ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He was never going to get another dog, not after Jack broke his heart.
Jack didn’t mean to, of course. Dogs aren’t wired to bite the hand that feeds them or break the heart that loves them. But four years ago while on a hunting trip around Corona, Jack, a big blue and white pit bull, disappeared. He was too loyal to have run away, too big to have fallen prey to wilder creatures.
For four months, Derek Dennisson and his mother, Lisa McDargh Dennisson, both of McIntosh, searched for his four-legged best friend.
“Derek was just so broken up with the loss,” his mother said. “Jack was his constant companion, his buddy.”
And then after those four awful months, Jack came home. A woman said she recognized Jack from a photo the Dennissons had posted in the Journal classifieds as the dog her daughter had bought for $20 from a group of woodcutters in Carrizozo, 45 miles south of where Jack has last been seen.
Dennisson, a 30-year-old oil rig supervisor, and Jack had a good couple of years after that before a spinal disease took the loyal, lumbering dog away for good and Dennisson’s heart was broken anew.
“He told me he couldn’t go through that again,” McDargh Dennisson said. “My son is single, never been married. His dog was his family.”
Dog folks understand that.
But then came Tank.
The chubby black pit bull puppy with the honey-gold eyes was just too irresistible.
Dog folks understand that, too.
And so, love bloomed again in the hearts of a man and a dog. For nearly two years, they were inseparable, at least whenever the man’s job didn’t take him overseas. The chubby little pup was well-named, growing into a handsome 86-pound gentle giant, with thick muscles, a broad neck, floppy ears, a swath of white on his chest and an overbite that made him look more vicious than he could ever be.
“Everybody knew Derek and Tank,” McDargh Dennisson said. “Derek took Tank everywhere in his pickup.”
When Dennisson left for monthlong oil rig jobs, Tank stayed with McDargh Dennisson, who lived just across the road on a 20-acre spread two miles off N.M. 41, the highway that slices through rural, ranch-y McIntosh. While the big dog loved her, too – following her from room to room, sleeping beside her bed at night – it was obvious that he had but one true love.
“He’d stare out the window looking out toward Derek’s place and just wait,” she said.
Last month, McDargh Dennisson snapped a photo of the pining Tank and emailed it to her son, working in Dubai.
“Your son is missing you,” she wrote.
On the morning of Feb. 16, she ran an errand at the local post office, leaving Tank in the yard and the gate closed but unlocked because she planned to be gone so briefly. She was gone about 10 minutes.
It was enough time for Tank to disappear.
Tire tracks in the mud near the gate appear to show where an unknown vehicle heading south slammed on the brakes, backed up, veered around, then headed back toward the south.
Tank, she knew, would never leave on his own. She is convinced someone took him.
It took her a day before she could bring herself to tell her son. She knew she would be breaking her son’s heart again. And that broke hers.
“That was the hardest email I’ve had to write,” she said.
She has continued the search for Tank for a month now, contacting law enforcement, shelters, the media and East Mountain Pet Alert, a nonprofit website that sends out emails to hundreds of members about missing pets.
She drives the countryside and plasters posters of Tank anywhere she can, though curiously, she notes, the ones at the McIntosh post office have repeatedly disappeared.
She has heard from eight other bereaved pet owners in the area who say their pit bulls have also disappeared. Joyce Lewis, who runs East Mountain Pet Alert, said she has noticed an uptick in missing dogs in the McIntosh/Estancia area as well. Since July 2014, 10 dogs of all breeds have vanished – and those are just the dogs reported to her.
About a dozen dogs, many of them pit bulls, have been stolen in the Albuquerque area in the past two months, according to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. Dogs are also being plucked from their homes in the East Mountains, Valencia County, Torrance County and Edgewood, according to the Bernalillo County Animal Cruelty Task Force.
Authorities believe the dogs are being stolen to use either as fighting dogs or as bait during training. Both are terrible, deadly fates. Last weekend, a miniature schnauzer stolen from a home in Rio Rancho was recovered from a dogfighting ring, thanks to its microchip. But the tiny dog was so badly mauled it did not survive.
The thought keeps McDargh Dennisson up at night. Her son is due to return to McIntosh at the end of this month.
“He is dreading coming home now,” she said. “He’s afraid his buddy won’t be here to greet him.”
What she hopes is that because Tank is neutered and nonaggressive he will not be attractive to those who fight dogs. She hopes Tank is being cared for by someone who does not realize he belongs to another. She hopes that her son’s heart will not be broken again and that when he returns he will not be the one staring out the window, waiting.
UpFront is a daily 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 ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.