As I left the pub, however, I encountered a young woman sitting under a drenched sleeping bag at the edge of a busy road, trying desperately to keep her beloved young Staffie as dry as she could, all the while hoping against hope that by some miracle she’d get the money she needed to feed herself and her dog and get into the night hostel tonight. She would most likely still be sitting there, soaked to the skin and caring only about the well-being of her canine companion, had I not happened along. As it is, I’m hoping the two of them are now dry and warm in the night hostel, as I scraped together as much loose change as I could find in my pockets to give her what she said she needed for the night.
We walked together to the Asian grocer’s down the road, her dog now happily bouncing on ahead, looking for all the world like she knew that tonight they would be comfortable after all. The young woman told me she’s had the sweet, loyal and clearly street-wise dog since she was four weeks old and that since her partner died last December she’s the only thing that matters to her. And she very obviously does matter, as she was genuinely delighted when I said – and meant it – that the dog looked well and had a happy look in her eyes.
We parted company when I got to my car, and as I watched them disappear off down the road, I was thinking, ‘This is just one night out of a whole lifetime of nights that she’ll spend hoping against hope that some stranger will happen to pass by and take pity on them – just one single night of being warm and dry and safe.’ And that made my heart heavy. Whatever path has led her to live her life on the street, as far as I’m concerned the only right response is one of compassion. Our brief encounter may not help her and her dog beyond the wind-whipped, rain-lashed conditions of tonight, but any other response wouldn’t even have got them through that.