ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The cries were coming from somewhere off La Luz Trail, desperate, haunting wails and whimpers from a creature in peril.
“It was in distress,” hiker Cynthia Klaila said. “It sounded like it was dying.”
Somewhere on the rugged face of the Sandias was a dog whose survival depended on whether Klaila chose to help or hike on.
She chose to help.
Thus began the saga of a big – very big – dog named Maya and a group of strangers who not only rescued the dog but renewed each others’ sense of community and kindness in a very splintered world.
“It was amazing,” said Klaila, a retired engineer. “It was sweet. It made my week.”
Maybe their story will make yours, too.
It was hot on the mountain Tuesday, the storm clouds gathering in the distance too far away to quell the heat. Klaila had hiked her planned five miles up La Luz and was headed back down that afternoon when she heard the dog’s cries.
“And then I saw her, this big fluffy white dog, down at the bottom of a ravine between the La Luz and Tramway trails,” she said.
The massive dog, possibly a Huskie mix weighing between 80 and 100 pounds, was panting, shaking and lying on her side some 50 feet down a chasm ribbed with boulders, prickly pear cactus and brush.
Rattlesnakes were known to frequent the ravine. On Monday, forest rangers had warned that an “aggressive” mountain lion was spotted prowling along the trails.
As thunder rumbled in the distance and with no one else in sight, Klaila said she knew it was up to her to scramble down the ravine to help the dog.
How she would bring the chubby pup back up to the trail she hadn’t a clue.
“I just knew I wasn’t going to leave that dog to die alone,” she said.
Once down in the ravine, Klaila said the dog lifted its head and stared wearily at her, accepting what little water she had remaining from her hike. Klaila tried to call 911 and 311, but the calls wouldn’t go through. She had finally connected a call to a neighbor, but just then the dog’s owner arrived carrying a bucket and two jugs of water.
He couldn’t speak English and Klaila couldn’t speak Spanish, so the two communicated with pointing and pantomime and wordlessly started crafting a gurney of backpacks, a jacket and bandanna to hoist the big dog up the ravine. None of their contraptions worked.
“The dog wasn’t having it,” she said.
Klaila made her way back up to the trail to flag down help.
Time passed. Lightning flashed miles away.
A woman hiked by, oblivious to Klaila’s yelling and blowing an emergency whistle. Maybe she had on headphones, Klaila thought generously.
A family of four stopped but said they couldn’t help. Too dangerous. Bad knees, they explained.
Then came Jason Bousliman.
The 45-year-old Albuquerque attorney is one of those guys trying to outrun the aging process and winning. He took up ultramarathoning – because 26.2 miles is child’s play to him – to keep a step ahead of a midlife crisis.
He’s that guy who for his 40th birthday thought it would be fun to run from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. But halfway to Santa Fe he encountered a puppy who started tagging along and tugging at his heart, which up until then had not been open to dogs.
He cut his run short, called his wife to pick him up, brought the puppy home and named him Hoka after the brand of running shoes he wore that day.
“I guess I became a dog person then,” he said.
So there he was Tuesday, halfway into his weekly run up the old part of La Luz when he saw a woman jumping up and down and waving her arms.
When he took off his headphones, he also realized she was yelling for help and blowing a whistle.
Another dog needed him to cut his run short.
Bousliman and Klaila gingerly made their way back down the ravine to the dog and the owner, and the three of them attempted to heave the dog, dead weight and unable to stand, up the rocky wall. The efforts proved futile.
“The owner did not speak English but was very concerned,” Bousliman said. “This dog was everything to him, but I could tell it was dying. Not long to live. So I thought, we have to get this dog up somehow.”
With a herculean wave of adrenaline, he grabbed the dog, hugged it close with his right hand, grabbed onto toeholds in the rocks with his left and clambered up the rocky ravine.
Only after he reached the top did he realize just how dangerous the climb was – and how winded he was.
“It was the most amazing thing,” Klaila said. “It was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just carry this huge dog up this steep, rocky cliff, no problem.'”
Bousliman struggled to haul the hefty dog down the trail, resting often and trying to keep socially distanced from a persistently grateful owner. Klaila said she remedied the situation by pointing to her bandanna and uttering a word the man seemed to understand: COVID.
About half a mile to the trailhead, Velita and Cody Turner, on vacation from Ft. Worth, Texas, joined in the rescue, with both Cody and Bousliman carrying the girthy girl like a small sofa.
Velita, who was six months pregnant, knew a little Spanish and attempted to communicate with the dog’s owner.
“We’re not sure, but we think the man said the dog had been stuck down there since 11 that morning,” Klaila said.
Velita also learned that the dog’s name was Maya.
Carrying the dog with two people on a narrow trail turned out to be too cumbersome. Once again, Bousliman called upon adrenaline-fueled strength, had Cody help hoist Maya onto his shoulders and carried her the rest of the way that way.
“Carrying Maya was about the hardest mile or so of my life but also the most rewarding,” Bousliman said. “I’ve run this portion of the trail 100-plus times and knew the excruciating energy getting her out would take. But she deserved to live and her owner didn’t deserve to see his dog die.”
“Everybody did their part,” Klaila said. “It was like a little community of strangers coming together. You just want to cry.”
Maya took it all in – the water, the attention, the love, the kindness of strangers. Before she was helped into her owner’s silver Chevy, she wagged her tail and gave Bousliman a slobbery kiss.
That, everybody agreed, was a good sign.
In the frenzy of the rescue and the language barriers, no one had gotten the name of Maya’s owner.
After exchanging contact information, cell phone photos and thanks, the four rescuers went their own ways, smiles on their faces and the warmth of knowing that sometimes all it takes is a dog to remind us of our humanity.
“A group of strangers coming together to save the dog of someone they didn’t know and who didn’t speak English was exactly the bit of humanity I needed to be a part of this week,” Bousliman said.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.