What to say about Willie? Willie is my just-turned one-year-old puppy. I started looking for him right after the world was struck with Covid. Half the world, including the US, was under lock down. And my 16 year-old rescue dog, Finn, passed away. During the pandemic.
Finn was one of those “heart dogs.” Any of you who have lived with one know what I’m talking about. I honestly didn’t know how I would continue without him. My heart was badly broken. But the world’s heart was also breaking. So many people were suffering such indescribable losses that I knew I had to keep mine in perspective.
I hadn’t planned on getting another dog. I knew there could never be another Finny. Besides, I’m getting up there in age and I always have promised any pet I’ve taken on that I’d be there for them til the end. Unless I took on an elderly dog, I couldn’t really make that promise with any certainty.
I’ve never looked for a dog before, though I’ve lived with many. They all have somehow found me, starved, abused, homeless, feral. In fact I moved to New Mexico without a dog, just 6 cats, and wasn’t planning on getting one, despite being warned that as a woman alone up here on the mountain I needed a gun and a big dog.
Then Kelee found me (his name was really Kilo but I thought he deserved better). He was a magnificent white German shepherd whose family had been violently uprooted by a fierce tragedy that held some danger still. They had to leave suddenly and they had to leave him behind. They brought food to him when they could. It’s a long story I wrote about here: http://high-road-artist.com/54/rescue-dog/a-three-legged-man-of-the-west/.
Kelee had been shot a couple of years before, in the hind leg. His people treated him with mountain remedies, not having enough money to put him down or get him veterinary care. By the time he was with me he’d been living with a terrible infection in the shattered leg and it had to come off or he’d die. I had no idea how hard it would be for him and I regretted not just putting him down, which I was still considering. He’d lost his will to live.
Then I found Skye (Night Skye), an emaciated black puppy that ran in front of my car on my way home late one night in a terrible snow storm. A friend was with me and it took the two of us to get her, and I know we wouldn’t have if she hadn’t simply collapsed from hunger and exhaustion. She was totally feral and we had to wrap her in a coat as she struggled, snapped and hissed. I didn’t think she’d live through the night but figured she’d be safe and warm with a full belly. She did make it.
And, as sometimes happens in this world, ended up being just what Kelee needed to pull him out of his decline. She wouldn’t allow me to get near her so Kelee realized he would have to step in. She gave him a project which, for a working dog with a heart as big as Kelee’s, gave him a reason to live. Here’s the story I wrote about it at the time: http://high-road-artist.com/67/rescue-dog/night-skye/.
And then came my Finny. You can see from his photos, below, that he was in dire straits.
At first Kelee made an issue about who was top dog but a couple of fights helped Finn relinquish any thought he may have had of ruling the pack.
I’m giving you this back story so you’ll understand where Willie fits in. He’s coming, I promise.
I worried for years about what would happen to Skye when Kelee finally died and I saw it was coming. She was, of course, the most bonded with him. And while she’d finally allowed me to pet her, still cringing to this day when I do, the dogs were her real family. Other than being fed and kept warm by this human, I meant very little to her.
A vet came to the house when it was Kelee’s time to go. Skye was there with us and I left his body in the studio so all the animals would understand and could say goodbye. Skye, I think, spent the night with him. We also invited her to the graveside as we buried him. She actually laid on his grave numerous times over the following weeks.
But Finn stepped up and seemed to be tender with her over her grief and they eventually became almost as bonded as she’d been with Kelee.
Then a couple of years later came little Scrumpy. The dogs found her on a morning walk, tossed out in the woods, covered with infected bite wounds, limping like she’d been hit by a car, hardly able to walk and very fearful of humans. Rumors run high up here about a dog fighting ring–terrible stories I won’t tell you. A few days later I saw a black version of Scrumpy in an informal garbage dump as I was walking. He was past saving. I fear Scrumpy may have crawled from there. Had she stayed we never would have found her.
But Scrumpy healed and, you got it, was accepted into the family. She’d been bred for fighting so keeping her (and all of us) safe and alive was something I had to work with. Here’s her story, sort of, at least where she fit into our home in the beginning: http://high-road-artist.com/?s=stick. I was later told by a vet and a trainer that she should be put down, that she was a dangerous dog, but I was able to give her a good life where she was safe and we were too. I’m proud of that.
Finn had had a morning routine of exploring the canyon on the back of the land, coming home around lunch time for years. I used to joke that he was playing cards, smoking cigars and sharing scotch with the coyotes. They all seemed to have a respect for each other, the wild and the domesticated. Skye never went with him, having had arthritis from an early age, but Scrumpy started following him on his daily rounds. He seemed to like it. I came to call them Mutt and Jeff.
One day Scrumpy, the youngest of the pack, the one I’d worried about outliving, died suddenly in my arms on a rush to the vet. She’d had a heart attack. Bad breeding, likely, mating the meanest with the meanest, and her little conflicted heart just burst.
And so the pack was down to two: Finn and Skye. As you know from the beginning of this story, Finn passed away, not all that long after Scrumpy, and though I knew it was coming, the hole he left in our home was huge. For Skye it appeared catastrophic. She withdrew further into herself, her entire pack gone, left only to the humans she’d never really liked or trusted all that much. My heart broke doubly for her.
She started wasting away. She wasn’t eating or drinking. I really thought she was dying. In fact I called the same vet who’d come up for Kelee and Finn and left a message, but she never got back and I didn’t have the heart to call her again. And amazingly, little by little, Skye began to recover. She ate and she drank and she’d go outside, just barely.
And so I started thinking about getting a male dog for her. But this was the pandemic. Everybody was getting dogs and the shelters were empty. I couldn’t go walk through a facility, find a dog and take him home. I had to watch the internet, see a possibility and make an appointment. Nobody rang true in the very few that were available.
I started thinking about buying a purebred even though my rescue blood runs strong. But they were all out of dogs too, puppies were snapped up and prices went beyond sky high. Crazy. What a time to be looking for a dog and they’d always come so easily before.
So I took to watching every shelter in a huge region of New Mexico every day, often several times a day. And I began to realize it wasn’t only Skye who needed a dog. The house rang hollow without Finny’s energy, the grief of the pandemic was a weight.
Photo of Diego on Stray Hearts Site
The Day We Met
Then one night on the Stray Hearts Shelter site (https://www.strayhearts.org/), which is just an hour away in Taos, I saw Willie. His name was Diego at the time. Without hesitation I filled out an application for him and sent it. No regrets. He was my dog. And in the morning I received an acceptance letter. I could come up and meet him but he’d have to stay another week to be old enough to neuter. He was 7 weeks at the time. I never knew he had a white tip on his tail because it was tucked so firmly under his butt when we met, poor little mite.
Willie had been thrown away with his sister and brother at about 6 weeks. They’d been attacked by something, probably a coyote, and his brother, who was the larger of the three and likely tried to protect his siblings, almost lost his eye, but Stray Hearts was able to save it and him. The three were found in a yard in Taos and nothing more is known.
When I brought Willie home and set him on the ground, he saw Skye in the yard. Like the lost puppy he was, ripped away from his mama far too soon, he raced to her, slid under her belly and tried to nurse. Heartbreaking. Of course Skye’s reaction was to butt him away and growl.
Skye didn’t accept Willie at first. I started to despair that he wasn’t an answer for her. In fact she seemed to get more depressed, sort of like she thought I was trying to replace Finn. But then one night, during a thunderstorm which Skye hates but which don’t bother Willie, she retreated to her bathroom spot of safety and I got her “storm blanket” out and put it on her. Willie, of course always near her, followed.
What transpired was so sweet. Little by little Willie belly crawled to the storm-frightened Skye, first touching the edge of her blanket and finally reaching her. I watched this and it took a long time, a lot of patience on a puppy’s part. She didn’t growl (I didn’t get any photos, didn’t want to disturb them). Willie stayed with her all night, the two sleeping together, his head on her paws. And since that day she has accepted him. In fact they are fast friends. He still considers her his mama dog, it’s clear, although he now towers over her. And she adores him. For the first time SHE’S the head of the pack! And she’s thriving. He’s taken years off of her life. She’s lost weight, is playing, walking with us again. She’s almost a puppy herself.
And that white tip on the end of Willie’s tail has given me a clue about at least some of his ancestry. Surprisingly to me, not that many dog breeds have white tipped tails. And one of them looks an awful lot like my boy. It’s the American foxhound which has longer legs than its British counterpart. Mixed with some pit bull no doubt. This is New Mexico after all. See here?
Another thing. Since that night, my bathroom has become Willie’s preferred night time sleeping spot. I’ve had to move his bed in there. And, oh yeah, Skye’s “storm blanket” has become his. Until there’s a storm that is. Then they share.
Throughout this terribly difficult year Willie has made me laugh out loud at least once every day. I’m sure that’s not an exaggeration. As this young new spirit came into my home, sensitive, with his own traumas, still having nightmares of his own, he gave Skye a kind of rebirth and me as well. I was reminded once again that, while we still live, there are always chances for new beginnings, fresh starts, healing, new birth. I realize how easy that is for me to say not having lost a loved one, a child this year. But as hard as life can be, as long as we continue, there is hope.
I just read that the Obama’s dog, Bo, has died. President Obama offered this message, “He was exactly what we needed and more than we ever expected. We will miss him dearly.” That is Willie. Exactly what we needed and more than we ever expected.
Thank you Stray Hearts Animal Shelter for saving this precious life.
Stay well and love to you all,
|Jeane George Weigel