One day during the second week of September, Buddy didn’t return to our house within a couple hours of his ramble, as he always did. I simply attributed this to his independence. However, when he had not shown up by noon of the following day, and had thus skipped two meals, I began to worry. Of course, I recalled the many dead dogs we’d seen along Doña Ana County roads and highways.
Rapidly mounting dread began to couple with anger at my naiveté. Then I became angry at my fellow Doña Ana County residents. Aware of all the empty beer cans and wine and liquor bottles along county thoroughfares, I cursed their drunken driving. And I cursed their careless driving when they were sober.
However, while I was coming apart, preparing to write Buddy’s obituary in absentia, my wife, still composed and, as always, practical, decided we should gather up a photo of Buddy, some colored highlighters, and push pins, and head to the nearest copy shop to create some lost-dog posters. A fool’s errand, I thought sadly: In one of the poorest counties in New Mexico, when there are fields to be harvested and children readied for another year of school, who’ll stop and read a sun-faded poster tacked to a tree trunk or telephone pole? But I glumly went along.
At an El Paso copy shop we ran off 15 posters, which, owing to Linda’s recollection of her high school Spanish, wisely included the words “perdido” and “recompensa.” Driving around in my truck, we paused to tack the posters along the country roads roughly within a mile radius of our house. Throughout, Linda periodically called out “Buhhhhhh-deeee!”―a wail into the indifferent fields, woods, and ditches that pierced my heart. Later that afternoon Linda phoned the classifieds department of the El Paso Times, which was delivered throughout the Mesilla Valley, and dictated a lost-dog announcement. That night I slept miserably.
The following morning, a Sunday, while I happened to be on our side patio, a dog appeared, limping down our driveway. He was mud-caked and scraped. Despite his sluggish arrival, he was panting rapidly. His penis was oozing pus.
We immediately phoned a veterinary clinic in Las Cruces, and the on-call veterinarian told us to bring Buddy in right away. X-rays revealed that he had a torn diaphragm and two pelvic fractures. Surely he had been struck by a motor vehicle. We left the clinic while the vet prepared to perform “major surgery.”
Despite Buddy’s obviously serious injuries, I was hugely relieved and, ignorantly perhaps, hopeful about the surgery. After all, I told myself, he was still young, and he’d made it to our house from wherever he had been.
The first thing I did when we arrived home was head out in my truck to take down all of the posters, not for practical reasons, but for the sheer relief, joy, and gratitude. Never had our section of the valley―the roads, ditches, fields, homes both solid and sadly ramshackle, tractors, farmworkers, children, cats, dogs, blossoming alfalfa, seven-foot-high weeds―looked so lovely. I savored the removal of every poster, while, with some shame, acknowledging the wisdom, not to mention the simple humanity, of tacking them up in the first place. I thanked the fair skies that had occurred over the previous three days and the muddy ditch that may have cradled Buddy while, broken and torn, he mustered the strength to return. Acknowledging once again my own carelessness, I apologized to the desert skies for my blanket condemnation of my neighbors. Finally, I blessed my calm and compassionate wife.
That evening, we returned to the clinic and saw Buddy: sedated, an IV line in his forepaw, under several layers of warmed blankets, and breathing regularly. He had survived the surgery, which revealed that his liver and intestines had partially entered his chest cavity through the ruptured diaphragm. Beholding him, I was so grateful that, if he had not survived the trauma, at least he did not die slowly, in agony, filthy, forgotten, in a ditch, beneath a gathering whirlpool of soaring vultures.
The following morning, remarkably, the veterinarian informed us that Buddy was ready to go home. I’ve never forgotten that vet, her training, and her hands of an angel.
Over the next six weeks, as fall in the Mesilla Valley arrived, Buddy mended. In the evenings, he reclined at my feet as I sat in the portal. Never again did I let him out of my sight and voice control, at least not in our developed part of the Valley.
In the desert wildlands, I continued to make an exception, for I knew he was safe there. Once again, in pink and lavender evenings, we sat together at Vevay on our knoll above the Southern Pacific track. We watched the lights of El Paso and Juárez blossom in the east. With the approach of a freight train, I held Buddy firmly. Sometimes, obeying the red light of a block signal, the train came to a halt right beside us, and in so doing seemed to become a black hole into which was sucked not only the clamor of the train, but the noise of the entire world, creating a vast and deep silence underscored by a mile or more of dark and brooding steel on wheels.
Buddy, meanwhile, attended to every point in space, gazing, sniffing, in my gentle control, yet reveling in the independence of his senses.