By Judith Acosta, LISW (Check out Judith’s web site to find out more about her work with animals, people, and )
I’m a dog magnet or so it seems. If there’s a stray within 10 miles, they find me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But my youngest dog surprised me in a way that my other rescues didn’t. He called to me from across the country.
It’s a strange story. But it’s typical of New Mexico, or so I’ve been told.
About five years ago I started having dreams—both at night and during the day as intrusive little drifting images—of a small gold puppy running in front of a truck that I was driving. At the time I drove a sedan and told myself it was a ridiculous dream. But it persisted. And it was very disturbing. I remember once on the New York State Thruway having that image push its way into my consciousness with a ferocity that made me pull over and pray for help. “Please God, don’t let me run over a puppy!” I invoked every angel I could think of by name before I could continue driving.
Then about four years ago I came out to New Mexico to look for land. I had plans to move to Montana to live, but thought I’d like to see whether there were any options in southeastern Colorado and North Central New Mexico. I stayed with a cousin in Santa Fe and made day trips both north and south. One day I drove up 285 past Espanola towards Southern Colorado into an area called the Kit Carson Reserve. It’s very isolated. After a few homes to the north end of a reservation, there was nothing but pinon pine and sage.
About a mile after the last house faded from my rear view mirror, a tumble of furry forms came toward me on the right side of the road.
In a flash they raced across the street, I jammed on the brakes and came to a stop. It was a larger dog chasing a puppy. A gold puppy. I got out of the truck (yes, it was a truck!) and the larger dog immediately took off. I hadn’t said or done a thing yet, but he just stopped and spun around. The puppy, about 20 pounds of bone and fur, stopped, hunkered down and wiggled his tail. He whined and crawled around for a moment until I said, “Chochito (an Argentinian term of endearment for babies), come.” And, without exaggeration, he leapt into my arms.
I got him into the truck and suddenly recalled the dream. I didn’t know whether to be angry, stunned, or delighted. Then I realized, “Oh God, I’m in New Mexico. What am I gonna do with a puppy??!!!!” Then I looked up at the heavens and said, out loud, “And you couldn’t do this in New York?!”
In any case, I had a puppy in my lap. On my way to Colorado. Full of ticks. Starving. Dehydrated from who knows how long in the desert.
I took him to a couple of houses in the reservation. The two guys working in the yard just said, “Nah, we don’t know him. He ain’t ours. People drop ‘em off all the time here just to get rid of ‘em.” They gave me some water and we left.
After another 200 miles of sleeping, puking, jumping and whining, I finally found a vet that was open in Taos, got him a collar, a leash and some food.
That night, I had one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had with an animal. After I’d cleaned him, fed him, watered him, I held him in bed and watched as his eyes began to close. He sighed a sigh so rich with relief I smiled at him and in that briefest of moments I saw myself through his eyes. It wasn’t a color image. Nor was it black and white. It was something I’d never seen before and still have no words for. But in that moment, I felt his gratitude and realized he was not only the puppy of my dream, but that he was mine and I was his.
The problem remained—what the hell would I do with him in New Mexico? I still lived in New York. And I was leaving in two days.
I curtailed my exploration for land and raced back to Santa Fe. I got a vet appointment, shots, a crate. I slept with him outside (my cousin had a dog-aggressive dog in her home) in the courtyard. It took two days of wrangling and finagling, but I got him a flight back to New York, but it left three days AFTER I did. So, somehow, miraculously, I found a baby-sitter who would take care of him for three days then drive him to the airport.
It was all—and still feels to me—utterly unreal. When I picked him up at LaGuardia, the joy and the sense of belonging filled my heart. It still does. Every single day.
He has more than repaid the kindness by loving the clients I work with. He is sleeping on my feet as I write this in the office where by all accounts he is the real therapist. And as I type this last line, he sighs.