Europe

A Dog Named Ukraine – The Story Of A Stray Dog That Followed Me For Two Days In The Eastern European Country Of Ukraine

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I spent the night sleeping in an orchard and woke up that morning in a dense fog. A fog so thick I could see only a few meters in front of me as I pedaled my fully-loaded bicycle down a series of long bumpy roads.

After stopping in my first Ukrainian town to stock up on food, water and a new foreign currency, I jumped back on my bicycle and pedaled north, cycling along a lonely dirt and gravel road near the border of Ukraine and the breakaway territory known as Transnistria.

It was here, no more than a half-kilometer from the border of these two countries, that I realized I was being followed.

But I wasn’t being followed by the Ukrainian, Moldovan, Russian or Transnistria border officials, police, of military personnel. I was being followed by a small brown dog!

I have no idea where the dog came from or why he started following me. During the two days the dog stayed with me, I never once attempted to give him any food or water (because I knew that doing so would make it even more difficult for the dog to leave me alone after that).

Due to the poor road conditions and the occasional uphill climb, it was extremely difficult for me to ditch the small dog (and trust me, I tried). During my time with Ukraine (which is what I started to call him after a while), I said goodbye to him more than a dozen different times… and saying goodbye wasn’t easy. It hurt me just as much as it hurt him. But just when I thought I had finally lost the little guy, he’d come running up the road in the distance behind me, yapping and crying and doing his best to pretend as though he wasn’t actually following me.

This continued for several hours on day one, and several more hours on day two.

I tried to find a local to take the dog, but no one I met along the way spoke any English. And when I did attempt to speak to someone about the dog, Ukraine would run off and hide. I’d point off into the bushes where I knew the dog was hiding, while the locals stared at me with a confused look on their faces.

“I can’t understand anything this guy is saying,” I imagined a local farmer saying to his wife. “And why does he keep pointing at that bush?”

It was my first night camping with Ukraine, however, that proved especially difficult.

I was nervous that having a dog in my campsite (a wild camp, no-less) would give away my location. But Ukraine was a very good dog. When I was setting up my tent, he kept himself busy by running around in the nearby bushes and (I assume) hunting for  food. He never barked and only occasionally whimpered.

When night fell, Ukraine curled up in a ball and fell asleep in the leaves outside my tent.

When I was woken up to the sound of rainfall a few hours later, I immediately thought of Ukraine. Peeking my head out of the tent into the cold, pitch-black night, I couldn’t see him.

“Maybe he ran away?” I thought to myself.

But when I got out of my tent a few minutes later (to relieve myself behind a nearby tree), I saw the poor little dog curled up in a ball underneath my bicycle… and he was absolutely drenched! Shaking wildly, crying and seemingly near death, I tried to pick the little dog up and carry him over to my tent. But Ukraine wouldn’t have it. He was still afraid of me and wouldn’t allow me to get near him.

The cold, however, seemed to have slowed him down, because it only took me a few seconds to chase him through the woods, grab him in my arms and carry him over to my campsite.

Once I had him inside the rain-fly, he ran off one or two more times before he finally took a seat and settled in for the night. He made no attempt to dry himself off or get warm. He left that to me. I tried to dry him as best I could before I eventually went to sleep with the little brown dog laying just a few inches away from me in the dry protected area underneath my tent’s rain-fly.

In the morning, Ukraine was still there. He was dry, but freezing – as was I. With temperatures well below zero degrees Celsius, I slowly packed up camp and hit the road again. As you might expect, Ukraine kept with me.

I knew that this couldn’t continue forever. I liked having company for once (I really did), but I was planning to ride my bicycle all the way to Germany – more than 1,700 kilometers away. And along the way I would be staying in hotels, renting apartments, cycling through the snow, crossing international borders and a whole lot more. There was no way I could bring a dog with me – even if I wanted to. I knew that at some point, I needed to say goodbye to the poor little puppy dog and go back to being on my own.

Over the next several hours I tried to leave Ukraine time and time again, but he just kept catching up with me. It was a terribly emotional time for both me and the dog.

Eventually, however, I hit a flat smooth road and Ukraine and I parted ways.

Ukraine had traveled with me for more than 50 kilometers and I wondered where he would go next. Would he lay in the bushes and rest for a while? Would he simply start following the next person to come along? Or would he follow my scent and come running up behind me hours, maybe even days later?

In the hours after leaving Ukraine behind, I kept looking back and half-way expecting that little brown dog to be running up the road far off in the distance. But I never saw Ukraine again. I continued cycling north… and I hope (I really do) that my little brown travel companion is somewhere safe, dry and warm.

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About Darren Alff

Darren Alff is a world-renowned authority on bicycle touring and is the founder of BicycleTouringPro.com - the world's most popular bicycle touring website and how-to information source. He is the developer of "The Ultimate Bike Tour Training Course," and the author of four additional cycling books: The Bicycle Touring Blueprint, The Essential Guide to Touring Bicycles, Winter Cycling and Stretching for Cyclists. Darren has dedicated his life to helping others conduct the bicycle tour of their dreams. His websites, books, email newsletter, products and public appearances now inspire and assist hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world.

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31 Comments

  1. Jamesw2

    December 17, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I had a dog do that to me on a local ride , . . I brought him home . . . one of the comments you made was the dog wasn’t paying attention to you . . You were wrong he measured your every move and saw that you were a caring person. he would have never got close to your tent if he was afraid of you. and if you touched him he wold have bit He was pare Norwegian Elk hound most dogs find there owners not the other way around .

  2. David Massey

    December 17, 2012 at 10:53 am

    There’s no way I would have left him behind. At east I don’t think I would have. Great story.

  3. Ed

    December 17, 2012 at 11:12 am

    That’s a tough one! Breaking up is so very hard to do.

  4. Martin

    December 17, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Very tricky situation, it would have been heartbreaking for me, I don’t envy you. Maybe Ukraine’s a survivor or even a guardian angel..

  5. Robert Vano

    December 17, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Unbelievable! I can only imagine the stress you might have been feeling. Nobody wants the little guy to be alone, but you have to do what you have to do. Something tells me that Ukraine is doing just fine. But please let us know if he finds you again. If that happens, you will have an even bigger decision to make.

  6. Jacques R.

    December 17, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I’m REALLY happy it wasn’t ME having to leave the nice dog behind. I think I’d be stuck in Ukraine forever if I was stuck in a situation like that or I’d bought a trailer for the dog, LOL. Nice post!

  7. Lyle Turner

    December 17, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Aww, so bittersweet. Sad you had to leave the little guy – could tel you were a bit conflicted – but also right, he couldn’t come with you on your travels. I hope he finds a good and caring home.

  8. Cem

    December 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Not only Ukraine also I follow you by the internet. I live in Istanbul, it’s 4 -5 celcius here, I think 0 celcius or under over there and you are already on the road alone. Big expirement. I wish I can. Ok It’s good to follow you by the internet. You tell us what you see and your feelings very well. Thanks and good luck for you.

  9. Don L

    December 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    It seemed like a necessary distraction for you… the dog. They don’t call them “man’s” best friend for nothing!!

  10. Dan

    December 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Wonderful that he trusted you enough to come out of the rain. Dogs are the best judges of character!

  11. Jhessye

    December 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    That’s a really sweet and serendipitous story. Jeez Darren! They say the crazy and very unexpected stories occur on the road. Great! So nice for you to have a companion for a bit. Cheers.

  12. pete

    December 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    That story brought me close to tears. Poor little guy wanted to join your pack. He knew you were going somewhere better. I’m sure he’s ok. Dogs are survivors and I’m sure he found another pack x

  13. Gordon

    December 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I used to ride my road bike around the town I lived in at the time (about a 15 km ride). Everyday, as I went past the local greenhouse a German Shepherd would come out and follow me. I was going about 25 kph so he had to run pretty hard to keep up. After about a week of this I stopped in at the greenhouse. After I told the owner what was going on he said that he had been wondering why the dog didn’t want to go for his evening walks. He kept the dog inside during my cycling times after that.

  14. Jammie

    December 17, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Darren, I am touched by this story. Perhaps, Ukraine is God’s sent to lead you through safe passage. I am a dog lover and I have six beautiful dogs. They are faithful and extremely clever.

  15. Pilar

    December 17, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Looking for a good read to accompany your encounter? I would suggest MERLE’S DOOR by Ted Kerasote. Funny how we think we choose an animal when really they are choosing US. This happened to me but with a cat, really, a cat followed me on my mountain bike ~ what do you do when a white cat is running after you and your bike? Well, you put the cat on your shoulders and ride home with it.

  16. Kevin

    December 17, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Terrific video. Great little story. Wanted you to have a companion for the road.

  17. Maja

    December 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    The same thing happened to my husband and me on Olchon at Baikal. But we were on foot. We had a companion just like you did. He followed us for two days. There were no people around. It was heart breaking because we knew we could not take him with us. But on the second day we met some people. The dog just turned around and went back with them!

  18. ken

    December 18, 2012 at 2:46 am

    I am going with gaurdian angel .

  19. david

    December 18, 2012 at 3:59 am

    i would have brought him with me…whatever it takes…but that s me

  20. Louis Melini

    December 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Amazing story about the dog. You made the right decision to go on, but what a tough decision. Did you ever feed the dog?

  21. rachmat

    December 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    wow a very enjoyable trip, I was also very fond of animals, I also like the dog, but in a very quiet you can be accompanied by a dog is a gift, but we can not take it, so let only as a beautiful memory in the course of you in ukraine. now you are where? please keep telling your journey so we can see how much fun biking trip, I was also a fan of cycling trips, when will you come to INDONESIA?

  22. Evie

    December 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Wow, for someone who showed empathy, how heartless you are. That little guy was screaming for help, and though so skittish, was obviously craving companionship. He must have been really confused and scared when he lost you, given that you’d helped him try to stay dry and warm. For whatever reason, the little guy bonded with you. Perhaps better angels than you or I were trying to tell you something… I’m touched by how frightened he was, yet was willing to trust you at his most vulnerable. I understand your quandry, and it’s clear you were torn, but I could never be so cruel – I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror or sleep at night.

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      December 23, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Evie, I think it is really unfair and super judgmental of you to say that. What would you have done differently if you were in my situation?

      I didn’t ask for the dog to follow me. I was in a foreign country where stray dogs are extremely common. I tried to pass the dog off to the locals, but they didn’t want him or care. I did not have a cell phone with me and wouldn’t have known who to call for help. Even if I could have called someone, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with them (I don’t speak Ukrainian). Even if I could have contacted some kind of animal care unit (I’m pretty sure they don’t exist in the part of Ukraine I was traveling in), they probably would have have killed the dog. And I certainly couldn’t put the dog on my bicycle and take him with me.

      You criticize me for simply pedaling on, but what else could I have done? I certainly felt bad for the little guy, but if I picked up every stray animal I’ve seen over the last 12 years, I’d have hundreds, maybe even thousands, of animals to take care of.

      What would you have done differently?

  23. David

    December 24, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Let’s cut Darren some slack here people. As the owner of a rescued dog, I feel for little Ukraine but honestly there was nothing more Darren could do. Some of the comments above we’re clearly from ppl living in part of the world where there are services for stray dogs. Pedal on Darren and have a great 2013!

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  25. nick

    August 28, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Watching that video was very heart felt, I know you made the right choice to leave him behind and avoid making the dog more likely to follow you by feeding him.. It must have been very difficult for you to do so and must have been a difficult choice to make. Its a shame it not a simple choice of saying to one self. This dog is obviously alone and in need of help and somehow adopt him. But that would be in a perfect world. At least you have the memorable photographs which are very good. Good luck

  26. Laurie

    August 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    The nearest i have encountered to this situation, is a wild dingo that ran a large, wide complete circle around me as i pedaled along, simply because it couldn,t make out what it was looking at. I guess curiousosity got the better of it, not having seen a touring cyclist towing a bob trailer.

    The way i see it, you did what you could under the circumstances. At least you cared.
    Regards, Laurie.

  27. john

    August 28, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    the comments by the bickers on this site are excellent. I would have fed him, and probably would have tried to find a place for him on the bike.

  28. ollin (@ollinm)

    September 26, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Oh man! My heart broke :/

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