ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For an hour, he had a dog, a skittish, speckled pup who despite her shyness had sidled up slowly, cautiously to him at the city’s Lucky Paws adoption center and quickly leapt into his heart.
He hadn’t planned on getting a dog. Martin Watkins, a doctoral student at the University of New Mexico, was immersed in finals and scheduled to spend the holidays with family in California.
Yet somehow there he was at Lucky Paws in the Coronado mall.
He was just looking.
But that dog.
“She got up from her bed in her little room, tilted her head, looked at me and we both just stared at each other,” he said. “When I went into the room, she was shy, walked back to her bed, then came up to me, then back to her bed. But when I went out the door, that’s when she came to the door. That solidified it. She was a shy dog, I could see, but I could also see that she was interested in me.”
So on that Dec. 4 evening, he adopted the black and white 8-month-old pup, regrettably christened Quesadilla by the shelter. He updated her microchip and headed to the nearest PetSmart at Winrock Town Center to buy her a collar, tag and all the items a dog needs. She was the first dog Watkins, 28, had ever owned.
He named her Luna.
“She just looked like the moon,” he said. “There was something about her that was like the tranquillity of the night, peaceful and calming.”
That tranquillity didn’t last long.
He was getting out of his car in front of PetSmart when something spooked Luna. She shot out of the car door and slipped free of the leash he had been given at Lucky Paws.
Watkins ran after her, waving off cars that almost struck her.
And then she was gone into the night.
Watkins said he contacted the city Animal Welfare Department, filed a report, posted on Facebook and other lost pet websites that he could find.
That’s when Angela Stell found him. Stell, founder of the nonprofit rescue group NMDOG, put out the call to her core volunteers. By then, Luna had been missing for five days.
“Vols,” she wrote. “I can’t shake this feeling that this pup desperately needs our help. But I just don’t have any spare time to coordinate efforts. Is anyone willing to step up and take the lead?”
Erin Morrisey Martinez, a surgical nurse and one of the core volunteers, was willing.
“I thought, well, look how much this guy is trying to do to find a dog he had for an hour,” she said. “So let’s help him.”
Martinez estimates that 13 volunteers hit the streets in search of Luna, papering the city with posters, walking the neighborhoods, talking to neighbors and checking out leads on social media.
Watkins made daily visits to city shelters and searched with the volunteers in between writing his doctorate paper and working as a phone relay service interpreter for deaf people.
Hopes were high when it appeared Luna had been seen under a portable building at Manzano Mesa Elementary on Elizabeth SE. Volunteers created a feeding station with warm blankets scented with Frijole, Luna’s litter mate, who was borrowed from the city shelter.
(Frijole, it should be noted, also inadvertently left his scent when he relieved himself in the back seat of a volunteer’s car.)
“For a while, it really looked promising,” Martinez said. “But it turned out to be a different dog with similar markings.”
Every day, the volunteers have continued to search, despite the heartache and disappointment and a snowstorm that hit the city just after Christmas.
Even after Watkins left for California, they kept searching.
“I’m sure he feels funny, asking people to do stuff for his dog while he is out of town,” Martinez said. “But we assured him that, look, we’re not going to stop looking for his baby. We’re going to find her.”
Watkins and Martinez and her volunteers hadn’t known each other before, but they do now. Now, they are friends.
“I don’t know the words to explain my gratitude to these people and their passion for animals,” he said. “I’m a thousand miles away and only able to keep checking online databases for Luna, but they’re out there in the cold searching for her. I’m astounded by their dedication and sense of community. It’s almost a month since I met these people, and it feels like I’ve known them forever.”
Both Watkins and Martinez say they feel certain that Luna is still alive. He’d like to think someone has taken her in, kept her warm and safe and just needs to have her microchip checked to realize she belongs to him. She’d like to think that Luna is a survivor of the streets and that soon they will find her and bring her home.
Somewhere out there is a dog who for a single hour brought a young man love and tranquillity to his hectic world.
But she also brought out the best in human nature – the desire to help one another. That, I think, will last for a much longer time.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.