So begins my retrospective of my almost year in Presidio, Texas.
Looking around Presidio, it seems desolate and often devoid of life. Nothing but dirt and scrub cactus in every direction.
In the cooler months, when the rattlesnakes were dormant, The Boy and I would walk in the foothills looking for treasures; centipede bodies hollowed out by voracious ants, butterfly wings and a backpack full of rocks. On our last outing my heart stuttered when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the stealthy peek of an animal head. I was half a mile from the safety of “civilization” with The Boy and two bite-size schnauzer snacks. Our safe, albeit very quick, return home was successful because it turned out to be a stray dog, and not a coyote. The dog packs that live in the surrounding desert grew daily, recruiting from both sides of the border, the language barrier non-existent for them. They circled on the fringes of a town without law because the animal control officers only lasted a few weeks. Nobody wants to be the executioner, no matter how steady the pay. After a while, it got so bad, we stopped leaving the compound. But even that wasn’t protection.
An adorable mutt came along and took up residence in my neighbor’s garage; kept comfortable in the heat by the inflated pool he cuddled up to and drank from. The dog was terrified of adults but the gang of stray children could get close enough to torture him with their love. They named him Hercules because if nothing else, Presidio is definitely a Sandlot for the kids.
I rescued him from their affection repeatedly by removing t-shirts and homemade collars. The kids would look at me with disappointment and say, “We don’t want him to get picked up! He’s our dog.” I would remind them that he wouldn’t stay their dog long if his collar got caught on something and he choked to death or he got over heated in the 100+ degree temperatures. Hercules disappeared once and my neighbor was relieved to no longer have him hanging around his “pool house”. Two months later Hercules seemed to rise from the dust, I was certain he’d become part of, and resumed his residence. I admit, I was just as happy as the children to see him because I couldn’t face the loss of life.
Except for those wild varieties, Presidio was death to dogs. My first neighbor, who moved out just weeks after we moved in, lost hers to a snake bite. She reported this information almost cheerfully and then detailed rushing him an hour and a half to the vet for blood transfusions and every measure money could buy to save him. Because I was new to town, it seemed crazy at the time to try and save a dog that obviously wasn’t going to make it and even crazier to not shed tears while recounting the event. Later, I understood. Presidio likes to take everything from you and the transplanted residents weren’t going down without a fight. It wasn’t cheerfulness in her voice, it was triumph and it came from the fact that she had an end date. She was getting out with her remaining dog and she wasn’t ever coming back. Our neighbor, Carlos, found his Pug, Candy, laying dead in his backyard, the cause never to be know. Another neighbor, Pete, lost his dog, Lulu, when her collar got stuck on their fence, hence the cautionary tale. “Lulu’s dead?” the children asked me, with as much hurt in their eyes as if she’d been theirs. Pete acquired two dogs in the following months, Lucas, a purebred golden lab puppy he found wandering fifty miles in the desert while out on patrol, and then a little toy poodle, Peppita a legitimate import from Meixco. The Boy and I basked in the joy of living next door to two puppies. They fell over each other in their efforts to greet and lick us every morning. Then, Peppita disappeared. And just a little while later, Lucas was gone too. I knew better than to ask.
It was only a matter of time before death came knocking on our door. One morning, one of the Schnauzers didn’t come rocketing down the hallway at the sound of food in his dish. When I picked him up and set him on his feet, he fell over. It would have been funny, if it wasn’t so terrifying. For an entire day, he never moved. The vet was an hour and a half away and she would cost money that I wasn’t sure we had. I syringe fed him water and chicken broth every couple of hours. I cried on the long road to the vet. X-rays were taken and blood tests sent out, but, she could only guess at what was wrong. She gave us some medicine, mail-ordered some others and hoped he would get better. I drove home without an indication that my dog would survive. I just had to wait and see. I cried and cried.
This dog was once named Marley but he became Moo when we realized Marley was too dignified for the likes of him. He is not one of those dogs that causes me to go into raptures over his loyalty and angelic qualities. He is a killing machine. Rats in Chicago. Birds in Presidio (I still haven’t figured out how he caught them.) He never comes when he’s called. Michael once had to chase him half a mile down the beach of lake Michigan and then a mile back in the other direction. I laughed the whole time because I had told him not to let that schnauzer off the leash. Moo barks so much that he continues to bark while I’m shouting for him to stop, while he’s eating and even when someone holds his mouth shut. It’s a talent I wish he didn’t have. He’s terrified of everything. Seriously. Wave a piece of paper at the dog and he shoots out of the room like a gun went off. Thunderstorms are not his favorite and unfortunately for him, the desert had a lot of those. He eats soap. He is a sweet and cuddly of the dumb variety, and definitely crazy. But, he’s my crazy. And I love him. I didn’t want him to die. A week and a half I cried and worried and syringed and prayed and hoped. Prison was bad enough, now it was going to kill my dog too? And then one morning, he got up by himself, just for a minute. A few days later, he was fine. We never knew what was wrong with him, just that the heavy antibiotics worked and Presidio was poison. We shut the door in death’s face that time, but he was still hovering around the neighborhood dogs. After all, snake season was just beginning.