Someone once asked me what was the most romantic, poignant, heartbreaking thing that happened in all my travels. I told them the truth – once upon a time, I fell in love with a dog in Tbilisi. I was sitting on a bench, and she walked up to me, large and shaggy, looking a bit like an Airedale terrier mix with the sweetest eyes. I had no food on me, and she didn't seem to be looking for food. She sat on the ground and leaned her entire body weight against my leg as if we were old friends. She followed me around all day, nuzzling my hands every chance she got, begging for cuddles, wagging her tail against the back of my knees. She even followed me inside the restaurant and laid down under the table. I tried to apologize to the owner, but he waved me off, “Don’t worry, friend!” It seemed like he knew this dog. I shared my lunch with her and later my dinner and left her sleeping on the doorstep of my hotel in the late evening. I woke up in the morning and there she was, staring at me with the sweetest eyes from the hotel stoop.
I had no idea what to do. I was supposed to leave for my next destination that afternoon. Do I cancel my trip? Do I take her to the vet and arrange for a way to take her home, to the U.S.? I can't just abandon this dog, who clearly loves me, on the street, can I? We were walking to breakfast, me and the dog, while I was mulling over my thoughts. An old Georgian woman sitting on a bench greeted me and the dog warmly, "Oh, I see you met our Ella! You are her tourist of the day, huh?" I asked her what she meant, and she laughed, "She knows who is a tourist and who is local! She knows tourists are nice and will feed her all day! She always finds a tourist for a day! She is a smart girl!" The dog wagged her tail excitedly.
I am not going to lie; I was a bit heartbroken. I was taken for a ride, I made an unwilling sugar daddy, I was duped. I fed Ella her breakfast and lunch and left for the Georgian mountains that day. She watched me go with loving eyes, never breaking character to the end. As my car pulled off, I saw her head back toward the restaurant where we had lunch. The owner put out a fresh water dish for her.
I often think of Tbilisi and Ella. The memory of that entire city is permeated with her musky smell, the feel of her wet nose, the look of her loving eyes. I wonder if she would have had a happier life if I took her home - locked her up in a condo all day, gave her a rushed walk every morning and night, took her to the vet... Or is she happier living in her city where everyone knows her, the locals adore her, the tourists feed her, and she spends her days showing new arrivals her beautiful city and making them fall in love with her and Tbilisi? I know the truth in my heart and as I travel through life, the discovery of every new city and meeting every homeless dog flood my mind with bittersweet memories of what was not meant to be.
Coming up Next: Georgia the Country, Not the State