The ruckus created by some dogs awakened Gloria Fernandes in the dead of the night and what caught her attention immediately was the pitiful cry of one dog that was barely audible above the din. Even though it was raining at the time, Fernandes could not ignore that cry, so she braved the rain, slipping several times on the wet grass in the process, but in the end the mission was completed: the dog was rescued.
Today the dog, which she has named Girly and was “skin and bone” when she rescued her, is one of her ten pets and sleeps in her home. Girly was led to Fernandes’s McDoom, Greater Georgetown fence and left there by her previous owner, because persons near and far know she has a soft spot for dogs and cannot turn a blind eye to their plight.
At 69, Fernandes has felt the pain of life and has struggled through years of depression and at one time even alcoholism. Today she is described by many as the ‘lonely little old lady’ but she is kept busy not only providing for her ten dogs, but the many others left tied to her fence and even assists her neighbours with theirs when they are overseas.
“I grew up with dogs. My father used to work in the interior and he had hunting dogs, but we also had dogs that were kept at home. So, I have always loved dogs,” Fernandes told the Sunday Stabroek, her eyes twinkling as she reminisced.
But minutes later tears flowed down her cheeks as she spoke about the death of her only son some 34 years ago.
On May 8, 1984 she said, she received, a “Mother’s Day gift I would never forget”. She not only lost her son that day to a murderous pirate attack, but also two brothers; a third was shot and even though he has recovered from the injury he has never been the same again.
Michael D’Ally, Jerome and Henry Fernandes were killed while Joseph Fernandes was shot and thrown overboard but survived. They were all on a ‘SeaFoods’ trawler. Michael was just 18 years old and had never worked in his life. His mother said he had only gone with his uncles for the experience as he was about to leave the country to study abroad.
“He took his school books with him. He never worked, he was not working. And the hardest part of it is that we never got their bodies. I never buried my son,” she wept.
As it was told to her by Joseph, the vessel was attacked by five men who were known to them. One of the men had frequented the Fernandes’s residence; they were on the boat for a day and a night and were demanding fuel. Joseph, who was the captain of the boat, and his brothers and nephew were kept below deck. At intervals, Joseph was taken to the deck and tortured. One of his brothers wrote the names of the men on the wall and they were told they would be killed. Joseph was shot and tossed overboard but was kept afloat by his nephew’s lumber jacket which he was wearing at the time. He witnessed the others being taken to the deck and shot.
Eight hours later he was rescued and taken ashore; the bodies of his brothers and nephew were never found.
As she told the story, Fernandes cried. She said while she had moved on the hole in her heart left by her son’s death will never be filled.
The five pirates were arrested, and they were eventually sentenced to death. Two were eventually released on appeal, according to Fernandes. At one point, her family had to live outside of Guyana for security reasons, but she was in court when the five were sentenced. Justice was served, but it could never bring back her son or brothers.
She recalled that when the boat was brought to shore it was blood spattered, showing the evidence of the gruesome act which had occurred. She remembered seeing her son’s books strewn about; the only evidence of him on the boat.
“And you know we never got anything from American Sea Foods. They said they were not responsible for piracy. My brother had a lawyer here fighting and, in the end, they gave me $100,000 and I just took it and gave it to charity,” she said.
Fernandes said her son was a blessed child who was mannerly and a son any mother would ask for. “I never had no problems with Michael D’Ally. He went a school and he did well. He had three friends he used to bring home every day and two of them I am still in touch with but one I never heard from him again and sometimes I wonder what happened to him,” she said sadly.
Little unpainted house
Fernandes had grown up in Mc Doom, but later left. She returned to the location 30 years ago, four years after her son was killed, and it has not been an easy existence. She shared that she lives in a “small unpainted house” and many people would “ask me why I don’t paint and fix up the house from the money I got from my son’s death and I would ask them what money?”
Following her son’s death, Fernandes said, she was so depressed that she took to drinking.
“But is only by the grace of God that I stopped and my mother, you know, she really tried. I was the only girl among her five children. I was a twin and my father died when I was nine years old… my mother struggled with us and brought us up,” she said with a sad smile.
“It was not easy, I was heading for a nervous breakdown and at one point I didn’t know what to do but thank God the drinking did not last forever,” she added.
It was a struggle, but she stopped drinking and she lived with her mother and her partner for a while. They separated, and her mother died; she has lived alone for many years.
Fernandes said that she was married at the age of 17 after she got pregnant, but the union did not last. She recalled that her husband was from Essequibo and she moved there with him but cried to return home.
“I couldn’t live there, and I begged to come home. Maybe he thought I was coming back for a holiday, but when I came back I said I don’t want to go back and that was it. I eventually divorced him years later and he never looked at his son. He is dead now. I never held it against him. Maybe I was too young,” she said.
Fernandes said one of her brothers later died and left five children, one of whom was just a baby at the time, and she along with her mother helped to raise the children.
“Now I live alone. God, me and my dogs. Living here is not easy and sometimes my family would tell me why I don’t see the place and move out, but sometimes I go somewhere else and it worse,” she said.
She believes she is there for a reason as even though she does not have much she never says no, and she is always there for the dogs in the area.
“People would come to me with their sick dogs and even though I can’t help them myself I would reach out to other people to help them. Some would tie the dogs on the fence and I would just find them the next morning. And that is how I found Girly, I think she was a dog from a rich family who got lost or stolen because of the way she behaves. Girly does want Milo tea,” she said with light laughter.
“I am not rich. I am a senior citizen, but I love dogs and every day I would cook a big pot for my dogs. I have a friend who would come and help sometimes,” she said.
While she helps out with the dogs in the area and would assist persons from time to time Fernandes said that for years she has been tormented by a particular neighbour and the matter has reached the courts.
At times she feels threatened but she has nowhere else to go.
“I don’t feel safe. Is just me alone and so most times I am out looking after a dog here and there. I don’t want trouble I want peace but this family always on my case,” she said.
With the help of relatives and friends, a high fence has been put up between her and the neighbour, but even this does not make her feel safe, Fernandes said.
But she made it clear that as long as she has life and can move, her ten dogs and any other that cross her path will have food and be taken care of.