Oh, Milo, my heart, my joy, my little rescue runaway.
This little dog with the long slim legs, freckles, and flowing ear feathers had a big adventure last Saturday that almost ended his life—and it must have shaved five years off mine. We are both still recovering.
I finally, FINALLY, planned a little impromptu getaway for a long weekend as the guest of a friend in Porto. The trip was near-spontaneous. I tried not to overthink it, COVID-19 and all, and noted the weather would be perfect. I had the offer to stay with this friend whom I wanted to get to know better, and geez, I haven't left Setúbal since March, other than for a doctor's office visit in Lisbon and one brief lunch, also Lisbon, with my dear friends.
My dog sitter is a sweet young Portuguese woman. We've known one another for a while—I met her at a vegetarian café where she worked, a little more than a year ago. After I moved to Setúbal, I found out that she lives here, too. She's in veterinary school working on her thesis.
She knows Milo—she's walked him previously, and coincidentally, she was interning at the veterinarian office where I take Milo. She was present when Milo had a seizure coming out of surgery at that same office. She's not a stranger.
On Friday, I head out with a small tote and a bag of snacks (always snacks) and took the express bus to Lisbon. The express bus from here to there is excellent. More like a touring coach, with WIFI, climate control, and those big comfy seats. Once you're on, it only stops in one or two places before you are delivered to Lisbon's Oriente station 40 minutes later. It feels pretty safe when weighing virus risk to travel reward.
My plan was to book a train that would land me in Porto around 5PM. Well, that train was sold out due to limited seating, so I had to wait an additional two hours on top of the already-hour wait. By the time I rolled into Porto, it was dark.
My friend, J, and her sweet dog met me at the metro station. We went to her place, got settled, and ate yummy curried veg and rice. We chatted a bit, then turned in.
Saturday morning we went to a lovely little place called Época for breakfast. Once breakfast was devoured and coffee was drunk, we walked around the area a bit, checking out a Saturday market, looking in gallery windows and local shops, and walking through a cute leafy garden café.
Walking all over Porto was the theme for Saturday afternoon. We walked through the tourist zone, waved at the famous Livraria Lello bookstore (JK Rowling lived in Porto and Harry Potter and Hogwarts was inspired by this shop), then continued down to the oldest part of town, the Ribeira.
The medieval riverfront neighborhood dotted along the River Douro is what you see in all the iconic photos of Porto.
I'm glad I checked it out, and I'm sure I will again, but the area is geared to tourists and nighttime partiers (despite the ages-old buildings and long-time residents), which is not my thing.
By the time we made it back to my friend's place, we were hot and tired.
Naptime was in order and I did just that. When I woke, I was hungry—despite a filling lunch. J insisted we go for vegan burgers at BOP, and I'm glad we did. In a word, yum!
After dinner, we returned to her house and stayed in—the perfect Saturday night for two homebody non-party introverts.
My Worst Nightmare
Sunday morning, I woke to a text alert, my phone is in silent mode from 10PM to 8AM, and it was from the dog sitter.
It was from this point that I can barely remember or make sense of what happened.
Apparently, she had tried to text and call me late Saturday night past my phone's do not disturb time.
Somehow, when she was walking Milo, he slipped out of his harness in the middle of a traffic-busy street and ran!
I always tell people he's a runner. This is common with rescues who were found on the streets. It's what they know. No amount of training has changed this (thank you, I'm not looking for dog training advice at this time), despite the time and money I've invested. My dog sitter knew this, too. She felt a slight tug, turned around mid-crosswalk, and in an instant, he was free.
Although my storytelling skills are not sharp enough to convey the high emotional drama and danger of that day, I'll make my best attempt.
I packed my bag, bought a train ticket, and J took me to the station. Once there, I grabbed an espresso and took sips between sobs while I waited for the train.
Crying for several hours on a train, with a mask and glasses, is not on my recommended list of fun things to do.
By the time I made my way back to Setúbal, it was already late afternoon. I still don't know what time on Saturday all this went down with Milo, but I know several details that leave me humbled and grateful.
It Takes a Village to Find a Milo
A crew of strangers, neighbors, my dog sitter, and her family—I really don’t know all the characters involved, searched for Milo for three hours.
A man took chase with my sitter the moment he saw it happen, then texted his girlfriend to get their car. They drove around as the primary spotters for the entire time. At one point, Milo was seen near the motorway headed out of town.
During the chaos, my sitter lost my house keys, and apparently, the first woman on the scene who jumped out of her car to direct traffic around Milo's frantic path (my sitter says she knows Milo and me from the park) called her husband to search for the lost keys. I'm still not sure how many people know to look for the keys, but I'm to check at the police station if anyone finds them. The sitter tells me several people have texted her since then to find out how Milo is doing—we don't have names, just lots of people who shared numbers and jumped into action to help.
No keys meant my sitter couldn't get into my place, even if Milo did return. She got close to Milo a few times, but he'd just run from her.
So, with my sitter's mother stationed out front of my apartment building just in case he returned, she was alerted by someone in the Chinese restaurant that a dog was injured and hiding under one of their tables. The owner looked the other way, no dogs allowed, and I've since found out it was a diner who got water for him and let him take shelter, there.
By the time he was found, he couldn't walk. My sitter thought his right front leg was broken; he was dehydrated and traumatized. He stayed the night with my sitter and her family, sleeping by her mother's side, and then they took him to the vet early Sunday morning.
Since then, we've been back to the vet twice and will go again on Saturday. He is improving, and he actually stood up and is walking around the apartment—carefully. It seems his leg muscle, from the armpit down, is pretty messed up, but it's not broken.
It’ll be a long time before we go for park walks again, but when we do I'll be sure his harness is adequately tightened so this little canine Houdini never does that again.
Friends, Neighbors, and Others
In addition to all the people who searched for him, Milo’s former vet was involved, too.
My Portuguese neighbor, whom I meet for coffee regularly, has called me several times a day since; she's been sick such is her love for Milo. Her husband drove us to the vet for Milo’s first follow-up; my other friend took us to the vet yesterday and she will take us back on Saturday. The kindness is overwhelming.
My friends came from Lisbon to help me with him and to go grocery shopping with me to be sure I had enough supplies in the house. They brought lunch and took great care of Milo and me. We even bundled up Milo like a baby and took him to the café so my neighbor could see him. She kept saying, with tears in her eyes, "He's good now."
I could ramble on with more details of that day—new ones are still coming to light—but for now I will conclude this long story with a few thoughts:
This little dog brought a community of people together at a time when we all need this kind of connection so urgently.
People I don’t know cared enough to help find and protect my dog so we could be reunited.
I am learning to ask for help (this is hard!). It’s essential, I know this—and now more than ever I can use the helping hand.
So, thank you for reading this and being witness to an event through my words that could have, and by all accounts should have, had an unhappy ending.
Now, go hug your pets, volunteer at your local shelter, and do something nice for a neighbor just because you can. You never know how your kindness can make the difference in someone’s life—even if that someone has four legs and a fluffy tail.
READ & WATCH
Portugal tightens coronavirus measures with new ‘state of calamity’ (numbers are up, but we’re still doing better than most countries in Europe, and, ahem, the US)
Setúbal One World (a little promo video for my town)
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Oh man. I’m so sorry that happened! That is my worst nightmare too - and I can only imagine the stress and worry! SO glad Milo was found! 💞
I feel for your dogsitter. I almost lost a friend's dog the same way while she was abroad. He got scared and wriggled out of his harness and kept running from me until I got down on the ground, crying, and begged him to stop. He stood still long enough for me to grab him and carry him home. I'm so glad you and Milo were reunited and all is well! 🧡