Juno by Molly Timmerman
I was a fourth year medical student doing an international medicine clerkship in Santa Cruz, Guatemala at a clinic providing healthcare to underserved populations in rural Guatemala. I was prepared to encounter human suffering and illness. I had not prepared myself, however, for the suffering and maltreatment of the thousands of stray and homeless animals who live on the streets. Guatemala is a poor country where people cannot use the little money they have to spay or neuter their dogs. Thus, there are thousands living on the streets, doing what they can to survive. Many towns deal with the problem by putting out poisoned meat before the major tourist seasons so that the sight of emaciated street dogs does not disturb the tourists. At first, I tried to turn a blind eye to the problems. After all, that was not why I was there in Guatemala. I was there to learn how to take care of people, not dogs.
I met Juno on my first day in Santa Cruz, the small town where I was staying on the edge of Lake Atitilan. She lived under the bench outside the house where I was renting a room. When I would come home late from the clinics I could see her eyes watching me from underneath the bench. She rarely left the protection of her bench. She had sad eyes and was missing her tail. I did my best to ignore her for a good three weeks. The general consensus was that you shouldn’t give the dogs food or attention as it would attract more of them. Much to the irritation and protests of the rest of the housemates, my roommate, Stephanie, started buying dog food and throwing Juno a handful when we got home at night. From that point on, when we returned home, Juno would greet us, venturing out from beneath her bench and crying in joy at the sight of us. Then she would do the funniest but most heart warming thing, she would hug us. She didn’t jump up in excitement like I was used to dogs doing. She would actually put her front paws around my leg and press the side of her head against me, pulling me into a “hug”. It was absolutely adorable. My Juno “hugs” became the happiest part of my day. When Stephanie planned to move to the other side of Lake Atitlan and I was nearing the end of my stay, I knew I couldn’t leave Juno.
The stars aligned to make all the parts of a seemingly impossible bureaucratic and expensive process fall into place. Before joining me for my final week in Guatemala, my partner had arranged for us to volunteer for a few days with an organization called Animal Aware, the only animal shelter in the country. Since the shelter adopts street dogs out to American families, they were able to help us complete the paperwork required to bring Juno home; paperwork that would have taken weeks to do otherwise. With Juno, we traveled by boat, foot, taxi, and airplane back to the States. She was perfectly calm and behaved the whole way. It was as if she knew we were meant to be together. Two years later, I can’t imagine my life without Juno. I now live in San Francisco with my partner, our other dog Chance, our cat Johnny, and Juno. I am a resident at Stanford.
My life is much different from the four months I spent in Guatemala but my Juno hugs are still the best part of my day.
Addendum: Juno passed from kidney cancer on 9/24/18. She was a beloved member of our family for 9 years and brought us so much love and happiness. We will always be grateful to Xenii and Animal Aware for helping us to bring Juno home and will do whatever we can to support the amazing work they do for animals in Guatemala.