We live in a pleasant house on an obscure unnamed dirt road; a pencil thin scar that also portions patches of farmland a couple of thousand feet above the Paute River. The homes here have no addresses. The route we give to first-time visitors includes carefully worded directions, a couple of photographs referencing topographical highlights, and GPS coordinates. It takes about 25 minutes and six dollars to reach our home by taxi from Paute’s central square.
Occasionally, a friend will get off the bus from Cuenca in downtown Paute and say to the first cabbie they see, “Would you please drive me to the gringo’s house in Chican?” and, since we are the only ones who live here, the chance of the driver being familiar with where we live is actually quite good.
We are busy; my wife works remotely, as she has for over 10 years, and maintains a full roster of clients. I’m a bit more chill, busying myself in the kitchen and writing commentary. We often reward ourselves by lounging around the fire pit with a glass of wine and/or a little something to eat, and we are always joined by our two best friends: Clifford, a street-smart and scrappy Sheltie from somewhere on the dark side of Cuenca, and Millie, a big-ass corn fed Golden Retriever born right down the road, and who just recently flunked “Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution” course. Again.
Millie and Clifford know nothing of evil, jealousy, or gratuitous ambitions; they are our link to paradise. They will sit still for an hour in a restful position looking out on the broad landscape that surrounds us, almost motionless but always attentive. What they are doing is far from being lazy — they are showing us the practice of being at peace.
Nearly every home in the mountains has a pack of dogs — three or more. Most are working animals with specific jobs: defending the homeland against the unknown, orchestrating small flocks of sheep drifting between neighborhood pastures, and slowly walking with their humans along the road to help control a cow or two while offering a sympathetic ear to idle chatter and observations. Our dog’s jobs are to wander into the house wanting to be petted, and to soothe and comfort us with their graceful ways.
The capacity for love that makes dogs such valuable companions has a flip side; they now find it nearly impossible to cope without us. We humans actively encouraged their vulnerabilities to increase our benefit for over thirty thousand years. Now, we are charged with the fundamental responsibility of ensuring that the animals we domesticated do not suffer due to our negligence, cruelty, or abandonment.
That is why organizations like Fundacion Familia Amor Animal (FANN), Paws with Hope, Yurak Allpa, Patán Animal Rescue, and Rescate Animal Cuenca are so essential to our community, and our sense of place within the community. Not only do these organizations provide emergency medical assistance for homeless dogs, they also provide socialization activities to help compensate for their lost confidence in us, and to add to the animal’s overall well-being. Of even greater importance, however, is that these wonderful organizations also provide the perfect venue for good folks just like you to take the opportunity to adopt a dog that is in need of a home. If you do, you have a better than average chance to soon be embraced with an unfettered love that will enrich your life.
I had an Airedale Terrier named Riley when I was younger. He was one of those splendid looking dogs that attracted friends wherever we went. He was big, goofy, my best friend and closest confidant. I could say any foolish damned thing I wanted to that dog, and he would listen to me patiently without ever interrupting to talk about himself. The best part is that he would sometimes give me an astonished (or confused) look that I always interpreted as, “Brilliant! You are so right! I never would’ve thought of that.”
Whenever Riley ate someone’s set aside lunch, knocked over a tray of cocktails, or slobbered all over my car, I would pause for a moment and then thoughtfully remark, “Well, he’s not real smart, but he is real good-looking,”
I must have said it a hundred times on a hundred occasions.
I recall running through a treeless parking lot on an asphalt-melting summer day to check on Riley, who I had left in the car. Even I had left the windows cracked, I suspected he had drained his water bowl, and would soon be waggling his head, drenching the windshield, seats, and my freshly laundered shirts with viscous doggy drool. My worst fears were realized.
And then, a day arrived more quickly than I could have ever prepared for: he just got old and died.
I miss him still.
I share this poem every year to honor the memory of all the old dogs that passed this way, leaving behind a faint scent for us to follow and remember them by…
It does no good standing
and yelling. He is as deaf
as a man with long years
in the engine room of a merchant ship
listening for the sounds metal makes
before it fails, a faint break
in rhythm, something out of tune.
He is lying in the middle
of the porch, staring south
across a garden
ruined by the cold.
There is freeway traffic, but it is far away,
only a whisper,
like blood through a vein.
Perhaps an ancient dark scent tugs
his head back and forth
in that old, old way.
A distant memory.
A forgotten dream.
If he hears anything, it is likely the light
beating in his chest, already diminishing,
though neither of us cares to know it.
And, when he turns his head at my touch
his eyes fill with a small joy,
as though love is so easily given
even I might as well have a little,
as though when he rises
And trots to his bed,
I needn’t follow after.