I went to Peru on a spirit quest to find my life's purpose. Little did I know that my purpose would find me. I only had a few hours before my flight was to take off for Los Angeles when Charlie walked up to me. A street dog on his last legs; his paws raw from walking endless miles on the melting concrete, his skin raw, covered with mange that resembled parasitic volcanoes erupting hot lava. He mirrored a reptile with scabs covering the majority of his frail body. I swear, I could hear his vacuous wailing stomach. My heart sank as I kneeled down to comfort him. In disbelief that man's best friend would be abandoned to such extent by the man himself, I touched his charred skin and looked him in the eyes. "Please help me," he silently pleaded. His deep eyes diffused with resignation told a story of a dog that had been battered, abandoned, hit by motokars, forsaken by people.
He lifted his left leg and rested it on my knee as a gavel to seal his plea. There, on the steamy Amazonian thoroughfare, I made a promise to come back for him and to do whatever I can — even with ocean's apart — to give him the love he never had. I bought him lunch while looking to find a local organization on my smartphone, one that could help Charlie — to no avail. With a heavy heart and hundreds of prayers I left him on the sweltering concrete as I took off for the airport.
I carried his eyes with me into the next day when I landed in Los Angeles. After many synchronistic encounters, I was able to track down a local rescue group. I sent them photos of Charlie and asked them to look for him and -with my funds wired via Western Union - to help him back to life. I have seen many street dogs in that jungle town, but Charlie — as I named him — was the worst I had seen there or anywhere else in the world. I spent nights awake waiting for news of him, when finally, on the third day I got the email. Charlie was found and he was being prepped for a medicated bath and evaluation. His diagnosis: mixed dermatitis, mites, bacterial dermatitis, mange, severe, acute malnutrition. He only had a few days left to live without medical attention.
I started getting daily, then weekly updates by the director of operations. The photos kept pouring in of how well Charlie was responding to treatment. I few weeks later more photos arrived showing speckles of hair growing on his bare skin. I was in tears every time I saw a video. The people caring for him — most of them volunteers — loved him back to life and to health. As for me, I couldn't wait to be reunited with the little soul. While the Peruvian team was caring for him, I put a fundraiser together to help Charlie and his fellow street dog comrades. "Sometimes it takes a village," I thought. The money raised allowed us to care for him and to help other dogs in dire need: Negrita, Angel, Oscar — a few strays that we were able to help.
In August, almost four months after I met Charlie, I flew back to Peru to bring him home to Los Angeles. When I walked through the gate at the shelter, my little heart pumped so much blood I almost fainted from excitement. We only met once, for about 20 minutes, a few months prior, but when he saw me, he knew exactly who I was. In front of me was a stunning, strong canine, with so much hair and so much love he almost tipped me over with his kisses. That night he had his first walk with his own human. We walked back to where I met him four months prior, his street dog comrades recognizing Charlie and wishing they were him, clean, well-fed and loved. He walked proud with his own human, almost to the point of showing off. I was there, fully present for his swagger and for many of his "firsts": his first bed — he frolicked like a happy seal; his first car-ride — his entire breakfast ended in my designer boots due to his motion sickness; his first plane ride — he galloped through the Lima airport like a distinguished thoroughbred.
For close to a week Charlie showed me his favorite spots in the steamy jungle town. During that week we created street teams with the organization, fed many strays, administered antibiotic and anti-parasitic injections with the supervision of a veterianrian, Charlie's story ignited the whole town through social media and human compassion was flowing from everywhere. The locals started feeding the strays and almost the entire community flew into action to help man's best friend. We found a new family, created alliances; all this with the common goal to help street animals and to educate the locals.
My purpose found me when I least expected it, the very moment I wasn't looking. Charlie landed at LAX Aug. 3 and became a naturalized US citizen that Monday. On a daily basis, he teaches me patience, unconditional love, he teaches me that beauty can be found everywhere even in sorrow, that love doesn't know color, breed, age or borders. Currently, he is teaching me Spanish as that's the only language he's ever known. It looks more like this: I go to sleep every night with Charlie on my left, Gelsemina — my other rescue — on my right and my book of "Short Spanish Phrases" on my chest.