ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — They spotted him – or her, since no one could determine gender from afar – in late April, a scruffy, scrawny, erstwhile-white dog, his hair matted in the fashion of a well-worn mop.
The dog was seen scuttling around the West Side neighborhood off 98th Street, vanishing at times into the mesa beyond and the dirt lot of a subdivision where 11 years before a different dog had sniffed out a bone that led to the gruesome discovery of a mass grave.
This little dog, though, was alone, feasting on roadkill and scavenging out of trash cans and dumpsters, all while trying not to become roadkill himself or a feast for a hungry coyote.
All summer long, neighbors set out plastic bowls of kibble and water. Several tried to befriend the dog, calling out to him to no avail. Cage traps were set, also to no avail.
One neighbor telephoned Allie Sikorski, founder of Pawsitive Life Rescue of New Mexico, a nonprofit formed by folks who foster homeless animals until a forever family is found.
Trapping strays is not chief among the group’s mission, but Sikorski said that this time and for this dog she and other members of Pawsitive positively had to try.
“We needed to find this dog,” she said. “He can’t be out any longer. Winter is coming, and he can’t be out in the cold.”
They nicknamed him Shaggy, she said.
On the last night of September, she had a feeling.
“I just felt like we were going to get him that night,” she said. “But I didn’t know if that was a hunch or my high anxiety.”
She called a neighbor who lives close to a cage she had set near Merlot SW that night and asked him to keep an eye out.
About 6 the next morning, he texted back:
“The dog is in the trap.”
After six months, the help of dozens of neighbors and the encouragement of even more well-wishers who had followed the search on social media, Shaggy was snagged.
He was a cautious and wary creature, not vicious, not feral, Sikorski said. Optimistically cautious, she called him.
“You could tell he was a smart dog, because he had figured out how to survive out there for a long time,” she said.
Now began the work to transform a wayward mop into a wonderful, healthy dog.
A veterinarian at 4 Paws Pet Hospital examined him, vaccinated him, prescribed medication for a tick disease, and determined that Shaggy was about 10 months old and had likely spent much, if not all, of his life out on the streets.
He – and, yes, he was a he – was not neutered, had no collar and no microchip.
From there, a patient dog groomer named Suzanne went to work, shearing off pounds of matted hair, a large swath of it coming off in one piece from his back, scarred with sores.
Even the hair in his ears was matted, the likely cause of an infection.
His makeover revealed that he is a schnoodle, a combination of schnauzer and poodle. No longer shaggy, Sikorski renamed him Dash.
A woman who had been following Dash’s story agreed to foster him, nurse him back to health and acclimate him to life with humans.
So far, so good, more or less.
“Funny thing,” Sikorski said. “He was eating roadkill and rotted food, and now he won’t touch high-quality dog food.”
For now, he prefers dining on goat milk, she said.
Gradually, Dash is warming up to good food, indoor life and humans, sitting near his foster mom but not yet at the snuggle stage.
“We will let him be on his own time,” Sikorski said.
Several people have come forward who believe that Dash is their long-lost dog, but Sikorski said that’s probably just wishful thinking.
“We always hope that those pets we lose will come back someday, no matter how long it’s been,” she said. “But they’re going to have to have some way to prove they own this dog.”
Pawsitive’s policy is to keep an animal in its care for at least 14 days to ensure that the animal is behaviorally and medically sound and is eating well. Already, applications to give Dash a forever home are being accepted.
“He’s a good dog,” Sikorski said. “He deserves a good home.”
It’s also a good tale, and if you’re wondering how a shaggy dog story merits a front-page mention when there is so much news, most of it bad, consider that now and then we all could use a story with a happy ending, a story that reminds us that there are still communities of good people doing good things, that even ragged souls deserve a second chance. That we all, including dogs that look like mops, deserve a place to call home, deserve care and acceptance and love.
And that’s not nothing.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.