When I finally moved to Truchas, New Mexico, I did get a big dog as people had recommended, but not for protection. When the family who owned the horses I was caring for (see previous post Coming to New Mexico) left their home on the Llano, I hadn’t realized it but they also semi-abandoned a dog there—a white German Shepherd. I know they loved him and always intended to come back and feed him, but they had sorrows of their own overtaking them. Unbeknownst to me, the dog was silently watching me feed his horses from across the road in the shadows of his house. One day he approached me and asked for help.
It had been a harsh winter that year. Already, by December, we’d had five serious storms and snow was on the ground to stay. The acequias were frozen solid so there was no source of water and very little game for him to trap to feed himself. Even though his people came by sometimes with food, he was starving.
He is a fiercely loyal dog. Despite the fact he’d been left alone outside to weather the storms, he fully expected his family to return, so he waited. I always sensed he felt it was something of a betrayal, on his part, having finally come to me for help. He seemed to hold it as his own failure—believing he’d been left because he hadn’t measured up somehow. Was it really the dog I was feeling or was I mirroring my own abandonment issues? Perhaps it was a little of both. But for a long time after presenting himself to me, when he followed me home to be fed, he always returned to his land, to the barren shelter of his portal, to the silence of his frozen home. He didn’t come to stay with me for many, many months.
Finally, one day, he did stay after his supper and, little by little, moved in with me. Sometimes on our walks out to the Llano his people would be at the old home doing chores. He’d bound across the pastures to be with them and wouldn’t come home with me. I knew they’d leave at the end of the day, however, so I’d drive over to find him, once again, abandoned but loyally waiting. He was always happy to see me and happier, still, to get in my car (Llano dogs don’t ride in cars!). He would grin with what I call his “car ears” on—tucked down sort of flat along the side of his head, and we would come home together.
At first I didn’t know his name and I called him Spirit Dog. Later I learned he was called Kilo, for kilo of cocaine. I didn’t want to take his name away from him but I thought he deserved better, so I came up with the diminutive, Kelee, and added Blanco—Kelee Blanco.
What I haven’t mentioned is that two years before I met him, Kelee had been shot. The bullet went through one back leg, across his belly, shattering the other hind leg on its exit. His people rushed him to the vet to be put down but they couldn’t afford the fee, so they brought him back to the Llano and, using herbs and old remedies, nursed him. But the leg never recovered. It hung uselessly and painfully at his side.
One August he developed a sudden bone infection in his bad leg that wasn’t responding to antibiotics. It was killing him. As much as I didn’t want to cause him more pain than he’d already suffered in his life, the leg had to come off. The surgery was very difficult and his recovery long but he is once again walking all the way out to his old homestead with me, something I wasn’t sure could ever be.
I tell him, often, he did nothing to deserve the hardships in his life, that he has a home with me now and I’m never leaving. I wonder, am I waiting to be told my own version of this–that I did nothing wrong, that I am loved and, no matter what, it will last forever?