There have been many animals in my life, so I guess I’m one of those people. Major pets have been mostly cats, because I grew up in a cat loving family. Now I’m mostly a dog person.
But some animals have been in my life only briefly, and made a huge impact. When I was in my twenties, I lived in Andalucia one summer and found a black and white kitten on a country road that I named Batman. He climbed on my shoulders as I hung laundry on the apartment rooftop, swallows swooping overhead. I smuggled him back to the States, something you could get away before 911, but after a few weeks he ran away. Then there was a tiny Kangal puppy I found in the snow on a visit to Cappadocia in Turkey. I hid him under the covers to keep him warm in my cave hotel room, my friend telling me I couldn’t keep him, the dog would be huge. I left him with the hotel owner.
Now add to this list my lovely desert puppy, Hugo. Friends posted on FB they had found him on a highway in Adelanto, but couldn’t keep him. I wrote that I was interested and for several days did not hear back, although I checked often. I finally drove out to see him and that was it. Two days later I brought Ted and we took him home. A white and tan Heeler mix, a true desert dog.
We had one perfect, exhausting week with him, Toulie tolerating and the cats wary. But he was a joy in our menagerie. As he was already house trained, we worried he’d have a chip (he didn’t). Why would someone abandon him? He learned to sit to get his food bowl, and was biting toys instead of hands, mostly. So smart, he stole T’s owl and hide it under his chin in the big new dog bed Ted insisted he have. He played musical beds and tried to crawl in with T, getting a gutteral growl from the old guy.
Hugo’s fur was soft like a doe and he had long silky ears. When he rounded the corner of a room I thought he looked like a ghost. But he was wall-eyed and floppy, worrying signs. He slept too much for a puppy.
On his last night we walked at dusk, through the post-hurricane cinch weed bloom, Ted running a bit and Hugo loping like a deer, Toulie and I at the rear. His footsteps were still there days later, although he was gone.
I had to be strong and I failed. I drove almost two hours to an emergency vet, waited for hours for testing, and had to make the decision to put him down. Distemper, most probably. No amount of money or meds could save him. He had gone blind at some point that morning, and could no longer stand. I held him for an hour before they came in to end his very short, sweet life.
So why do these animals who flash in my life mean so much to me? With Batman, I was in an abusive and scary relationship in a foreign country, and thought the jealous boy might take my kitten, so I suffered until we got back to San Diego. In Turkey I was newly married but left behind by my husband, in a man’s world where I was totally misunderstood and lonely.
Here in the desert I am thriving and happy in my relationship, but my lovely dog of seven years is failing. I thought another dog might help me ease the pain of losing my constant companion. I’m also exhausted with very big projects, bigger artwork than I’ve ever done in my life, with budgets attached: Mojaveland, Mexican Biennial, PAAC, Service Scars movie. So this little puppy with big ears was an outlet for me to just love. Also, I miss my kids, who mostly don’t need me now. And I’m turning fucking 60 soon, so there’s that.
Oh, the pain. Are these brief lovely encounters worth it? You hear it from friends, they will never get another pet because losing the last one nearly killed them.
A week after Hugo was gone, we adopted another puppy, Beckman. He’s healthy and smart and I’m hoping will live a long life with us in the desert.
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.