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January wind blows cold at Canyon de Chelly. The gusts of January 4, 2016 blew particularly cold, driving mean clouds across the sky and sending locals and tourists alike to huddle around their fires in as many layers as mobility or fashion would allow. The threat of rain became a reality as the Park Ranger locked the Visitor Center and double-timed it across the parking lot to her battered old pickup truck. She sat in the cab and rubbed her hands together in a hopeless quest for warmth while motor oil came to temperature and SiriusXM streamed her favorite song to ancient speakers. She’s Good People, and I have no doubt she’d have climbed out the truck and into the rain if she’d heard the pained whimper of a Cattle Dog mix birthing her sixth litter behind the dumpster. But good music should be played loud and the Rez Dog mama knew sounds of distress would attracts predators from miles around. The dog swallowed her pain as the Ranger turned left and exited the lot. Mama was left alone in the cold and dark to bring five more Rez Dog puppies into a dangerous world that didn’t want them.
One of those pups, a Beagle/Cattle Dog mix named Edgar, was kind enough to meet with me at his foster home in St. Johns, Arizona last week to discuss life, rescue and the plight of Rez Dogs everywhere.
Edgar is short and skinny and nearly died from the malnutrition that marked his seven months on the Rez. He’ll always be the smallest guy in the pack but despite his rough start to life, his brown eyes sparkle with optimistic intelligence and humor so bright it’s impossible not to like him from the start. A raging case of mange cost him a significant portion of what should be a lush rust and black colored coat. The question of whether or not it’ll grow back is still open and the wispy fur that remains moves gently in the breeze like the insubstantial hair of a tow-headed Norwegian kid. Unlike other Rez Dogs in the same situation, he chose the “wash and wear” look rather than the comb-over popularized by dogs with low self-esteem or something to hide.
His foster home is located on several rural acres of relatively flat land surrounded by other homes on parcels of similar size. There are few fences and they offer only token resistance to Rez Dogs eager to push their boundaries. The open prairie look was calming and the unobstructed views of sandstone cliffs thirty miles away was gorgeous. Word is out on the street: this particular foster home is the place rescued Rez Dogs want to go. Hundreds of Rez Dogs (perhaps a thousand or more) found peace and healing here and left rejuvenated physically, emotionally and spiritually. Credit for these miracles goes to the foster mama – she knows dogs better than you know yourself. She offers Universal Healthcare. She provides Single Payer as intended. It’s where Rez Dogs go to prepare themselves to be the best friend their forever people ever had.
Edgar wasn’t home when I arrived for the interview. Turns out he’d been exploring the neighborhood with his best buddy, a three month old bundle of mischievous energy named Rebel, and punctuality isn’t a Rez Dog strength anyway. They loped through the gate a few minutes past noon and Rebel peeled off to tend to other business while Edgar approached me directly. “I’m so sorry to be late,” he said. We shook hands/paws and sniffed each other in a vague but important way. “I’m Edgar,” he added. “Thank you for coming all this way to speak with me.”
We settled in the shade of an enormous weeping willow with an amazing view across the valley. Edgar offered typical Rez Dog hospitality by giving me the K9 Ballistics Chew Proof Dog Bed (with Bolstered Ripstop Nylon Cover) while he gingerly lowered himself onto the Coolaroo Elevated Pet Bed (in Desert Sand.)
STEVE: Edgar, I want to thank you for being available for our talk today. As I discussed with your people, my people are deeply affected by the companion animal overpopulation situation on Native American Reservations…
EDGAR: Sorry to interrupt, Steve, but you need to cut that sanitized bullshit. Right now.
STEVE: Uh. Ummm.
EDGAR: It’s the “Rez Dog Problem” not the flippin’ “Companion Animal Situation.” Sugar coating the issue with diplomatic language rounds off the edges and I can’t think of a less productive way to have an adult conversation. If we’re ever going to reduce the suffering, we need to act like adults, not politicians.
STEVE: … reduce the suffering… Don’t we want to eliminate it?
EDGAR: The causes of the Rez Dog problem are cultural, economic and yadda yadda yadda. We may never find a permanent solution but we most definitely can create and implement programs that will improve the lives of Rez Dogs today, right now. Low cost/no cost spay and neuter clinics, educational programs, improved adoption programs… These are things that on-the-ball Rez rescue groups are already doing and some of them are achieving measurable results. Rather than trying to solve the problem today – something kind rescuers have been trying to do for fifty years – let’s address the misery directly… and let’s do that with programs that have the strength and focus to eventually deliver a long term solution. In the meantime, let’s take a close look at what’s being done in the name of these dogs (and cats!) and… I don’t know… let’s try something crazy such as increasing the efficiency of these programs. You might consider looking for ways to minimize costs. It might be wise to put a stop to the infighting and pointless competitions you silly humans can’t get enough of… Look, no two rescuers or rescue groups view the situation the same way but it’s critical that people work together despite their differences. Are you a no-kill person or not? I don’t care. If you have a nursing mama without a litter and I have eight puppies whose mother was hit by a car, damn right you should be able to put your differences aside to save those puppies. You’ll rescue more dogs for the same money and speaking for Rez Dogs everywhere, we’d appreciate the effort. Aw, man. Sorry, dude. You touched a nerve.
STEVE: Apparently so.
EDGAR: Humans just make things so much more complex than they need to be. Then you throw greed and ego and personal animosity into the mix… you folks are the most screwed up mammals I know.
STEVE: You’ll get no argument from me on that one.
EDGAR: Tell you what… I’ll shut up now. I see you brought a list of questions with you. Let’s start with those and…
STEVE: No. Please don’t shut up. I’m here to spread the word about Rez Dogs and I can’t talk about the problem without offering a solution. Who knows the problem better than a dog like you? Besides, you seem to know people better than people know people and I could always use good advice about women.
EDGAR: Amen to that, brotha…
STEVE: Oh, please Edgar. You going to break into some gangster rap about stupid humans?
EDGAR: If I could carry a tune, I might.
Edgar and Steve both stopped talking and stared at the belching smoke stacks belonging to the Coronado Generating Station across the valley. Neither of them needed more or better proof that humans were at least a little stupid. Maybe a lot. The conversation hadn’t gone the way either had imagined it would and somehow, that made them both feel a little better. Edgar leaned over and held up a paw. Steve smacked it with his hand and they both held their serious pose for about a second and a half before breaking up in the uncontrolled laughter of new and sincere friendship.
STEVE: So what’s it like to be a Rez Dog?
EDGAR: Scary, man. It’s scary. I was born during a storm behind a dumpster at the top of Canyon de Chelly. Mom was born in Minnesota and slipped out the back of her human’s camper on the proverbial family vacation. She just went cruising around the campground and when she came back, her people were gone.
EDGAR: Well, yea. Mom was a tough old bird. The good news was that this happened in Spring. Warm days and slightly chilly nights. By the time the snow fell that year, she’d hooked up with the pack that hangs at the White House Ruin parking lot. Lots of traffic, lots of garbage. I guess the begging back then was off-the-charts good. A short jog and she could be back at the Visitors Center where they watered the plants more than they needed to so she was pretty well set for resources no matter what the season. Then she started getting pregnant. Like, all the time.
STEVE: You have brothers and sisters?
EDGAR: Fifty or so.
STEVE: Yikes. Makes birthday shopping a challenge, no?
EDGAR: Not really. The slow pups were hit by cars or couldn’t master thieving from coolers or begging for scraps. I know a few went back to their roots and are living the dream out in the bush… hunting rabbits, eating bees, chewing on grass, puking, and chewing on it again. Most just feast on roadkill. A bunch died in the Parvo outbreak a while back, but most were the Corgi’s offspring. They had weak genetics or something because that whole line died out in just a few weeks.
STEVE: That’s awful.
EDGAR: What a silly human thing to say. At least a two-hundred-and-fifty died that year. For those of us that remained, the competition for resources nearly disappeared. I only had to bite a few of the dumber Rez Dogs to remind them I owned the dumpster at the Visitor’s Center.
STEVE: How did you end up here?
Edgar stared at the distant cliffs, lost in thought. I wondered if he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open.
EDGAR: Rescue is terrifying, at least the way it happened to me. I had my routine down, life was good. I knew what family threw away half their Sunday chicken dinner. I could pick out the easy marks at the White House Ruin parking lot by the car they drove or the way they walked. There was no reason to ever go into town so cars weren’t a threat and I didn’t have to worry about getting blindsided by the psycho progeny of the locals who drank.
He stared at the stacks across the valley some more. It’s difficult to determine when a stoic Rez Dog smiles or is sad but Edgar was obviously re-living something awful.
EDGAR: I got greedy, you know? Too full of myself. But I was sick and lost my edge. Turns out a white girl was the “problem I didn’t see as a problem” until it was too late.
Edgar stood and ambled over to the neat stacks of juniper firewood. He marked a log and came back, but he didn’t sit.
EDGAR: Would you mind if we took a break? I need a minute.
STEVE: Sure. I could mark a log myself. Back here in ten minutes?
Actually, we’re all going to take a break. Hear the rest of Edgar’s rescue story when we publish Part 3. The best way to make sure you don’t miss the conclusion to Edgar’s Story is to sign up for our blog at: rezdawgrescue.com/blogsubscribe
Please find the conclusion to Edgar’s interview here.
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