Forecasters had predicted for days that New Mexico was about to be hit with the back-to-back brutality of two major winter storms.
“Widespread significant snowfall resulting in difficult to severe driving conditions,” they warned about what was to come late Feb. 10 through late Feb. 11. Stay home, hunker down, don’t be crazy, they advised.
Alfredo Dominguez heard none of it – until he was in it.
“I didn’t expect more snow,” Dominguez messaged me late in the afternoon of Feb. 11 from the frozen tundra between his home in Roswell and Clines Corners, the hard-hit highway barely discernible in the drifts and blowing snow. “I chose badly.”
But this was a mission of mercy, and I suspect Dominguez would have made the same trip even if he had known how bad the storm was going to be.
Because a dog needed him.
She was Impound No. 20332, a scared and skinny shepherd mix stray found in the rural emptiness northeast of Roswell. She was taken to the Roswell Animal Services shelter Feb. 6, emaciated, dehydrated, the ridges of her spine rippling through her dry, brown fur. She had no collar, no tags, no microchip. She was blind. She was dying.
On Feb. 7, the shelter posted her photo on Facebook. She would be freed for adoption Feb. 11, if she lasted that long. Many responding to the post believed she would be euthanized instead.
But Ed Goodman of Corrales refused to believe she wasn’t worth saving.
Goodman is the founder of Tootsie’s Vision, a nonprofit that finds homes, provides medical services and advocates for blind dogs.
“So far, we’ve never had a dog we’ve been involved with be needlessly put to sleep,” he said.
Goodman spread the word about the dog Feb. 8 on Facebook, and the community responded, if not with a home or help then with prayers and positive thoughts.
“This is life or death for her,” his post read. “She has probably had a horrific life and now should not have to face a horrific lonely death.”
Nearly 500 miles northwest of Roswell, Flo Chrusciel offered more than thoughts and prayers. The retired nurse had opened her 20-acre ranch in Cortez, Colorado, to senior, special needs and hospice-care cats and dogs, and she had room for one more.
Chrusciel also had a name for the dog: Soraya.
“It’s the Persian word for ‘jewel’ or ‘gem,’ ” she said. “And she looked like she needed to be a jewel or gem.”
Chrusciel was willing to make the four-hour drive to Albuquerque to pick up Soraya. Melanie Scholer of Corrales, another Goodman contact, agreed to keep Soraya until Chrusciel arrived.
And then there was Dominguez.
“When I saw her huddled there in the corner of her kennel, I knew I had to get her up to Albuquerque right away,” he said. “I didn’t know if she would survive another night.”
It was already late in the day Feb. 11 when he, wife Elizabeth and her sister began their journey through a blinding blizzard in a two-wheel-drive Ford Expedition. What is typically a 3½-drive took six hours.
Once they deposited their precious cargo in Corrales, the Dominguezes turned around and headed back to Roswell in time for work.
“What Alfredo and his wife did was nothing short of heroic,” Goodman said. “And maybe a little crazy.”
Soraya was examined by Dr. Bonnie Gray-Dees of Acequia Animal Hospital, and the results were dire. The dog had been starved and dehydrated for so long that her organs were barely functioning. She weighed 27 pounds when she should have weighed about 50 pounds. The shelter had placed her age at 8, but Gray-Dees determined she was between 2 and 3.
As for vision, her right eye was damaged beyond repair by a cataract; her left eye had shriveled away.
“She is so fragile,” Chrusciel said. “And yet she shows such gratitude for everything – a bed to sleep on, someplace warm, someplace where she is loved.”
Chrusciel took her to that someplace to be loved on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
For three days, Soraya received IV fluids. For a week, Chrusciel fed her with syringes of puppy food diluted with broth. Slowly, Soraya was reintroduced to wet food and Chrusciel’s homemade chicken soup.
And oh, what a day it was when Soraya cleaned her dish, including the peas and carrots she had refused.
“That,” Chrusciel said, “was huge.”
More huge was the day Soraya wagged her tail.
“And I knew that she’s got this,” Chrusciel said.
Chrusciel is cautiously optimistic about Soraya’s prognosis. She still sleeps about 23 hours a day, is still helped to and from the outdoors to do her business. At night, Chrusciel still checks to make sure she is breathing.
But each day, Soraya gets stronger. And each day, those who believed she was worth saving believe more strongly that they were right, not just for her but because she reminds them that people shine like jewels or gems when they open their hearts to those in need – including dogs.
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.