How had that old, blind dog gotten so far down the mountain trail, so far from anywhere, the cyclists wondered after realizing that the big black-and-white lump in the middle of the path was indeed an old, blind dog.
She didn’t try to run away as they approached, didn’t get up, didn’t flinch, didn’t wag her tail.
“She was very sedate, weak,” said Christina Hartsock, one of the five cyclists who found the dog along the Southern Crossing trail in the Manzano Mountains. “Her eyes were bright red.”
It was a beautiful day for a bike ride, a September Saturday when the air cools and the leaves preview their golden turn. They were about three miles in, Hartsock estimates, when they found the dog and they knew that their carefree bike ride had just turned into a rescue mission.
The dog, a border collie mix, was maybe 10 years old, perhaps 40 pounds. No tags, no collar. She was thirsty, so the cyclists gave her all the water she could lap up from their bottle caps and a baggie.
She was too frail to walk, so they carried her out.
Donald Griggs, one of the cyclists, tried to hoist her on his shoulders, but that didn’t last long. They fashioned a stretcher out of Eliza Linde’s raincoat and took turns carrying the dog – two on the stretcher, the others helping to push the other two bikes.
“It was totally a group effort,” Hartsock said of the Sept. 25 rescue.
And totally grueling.
But humans can be surprising creatures, able to muster the strength, endurance and heart when the cause is right. That day, the cause was very right.
“We could never have just left her there,” said Hartsock, who coincidentally is a former rescue coordinator for the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, but never had a rescue like this one. “I don’t think she could have made it another day out there.”
The cyclists – who also included Mark Candelaria and Deanna Araiza – took the dog to a veterinarian to check for a microchip. This dog did not seem like a stray. She was too docile, too smart. She knew a few commands. Although she was in bad shape, it appeared to Hartsock that she hadn’t been out in the mountains alone for more than a few days. Surely, they hoped, someone was missing her.
But there was no chip.
She was taken to the Bernalillo County Animal Care and Resource Center, where the cyclists reluctantly agreed she should go in case someone was looking for her or wanted her. They visited her twice, called the shelter a couple of times to check on her. The shelter named her Ada.
But no one came for her. No one apparently wanted an old, blind dog, no matter how beautiful she was cleaned up, no matter how friendly and grateful she seemed with this second chance.
But shelter employee Adrianne Lommasson knew someone who would. Nine days after Ada arrived, Lommasson contacted Ed Goodman of Tootsie’s Vision, a nonprofit that helps find homes for sightless dogs, raises funds for their medical care and increases awareness for what great pets they make.
You might recognize the name Goodman, whose good deeds for good dogs are featured in this column from time to time. He’s also a recipient of the Journal’s Spirit of New Mexico award.
Goodman posted about Ada on his Facebook page and hoped someone would recognize her or come forward to adopt her.
Out in Edgewood, Melissa Benefield saw the post and showed it to her husband, Ryan, and gave him the pitch.
“I couldn’t say no,” he said. “We’ve never fostered before. It might be a neat thing.”
On Oct. 12, Ryan Benefield met Goodman at the shelter and took Ada home on a temporary basis – at least he says it’s temporary.
Ada felt right at home, he said. She got along fine with his other dogs, especially the family’s old, blind Boston terrier. She easily learned her way around the place. Benefield started taking her to work at the Founders Ranch shooting range and she quickly became his sidekick.
“She’s attached to me,” he said. “Someone must have taught her to heel because she sticks right next to me. Maybe it just feels more secure to her that way to know where I am.”
Ada also knows how to sit and come, and is house-trained. “She’s very smart,” he said.
The vet at Western Trails Veterinary Hospital diagnosed her inflamed eyes as pannus, or chronic superficial keratitis, a progressive inflammatory autoimmune disease of the cornea. Ada’s eyes are likely too scarred for her vision to be fully restored, but, with medicated drops and gels, they are improving.
Friends tell the Benefields that they are likely to become “foster fails” because Ada is such a good fit, but so far they are still hoping Ada is a good fit for someone else.
It’s been more than three weeks since the cyclists spotted Ada on that mountain trail. Hartsock said she’s chatted with Benefield and Goodman just to see how Ada is faring. “It’s so great to see so many come together to help this girl,” she said.
And still, they all wonder how Ada came to be on that trail. Had she wandered from her home and gotten lost? Had someone dumped her there, unwilling or unable to care for an old, blind dog?
It’s likely no one will ever know. But what they do know is that on that beautiful September Saturday, those five cyclists – and all the other humans who became a part of Ada’s story – were right where they needed to be, right on time.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.