Where do you look for an old, blind dog?

Reprinted by permission from The Sandoval Signpost

On a stormy morning last month, I didn’t trip over Ruby, our blind red heeler, in the dark hallway. I had let our other dog out as usual and made my coffee before realizing that Ruby was gone. She was not in a closet, or sitting on the doorstep with Lalo, barking for breakfast. I woke up my wife Barb, who quickly remembered that she had let Ruby out the previous night, then fallen asleep on the couch, then went to bed. Ruby was still out there in the wind and rain.

Why would a 15-year-old blind dog run away? Heelers are so loyal that anybody who says their heeler ran away is lying. Ruby was always there—it was her job. I bought her for $75 after an ad in the paper promised she was “guaranteed to work,” meaning herd cows. She had been herding us, the kids, and our other dogs ever since.

Barb took the car and one of the walkie-talkies, while Lalo and I started a methodical search on foot. We live on a dead-end road above the Las Huertas wash just east of the Placitas Open Space. There was a lot of ground to cover, but we didn’t have to worry much about Ruby getting hit by a car, and the rattlesnakes were probably hibernating. I searched in widening circles around our house. She wasn’t in our arroyo, at our neighbor’s, or down by the pipeline. When she blindly wandered off last month, we found her about a quarter mile away, on top of a hill, but she wasn’t up there either. The wind pelted cold rain.

Ruby always loved to bite ankles, and she didn’t tolerate tomfoolery—especially dancing. Ruby didn’t allow dancing. Lalo grew up trying to slip by the jaws of order whenever trying to fetch a ball or have any fun. Ruby hates to swim, but when the river beaconed her pack, she was dogpaddling behind us. It was her loyalty that drove her to wander off. She wasn’t running away, she was trying to get back home.

Barb radioed that she had driven all the dirt roads within a half mile. She saw the bobcat that lives around here, but no Ruby. Would bobcat predation be preferable to a slow death by starvation and exposure and . . . what about coyotes? This was getting serious. We met back at the house to check for phone messages. After breakfast, we took two more loops—Barb west into the Open Space, and me east to the BLM, south to Ranchos de Placitas subdivision, and back through the Open Space.

Things had changed after Ruby went blind. She still lunged at ankles but usually missed, and she still affectionately growled when petted—which became less frequent as she faded into the background of Lalo’s magnificence. It seemed that Ruby had outlived her uselessness. Only recently, we had joked about placing an ad in the Signpost that would read something like: “Free to a good home: Fifteen-year-old blind Heeler/Good appetite/Copious digestive output/Guaranteed to shed. . .”

After walking all morning, I had about decided that nature was taking its course, and maybe that was okay. Barb started to cry over the radio.

Just when we thought all hope was lost, there she was, standing there trapped by the fence around a neighbor’s yard, wet and dirty. Oh joy! Oh joy! I heaved that fat little old dog across my shoulder and carried her home across the arroyo.

Don’t bother looking for that ad, by the way—you can’t have my dog.