Saving Lucy: Chapter Seven

Saving Lucy Ishbel Rose Holmes SL mountain 1200x630

Saving Lucy Ishbel Rose Holmes SL mountain 1200x630

After a few miles of pedaling, I rode into the rush-hour traffic of a busy town and had to concentrate hard to avoid car doors opening and people with their eyes on their mobile phones step­ping out blindly onto the road. As usual, people pointed at me and laughed and I felt embarrassment, which then turned to anger. Lucy is in this box on my bicycle because the animals in your country suffer so badly, I thought. I told Lucy she was a good girl and to ignore them. Telling her this helped me ignore them too.

I knew I had a left turn coming up and stopped to check Google Maps on my phone. Normally I referred to maps only in very large cities, mostly because I found it annoying and difficult if I missed an exit in seven lanes of traffic. Otherwise, I barely used maps.

The first time I went cycle touring outside of my own country was to the Pyrenees in France, and I was on my own because my best friend had to cancel at the last minute. She had been the one with all the common sense for the trip, which included knowing how to read a map. I started out trying to use her maps but found that I spent all day of every day lost. So I threw the maps away and was never lost again. My navigating goals changed, and I pedaled in the general direction of another country or ocean with everything in between a surprise. This suited my personality and skills much better. But here, with Lucy, time was an important factor, and following the map would hopefully make us more efficient.

I turned left and faced a massive climb. Usually on steep hills, I would let Lucy out of the box in order to lighten the load, but this time, I kept her in the box because the road was so busy, and on the tarmac I could ride faster than she could walk.

The climb hurt more than expected, but to avoid thinking about the pain, I focused on the flea treatment I would buy for Lucy. Finally, on a long empty stretch of road, I spotted a shop standing on its own. I pulled up just outside the door and stopped.

I leaned the bike against the wall next to the entrance and knelt down to Lucy. When I left Lucy outside shops to go indoors to the bathroom or to buy food, she sometimes would abandon her bike-guarding duty, instead running to one of the surrounding fields to hide and watch for my return. Then she would run as fast as she could to join me as I pedaled away. At first this caused me some anxiety, but I came to realize that she was always watching from somewhere and I knew she would join me again. However, I wanted Lucy to feel safe, so this time, I spent some moments reassuring her and telling her she was okay and that she didn’t need to run away anymore because she was safe and with me.

Satisfied that we had an understanding, I entered the store and picked up tins of tuna for Lucy and bread for me. I paid and exited the shop only to see the shop owner outside flapping his arms chasing Lucy away. Lucy was half running away, half looking back at the store entrance. I hollered “Oye! That’s my dog!” and took a few enraged steps toward the man, using the same wild arm movements he had used with Lucy. He stopped waving and looked genuinely petrified, so I dropped my arms and returned to my bicycle. Lucy kept her distance.

I cycled slowly off, and Lucy began running toward me, as usual. As soon as she reached me, I got off the bike and held her in my arms at the side of the road. I felt terrible that she had been deliberately frightened and chased away after I had told her that she was safe and that she could trust me. Why were people so hor­rible to dogs? I didn’t understand. I dug out the one pretty thing I had, a pastel neck scarf that I loved dearly, and tied it around her neck gently. I hoped this would be a sign and a warning to people that this dog had a human.

I was heading south through the Canakkale region when I cycled into the town of Yenice, 150 miles from the western coast of Turkey, and pulled into a gas station to charge my phone. Men dressed in hunting gear with rifles beside them sat eating breakfast at a red plastic table outside the gas station’s café. One spoke a little bit of English, and he introduced the whole group to me, cheerfully explaining that they were going hunting. I didn’t like hunting, and so immediately, I didn’t like these men.

He asked what I was doing, and I explained that I was from Scotland and was cycling the world. No one ever believed me when I said this. I was a woman on my own, and for some people, this was just too ridiculous to imagine. People always asked me where my husband and children were, and my answer—that I had neither—caused great shock. They invited me to sit down. I didn’t like the thought of sitting down with them, but there was nowhere else to sit where I could watch my phone charging. I called Lucy over, but she wasn’t going near any shop entrance and instead remained by my bicycle, watching me.

The men finished eating, and I asked if I could feed my dog their leftovers. I patted my knees and called Lucy over. The men looked concerned seeing her limp and her deformed paw. I explained our story, which the one man translated back to his friends. They asked me if I wanted them to shoot her. I declined politely, telling them if they shot Lucy, I would kill each one of them with my bare hands. Everyone laughed, apart from me. When they saw I wasn’t laughing, they explained they liked dogs and had only offered to shoot her in order to save her suffering.

A small police van pulled into the gas station. It was the first opportunity I had seen for a lift that would not include the driver asking for something in return. Even 10 miles would be welcome. I walked over and asked if he would drive Lucy and me to the next town. I must have been desperate because when he said no, I turned away and immediately burst out crying. The hunters asked why I was upset, and I explained that men kept stopping and asking me for sex and that dogs attacked Lucy. The hunters motioned for me to sit back down and said that they would help. After making a few phone calls, they found out that one of their friends was driving a truck and would be passing a point about 20 miles away in a short time. They walked over to an old rusty car, speaking to one another in Turkish. Opening the trunk, the English-speaking man told me to get my bicycle.

“There’s no way my bike is going to fit in there,” I exclaimed.

“Yes, it will,” he assured me, and the others nodded vigorously, smiling. “You are getting that truck. He is our friend and there will be no harm to you.”

I dismantled my bicycle and gear, and they tried to get it all inside their car. It seemed utterly impossible that it was going to fit, but their positive attitudes and repeated attempts had me doubled over in laughter. Defeat was not in their vocabulary, and when the trunk finally closed with bike and gear inside, we all cheered and clapped.

There was really only enough space for the driver, Lucy, and me, but another of the hunters managed to squeeze in, too. We said our good-byes and set off. I didn’t think we had nearly enough time to reach the truck, but the men kept saying we’d make it, and I found myself a passenger in a terrifying Formula One race through the narrow twisting tracks of rural Turkey. And then suddenly, there was a truck, parked on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. How had the truck driver even known where to stop?

The driver was standing in the back of the truck. We all got out of the rusty car, and the men pulled my belongings out of the trunk and lifted them up above our heads to the truck driver. Then they wanted to lift Lucy up and over, too. Shit. The storage area was made of wooden slats and had gaping spaces. It was too dangerous.

Apologizing, I said Lucy would have to come up front with me. Everyone froze. In Turkey, many believed dogs were dirty and diseased and so for them, the idea of having a dog as a house pet is unimaginable, and it is generally not accepted for dogs to travel inside vehicles, either. In the countryside, older generations still believe that inhaling dog hair makes people sick, which was one of many safety stories passed down the generations to keep people away from dogs with rabies.

I knew it was a big deal to have a dog inside, and I felt awful putting the driver in that position. But I knew it wasn’t safe to put Lucy in the back, and so I asked for my gear to be lifted back off the truck.

The hunters spoke to the driver; I had no idea what they said, but the driver finally agreed to allow Lucy to sit in front with me.

Deeply grateful, I lifted Lucy up onto the floor of the truck’s cabin and climbed onto my seat. I offered to pay the hunters for their help, but they refused and said good-bye. I was so moved. Many people had refused to help us, or requested something unsavory in return, yet these hunters, whom I didn’t even like at first, went to tremendous effort to help us for nothing at all.

The truck driver was called Emir and was from Istanbul. He had been driving trucks between Italy and Turkey for seventeen years and spoke a tiny amount of English. I showed him on my map where I had to go in Mugla, and he showed me the best and safest route. After that we rode in silence, with me mostly concentrating on the unfamiliar and wonderful feeling of sitting on such a big, comfortable seat. I gazed down at Lucy, who was looking back up at me. I thought about how I would love for Lucy to have a home just like the dogs in Britain had. But we were in Turkey, and the sanctuary was the best option available. Watching her, I knew if I wasn’t cycling the world and had a home, I would be her family.

Saving Lucy is the true and inspiring story of two creatures in need of healing and rescue—who find home in each other. Their adventures took them over 1,000 miles to the Syrian border and into the hearts of everyone who met them.