dark chocolate “Zartbitter”. The first time I visited him by myself I sat down with him for half an hour. He was soaking up my love – rubbing his body on me, lying down in my lap. He had this beautiful smile. Then I felt, he truly still was a child and like all of them, in need for love. When I left that time we were both simply happy for what we had shared, he didn’t bark after me. He was full with love for once. My love was growing, still I was torn and at the same time facing many other challenges. I started to bring him food more regularly. One time I didn’t have any with me. On that day he was in true distress. I believe he was very hungry. He kept nuzzeling around on me, try to chew on my shoes. He had something that felt like a panic attack and even though I’m usually very good at calming a distressed mind, I failed that time. It was very painful to see him suffering. I left crying and thought to myself “I don’t have the energy to take on this challenge. His soul is already too damaged. I have to let it go.” I was out of hope and didn’t find the courage to see him for almost two weeks. The next time I met him he had changed locations and moved a bit further down the dirt road. He was very different from our last encounter. He seemed content and happy. He had a sparkle in his eyes and looked at me with so much love and like he would follow me to the end of the world. That was it. My heart was gone. What I saw in him then convinced me that he would be a wonderful partner for my adventures. The following weekend I spent contemplating and doing research – didn’t I want to travel for a year, be independent? How would I get him to Germany? How much would it cost me? And what about his malnurished body? Would I have a companion at my side who would live a life of constant pain and face a lot of (costly) medical treatment? I talked to the vets, showed them pictures… I thought about a lot of stuff. In the end the decision had already been made and the things I was finding out didn’t seem to give us a bad starting point.
So now what? I had seen the owner but the only thing I knew about him was that he was driving a red pick up truck. He most certainly didn’t speak any English. The first help I was seeking with the people I was working for wasn’t received very positively – mostly through being overwhelmed with this difficult challenge, I believe. And it was most likely a big part of an anger tantrum breaking in over me the next day, throwing me off the farm. Still I had gotten the clue that ended up being the one – telling me where the owner worked. Some beautiful people were eager to help me and with the help of the wonderful Christina (mostly) and Dimitri I managed to get the ball rolling. It took another two weeks to sort things out. Another poor individual had to be found to replace little Zarti at his place – a bitter taste. But the custom of the barrel dogs wouldn’t be changed over night and maybe, only maybe my love for this one brought a little bit more awareness to the people, maybe this one guy.
I spent a lot of time thinking about a name, I searched and I read – mostly Greek mythology – to keep his heritage but nothing was ringing a bell. Two days before picking him up an idea sparked “Raki” – in the end I was giving the owner a bottle of tsipouro – schnaps similar to the Greek Raki – as a gesture for his time and effort. The dog that was replacing Raki was a sweet soul as well. He was older – maybe two and you could see the tolls a life on a leash had left on his body. He would have had a life on a leash, he only changed places. I left his owner with a few weeks worth of dog food and could only hope the best for this poor soul.
Now I was facing many tasks. I had no clue how Raki would react to his new world. In the beginning he was very nervous and scared of many things – scooters, cars, tight, small rooms, people. But he was also very curious and excited. He was mostly scared when people wanted something from him, everyone else he would approach. We spent the next three weeks learning, playing, working and figuring out how to get ourselves back to Germany – a task that wasn’t easy and needed constant problem solving on my part.
He quickly stepped into his true nature – a happy, chearful and cheeky fellow and I had great joy in dealing with puberty from the starting point. His previous owner told us that he was 6 or 7 months old. I thought 8. We’ll never know and I decided his birthday will be the 5th of September.
A lot of time has passed since then and we have come along way, been to many places and met many people. Raki has challenged me in many ways and made me face my anger. Interestingly he is very similar to me – adventurous, rebellious, questioning… If you had asked me if I would want to have another me around myself, I don’t know if I would have answered “yes” ^^
He is a powerful being and a strong character. I know in the wrong hands, he could be very problematic. But I was aware of that – from the day I wasn’t able to calm him down. I think I might have seen his dad, a dog that looked very similar. He was the only one on the island where I saw true aggression, the only one where I would have feared for my life, would he have gotten loose from his leash.
But with all of this, I think we were meant to be. He was meant to see the world. He is so smart and so sensitive. He tells me a lot about the people we meet and a lot about myself. He is (and surprisingly was right away) incredibly dextrous and gifted with great motor coordination – a true athlete, a stunner and it is a pleasure to watch him. He is an embassodor for animal rights and I know there are great things waiting for him. It is a pleasure to have him by my side and I am excited to see where we will be going.