Go to Panama. Give stray dog a cracker. Make BFF.

He’s been one of my closest friends for nearly eight years.

When I landed on Isla Bastimentos off the coast of Panama, I was nervous. It was the start of a six-month commitment to study an alternative energy project and I went without much forethought. I was young, only out of college for two years, and struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. When I moved out to Portland after finishing school, I was excited–a new part of the country, a career as a director of a nonprofit, a fresh start–but it didn’t quite fit. I met some great people in Portland and chalked up tons of crazy adventures, but something was missing.

My feet grew restless. I moved on.

Back to Minnesota.

I started exploring the emerging “green building” industry and sat down with the president of a local energy management company.

“I see you speak Spanish,” he said, scrutinizing my resume over his paper coffee cup. “Would you want to work on an alternative energy project in Panama? My brother’s developing a timeshare community down there. Six months, minimum.”

This was not what I had in mind. It was only an informational meeting, meant to quell my curiosity about how to break into the industry. But I was up for anything at that point. I found myself answering, “Um, sure. Panama. Why not?”

“Okay. I’ll let you know what my brother decides.”

I got a phone call that night. I was in. Off to Panama after only dipping my feet into MN for a month.

The archipelago of Bocas del Toro is off the eastern coast of Panama, just south of the Costa Rican border. It’s a paradise of palm trees, white sand beaches, capuchin monkeys and sloths, and plenty of rickety wooden boats zipping between islands. My island was called Bastimentos.

At the time, there was only one small community on the tip of Bastimentos, a marina, a newly-opened hostel, and an in-the-works timeshare community. It is a small island–it takes about three hours to bushwhack from one end to the other–and is accessible from the main island via a 15 minute boat ride. Bastimentos is famous for the powdery sands of Red Frog Beach and the tiny crimson amphibians which reside there.

I took off from the main island to my new home in the dark. The moon shone over the inky waters and our boat began leaving a neon green trail in its wake. Phosphorescence. Bioluminescent algae. Was I living in a fairyland?

The boat dropped me off at an unlit dock. I was escorted to the door of my room at the hostel, given a key, and left to myself. Dark. No one around. I was hungry, but there were no restaurants on this side of the island, only an open-air cafeteria that fed the workers during designated meal times.

I started unpacking. The electricity cut out. Once, twice.

I decided to give up and walk outside. I sat on the ledge of a short wall outside my hostel and looked up at the glitter-bomb stars. Just like I remember them in my childhood in Northern Minnesota…minus the silhouettes of palm trees.

My stomach growled and I dug out a packet of crackers from my backpack. I began to eat them, slowly, letting the butter flavor fill my mouth and melt across my tongue. A rustle off to my left caught my attention.

He was a young dog, probably not even a year old, and reed-thin. He approached in an uncertain zig-zag.

“Hey there,” I said. “You want one, little guy?”

I stuck out an arm.

The dog sniffed, took a step closer.

“Come on, I won’t hurt you.”

I marveled at how my voice carried. It was only me, the dog, the stars.

He took another step. Another. When he was close enough, he stretched out his neck, touched his lips to the cracker. With a yank, he took it and scampered away.

And that was the beginning.

That was when this little dog, who came to be called Dobby, entered my life and changed my world. We’ve had to overcome a lot together (including multi threats on his life), but it’s all been worth it.

Dobby’s story is about the unbreakable bonds of friendship, steadfast trust, and having the courage to take life’s “crackers” when they’re offered to us.


Illustrations from the forthcoming book (Sign up to get notified when it’s released!)

Dobby in Panama

Dobby in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Dobby at home

Dobby at home

Kate Bitters is ghost writer, content creator, and book coach. She is the author of Ten Thousand Lines and Elmer Left. She writes occasional short stories and writing guides on The Bitter Blog. Kate Bitters is the pen name of Kate Leibfried, founder and president of Click Clack Writing, LLC.