One day, shortly after Linda and I arrived in Anthony, a dog appeared at my side as I stood at our mailbox just down the road from our house. He followed me home. He was a cinnamon-colored shepherd-retriever mix who looked to be about a year old and weighing some forty-five pounds. He had no collar and was not neutered.
For several days he hung around our property and followed me to and from the mailbox. I did nothing to encourage his interest in me. I neither fed nor watered him, although daytime temperatures were in the 100s. I didn’t so much as touch him. Meanwhile, he introduced himself to Linda, who, against my unvoiced wishes, provided him with water.
We soon concluded that he was just one more of the many stray dogs, a depressing number of which were dead on the shoulders of highways and roads, we had seen in Doña Ana County since our arrival. Whatever, I was simply hoping my neglect of him would make him go away―dissolve back into the ditches, fields, and woods from which he emerged―and never return. After all, my interests now were tending our new property, the reading of great books, and the writing of my surely soon-to-be underground bestsellers. It did occur to me that Linda, whose family had raised, bred, and shown Scotties much of her life, might like an addition to our household, but half of that responsibility would be mine, and I had no interest in caring for and giving companionship to a dog.
But I never flat out said this to Linda, so on about day four, as Linda and I stood in our yard with the anonymous mutt once again sitting ever faithfully and calmly between us, she suggested we adopt him.
“Fine!” she said with a sting that suggested anything but. Then she blindsided me with the following: “Then you take him to the shelter in Las Cruces.”
Me? Take him? To a shelter? By myself?
My mind was suddenly a welter.
First: Of course, you dope! You want one less dead or dying dog by the side of a road? That dead or dying dog that depresses you so much? It’s simple: You take the stray to a damn shelter!
But then my mind stepped into some darkness: Okay. She’s playing me. She knows that I know I’ll be the last to see this poor animal delivered to the concrete, chain-link, dankness, cacophony, and―let’s face it, given all the stray dogs around here―the high probability of the euthanizing table of a southern New Mexico animal shelter. And that I’ll give in!
But only momentarily.
Of course she doesn’t want to be a part of it―for the very reasons you just enumerated. Now, do you? You who love this fabulous new home in the desert, largely made possible by her. You who loved that blue belton when you were a teenager. You who now have half an acre of private property and miles of fields and desert. You who recall that photo of Steinbeck at his typewriter―with a dog at his side.
Do YOU? Step outside yourself for just this once. She would enjoy a dog. You might, too.
“Let’s keep him,” I said.
Within minutes, he was seated beside me in the truck as we prepared to go to the IGA for several cans of dog food.
Linda beamed at the two of us.
“Let’s call him Buddy!” she said.
“Sure!” I answered with a grin.
Obviously unused to the luxury of motorized travel, Buddy vomited some water en route to the supermarket, but I didn’t care. I’d almost forgotten how easily dogs let go of things that don’t agree with them.
Soon he was neutered and fully inoculated at an Anthony, New Mexico, clinic. I cannot recall, but if micro-chipping was available back then, I’m sure he was checked for it and found lacking. We never posted a “found dog” in any newspaper, and had no second thoughts about that.
After mere days with him―exploring fields and ditches, watching freight trains in the desert, assessing sunsets from the portal―I was grateful for his company. Buddy took my mind off things: books I had to read, words I had to produce, a property I had to maintain. But when I did write, he was always at my side.
He lived to the age of seventeen, knowing the Southwest as well as I ever did. Linda and I are now on dog number six.
And the ones delivered from the road, they’re surely the special ones.