If you get upset by animal suffering then you probably shouldn't read this post.
The last time I was here at the Roman Catholic Mission the guards had a little puppy unimaginatively named Mission, who they planned to train as a guard dog. Unfortunately this training was done in the traditional Gambian way, with kicks and beatings with a stick. I did my best to ignore him and keep my distance, Gambian dogs being vectors of all sorts of horrible things, and though it was tricky because he was quite frankly adorable and because I could hear him yelping whenever he was "disciplined" I managed to keep this up for the first three weeks. Then one night I found myself sat outside the mission, waiting for my fieldworker to bring me some crucial item (the identity of which I've now forgotten) and trying desperately to tune out the sounds of a particularly savage beating which eventually stopped after what seemed like a decade. A few minutes later Mission staggered out of the shadows, limping and shivering in spite of temperatures in the high twenties. He came straight towards me and in his pitiful state I couldn't bring myself to practice good vector avoidance and shoo him away. I don't know how but he must somehow have sensed that this was one person who wouldn't hurt him, and he came up to me and just rested his hanging head against my leg. Gently I rumpled the loose skin on his neck, telling him he was a good dog, and slowly he stopped quivering and even began, hesitantly at first, to wag his tail. After that we became friends, vector avoidance be damned. We played with sticks and, though I found him to be entirely untrainable (after learning that punishment meant a beating, any verbal reprimand was just met with a cocked head and a look that said "I know you're just fooling") I did manage to partially cure him of his habit of snapping at shoe laces by soaking mine in Listerine. This is what Mission looked like as a puppy:
Fast forward six months and, while I was in the UK, the mission guards were fired after some food and computer equipment got stolen from the mission. They left Mission behind, like some piece of obsolete rubbish, and he became just another Gambian stray. "He's not nearly as cute as he used to be" warned Emma, and I vowed, this time to be sensible and steer well clear, which should after all be easier now he was no longer a cute puppy and no longer actually in the mission grounds, right? He probably wouldn't remember me anyway. I knew he'd be in a bad way, but i was sure I was prepared for that.
It didn't quite work out like that. Opening the mission gates this morning I saw a filthy dog lying in the road. He had patches of fur missing and was covered in scabs and sores with a particularly nasty one on each ear. "Mission?" I gasped, not wanting to believe it, and any hopes that I had that he'd have forgotten me were dashed when he lumbered up to me and rested his head against my leg, exactly as he had done that night six months ago. Gingerly I stroked the back of his head, the only clean part of his body, and he wagged his tail. And I burst into tears, right in the middle of the street, and a passing boy rushed at him shouting and scared him away.
"Give me ten dalasi!" Demanded the boy, clearly seeing himself as my rescuer.
"Give me five dalasi!"
"Give me one dalasi!"
"Give me your watch!"
And it took all of my self control not to scream "You horrible child, I didn't want you to scare him away!"
But now I've had a chance to think about it rationally I think the boy probably did do me a favour, there's really nothing I can do for Mission, and seeing him can only upset me. Even if we were in the position to have a dog at the moment, which we're definitely not, and even if I had the money it would take to bring him to the UK, which I don't (and if I did I could benefit a lot more dogs by just giving it to a UK dog charity), he's a Gambian outdoor dog and would be miserable in quarantine and miserable in a house in the UK and utterly impossible to train. I've already had my heart broken here by a little girl with a crippled hand and a little boy with HIV, in this country of broken children to lose my heart to a dog would just be decadent.