A Chance Encounter

In October of 2018, I hiked the Corfu Trail. Being the off-season, the isle was almost completely shuttered. Resorts and hotels closed down until the next holiday season; harvested olive groves sat waiting for the spring; entire vacation villages were ghost towns. In the ten days I was on the trail, I only met two other hikers. Otherwise I had it all to myself. Mostly.

Greece is absolutely littered with stray dogs, and Corfu was no exception. Hardly an hour or two went by on the trail where I didn’t encounter (and, of course, play with) a stray. Not that I minded. As someone who’d loved and spent his life surrounded by dogs but whose lifestyle couldn’t accommodate one of his own, the endless parade of strays to play with was heaven. It was also why it wasn’t surprising to reach the end of the trail and find no one there but another stray.

He greeted me as I reached the trail terminus, coming up to sniff me as I approached. He then followed me as I ducked into a shelter to get out of the rain. I gave him my remaining biscuits and a few bowls of water (all of which he greedily downed), and hung out with him for a few minutes before heading out. I had to get to the pensionne and check in.

As expected, the dog left the shelter when I did. But unlike other dogs, he didn’t follow; he lead, keeping ahead of me at all times, often turning to look over his shoulder to make sure I was still behind him. If he saw I was no longer there (ie, I turned a corner he’d passed), he’d race to catch up and resume his spot ten to twenty feet ahead.

Also unexpected was the fact that he didn’t turn around after a kilometer or so, like all the others did. He kept up. Through rain and dark, unlit roads plagued by speeding cars, he kept up. When three aggressive dogs rushed out an open gate and surrounded us, barking, he stayed right by my side, silent but tensed and ready to spring.

The longer he stayed by my side, the more I worried about what I was going to do when I finally arrived at the pensionne, even though I knew the answer. At one point I remember a thought flitting through my head, Why do I feel like I’m gonna end up stuck with him?

When we finally reached the hotel, the dog stopped and sat obediently outside the gates; a resort island stray, he knew where he wasn’t welcome indoors. As he sat there on the other side of the fence, watching me patiently, I heaved a sigh and hung my head. Fine.

I spoke to the woman at the check-in desk and, promising no messes and that it’d be just for the night, convinced her to let me bring him in. I returned to the gate, waved him in, and he bounded inside happily. It was a good thing he understood — without even a collar, let alone a leash, I had no real way of leading him anywhere. Still he managed to follow me to the room, where he immediately hopped on the bed and settled in.