On the way out of Van today I walked past a garbage dump. A bunch of mangy dogs barked at me.

I walked a little further. A puppy, probably only about 10 weeks old, raised its head and started screeching at me. I hadn’t heard a dog make that noise before. “What the…?!” I wondered.

I looked at him closer. He was resting against his dead mother. By the looks of her, she had been hit by a car a couple days before. The flies were starting to settle in.

The puppy continued his screeching. He ran out to greet me. He began following me, running about one step behind me on his little puppy legs. He was clean and fluffy and cute. He did not yet have any of that unkempt manginess that besets dogs living the stray life.

“No, sorry, I can’t help you,” I muttered. I sped up. “Go find some other dogs. I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” I picked up a stick and tried to push him away. I knew if I touched him we would start bonding. But he wouldn’t go away.

A few steps later we passed another puppy, this one slightly older. He was munching on the remains of another dog who had been hit by a car and whose body had been torn open by the impact.

Packs of mangy dogs. Orphaned puppies. Cannibalism. It was like I was walking through a dog version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The little puppy continued following me. In fact, it followed me for three kilometers, a full half hour of walking. Every once in a while I would look down and there it was, trying to keep up, running along on its little puppy legs.

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t take care of you,” I tried to explain to it. “I’m going to have to leave you at the end of the day. Go. You have to go.” I felt like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, the movie where he was torn between not getting attached to someone new, and playing father figure to a young Asian kid who needed some help.

I started to get annoyed at the little puppy. I thought, “For 7 months I have been having to say goodbye to people, and now I’m going to have to say goodbye to you too?! I thought I was done with that. I thought I was going to get out of here (finish the walk) without getting attached to more people I was going to have to say goodbye to! What the hell, puppy, don’t ask me to do this!”

Finally, another dog came running across the street at us. This other dog was not happy to have a stranger entering his territory. But then the puppy started screeching that strange, desperate, lonely, orphaned screech of his, and the other dog slowed down. He approached the puppy carefully. The puppy continued screeching, like he was saying, “Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, I just need a home.” My eyes began to water, because there have been times in my life when I have felt like that, too.

The dogs touched noses, as dogs tend to do when they say hello to each other. Three village kids came running out to see what the commotion was about. They saw the puppy and started playing with it. When it looked like the puppy might have found a new home, I walked on.