Mary Alice Betley
© Copyright 2019 by Mary Alice Betley
Several years ago I taught at a B.I.A. school at Tec Nos Pos, AZ. When I first arrived, I was assigned Apartment #15. As I was moving in, a large collie-type dog came up to me, acting very friendly but also skittish and frightened. Her ancestry appeared to be mixed with other breeds, perhaps even coyote, as she had light gray eyes and silvery gray fur on her back while the rest of her body was mostly white with some blonde fur here and there. I began to call her Grey Lady.
She lay on my porch stoop most of the time, At first, I didn't feed her because I figured that she probably had an owner in one of the other apartments. beside, I already had my small poodle and really
didn't want another pet. I asked my next door neighbor about her and they said that she had belonged to a previous teacher who had moved and not taken her with them. As time went on, I couldn't help but notice that she was becoming visibly thinner so I started giving her some dog food every night. She now became more friendly and less frightened of me but she still wouldn't come to me when I called to her nor enter into my utility room in order to be fed. Now, it became evident that she had come into her estrus cycle as many male dogs were following her all over the school compound. (The Navajo Reservation contains thousands of homeless dogs.) I hoped that the smaller white Spitz dog would mate with her but he couldn't fight off a larger black dog so that one became her mate. She began to wait for me to leave school every night and would come running up to my car, hopping up and down on all four feet in her excitement. When I got out of my car, she would take my hand gently between her jaws as I walked up the sidewalk to my door. I began giving her extra food every day and also arranged for a neighbor to feed her over the weekends when I was gone. On Sunday evenings she was always waiting for me on my front steps when I returned. Since she was less shy and trusted me more, she now let me look closely at the tag fastened to her blue collar. There was a veterinarian's name and phone number as well as her I.D. numeral so I jotted that information down and then replaced the collar around her neck.
The next time I went to Cortez, I stopped in at that vet's office to attempt to find her owner. They gave me the name of a young couple who lived near there. When I contacted them, they told me that they had given Grey Lady to a teacher at Tec about two years previously. When I checked out that person, Found that he used to teach down the highway syllabicate but no longer did and had apparently abandoned his dog. My principal told me that she usually didn't encourage her staff to adopt strays but that this dog appeared to have some special traits so she wouldn't enforce that rule and I could continue caring for this dog if I wished. Having been the daughter of a farmer, I was aware of the 62 day gestational period for dogs so Calculated that Grey Lady, or Coyote Eyes, as Sometimes call her, would most likely birth her pups near Thanksgiving.
As that holiday approached, I began giving Grey Lady extra food when I noticed that her teats we rehanging low. Once again, I arranged for my neighbor to feed her as I left on my holiday vacation.
When I returned, Grey Lady didn't meet me. Didn't think much about it until the next day when some of my students asked if that grey dog was mine. Then, I wondered if she had been hurt or someone had picked her up.
A couple of days later when I returned from the local post office, there she was, all skinny and happy to see me. She laid her head against my leg and let me pet and pet her. My neighbors came out of their apartment, smiling and laughing at how happy she was to see me and how glad I was to see her. I told Grey Lady to go to my back door and I would get her a lot of specially good food because she needed it it to feed her puppies. (That was one thing that Grey Lady did: she seemed to understand whatever I said to her.) After she was done eating, I wanted to see where she had hidden her brood so I could put them in my garage out of the cold weather. My neighbors thought she had probably hidden them in one of the fields surrounding the school compound. Grey Lady just stood on my back porch, looking at me so I said, "Alright, show me where your puppies are." She ran a little ways in front of me and then came back, then ran a little ways more ahead again,then came back and tugged on the side of my jeans with her mouth. She kept acting like this all the way across the back yard, through an empty lot, across another neighboring lawn and up to a fence surrounding a field. She began looking for a place under the fence where she could crawl under. I certainly couldn't crawl under there so instead. I walked along the fence until I came to an iron gate which was wired shut and also had earth mounded up against it on the field side. Even though I was 60 years old, I climbed up and over the top of the gate and entered the field where Grey Lady was. She just stood there, waiting for me. She ran ahead and then ran back again across this field up to another fence. This one was barbed wire which most definitely is not my very most favorite thing! Although I still had on my teaching clothes, Carefully climbed through the barbs. For a while, I couldn't see Grey Lady. Then when I did see her, I would watch for her to flash the plume of her tail so that I could see it through all of the high sagebrush and weeds. This behavior continued until near dark.
I was thinking of how I was following a wild goose chase and that the darned dog was just fooling with me so I began to walk back towards the teaching compound area. Just then Grey Lady bounded up tome and once again used her teeth to pull on my jeans. then, she ran ahead and then back to me once again. At this, I said, "O.K. but you better show me your babies so I can take them to a safe place or I'm just going home!"
Grey Lady ran straight in front of me for about 800 yards, then she ducked under a thorn tree. I followed her and crept under those nasty thorny branches. There the puppies were lying all together in a warm bundle in a hollowed out space near the tree roots. I tried to carefully back out while gingerly lifting the sharp branches with one hand while the other carried a squirming little body, one by one. Meantime, Grey Lady just stood there, occasionally gently licking one or the other of her babies.
After I had alt eight pups out into the open, I had to come up with a way to carry their fat litt1e bodies back across the open fields. After a 1ittle hesitation,Grey Lady let me place them all into the improvised"pouch" of my sweater. I tell you, I had an awful time crawling between the barbed wire on that first fence! I must have been a sight--climbing up and over the iron gate--an old lady who looked very pregnant herself. All I cared about was getting the pups to safety while still keeping as much of my modesty intact as possible. Grey Lady followed me across the compound to my garage where I constructed a nest for them. She continued her excellent mothering and the pups flourished, becoming fat and sassy. Many of the. staff began asking to adopt them so that problem was solved.
I would so like to-say that this story of an exceptional dog had a happy ending, but, sadly, it doesn't. Shortly after New year's the local tribal dog catcher made his annual rounds of the school compounds in the area. Because of the local regulations and the huge number of homeless animals, these men had to dispose of any unconfined animals rather than catch them and take them to an animal shelter. By the time, I ran out of the school to find Grey Lady it was too late; I couldn't save her.