Finding D.O.G.

First Sight

First Sight

Four years ago today, I took a road trip to Monument Valley, near the Arizona – Utah border, and came home with a puppy. Keeping a skinny, filthy, half-wild mutt I found wandering in the desert could have been a complete disaster, but it was meant to be, and we both knew it at first sight.

On January 14th, 2009, after a long drive from New Mexico, I pulled off the highway onto a random dirt road, parked, and set off across the open desert with my dog Bowie to hike around a distant, unnamed butte.

No place for a puppy.

No place for a puppy.

Rounding the far side, I saw movement under a sage. Crouched in a sliver of shade was a dog, wagging his tail. Something about him made my heart skip a beat. I held onto Bowie, in case the stray was hurt or sick, and talked sweetly to the dog, who cautiously emerged. Then I saw: He was in terrible shape, but filth and ribs aside, he was the spitting image of Bowie.

Kaymoor Steps Dogs, WV

Kaymoor Steps Dogs, West Virginia

He was young, six months at the most. I could see the bony points of his hips and the line of his backbone through the matts tangled in his all-black coat. No collar. Clods of dirt were matted between his toes. I coaxed him, but he wouldn’t come closer so I poured some water in a dish and stepped back. He shot forward, desperate for a drink.

You've come a long way, baby. Lake Tahoe Dogs!

You’ve come a long way, baby. Lake Tahoe Dogs! Nevada

Monument Valley was an improbable place to find a dog. We were surrounded by nothing but desert. The only manmade things in sight were a barbed wire fence and my car glinting in the distance, parked on the side of a rarely traveled dirt road. No water, no shade, no people, no houses. Nothing.

Return to Monument Valley, two years later. Dio didn't show any inclination to return to his wild ways.

Return to Monument Valley, two years later. Dio didn’t show any inclination to return to his wild ways.

I didn’t have any dog food with me. There was nothing else I could do out there for him, but walk and hope he followed. He looked like hell, but I was relieved to see he still had enough energy to be rambunctious. Over the next hour, the three of us circled that nameless, stunning butte, with Bowie and the puppy playing together like long-lost brothers. It was the youngest Bowie, then six, had acted in years.

Dio keeping Bowie young! West Virginia

The puppy was curious about me, but wary, and he was downright afraid of my camera. Every time I pointed it at him, he shied away and so I put it in my backpack and showed him my empty hands. Eventually, the puppy would follow Bowie within a few feet of me, but he always remained just beyond my outstretched hand, his tail wagging and eyes bright, wanting to be friends, but unsure.

Bowie & Dio on the Appalachian Trail, Vermont

Between he and Bowie, it was true love. I’ve never seen two dogs so happy to have made a friend. The two of them romped the whole way back to the car. When we got to the road, I put Bowie in the car and gave the stray more water and a small handful of dog food, not wanting to upset his neglected stomach.

I watched him eat, surprisingly daintily, for a starving dog. Where had he come from? How long had he been out here? Most importantly: What should I do with him? When he finished eating I opened the car door again, and he made the decision for me, jumping in next to Bowie, who outright grinned: Can we keep him?!

Summiting Quartz Peak- 13,300 feet!

Summiting Quartz Peak- 13,300 feet! Colorado

Living on the road, housesitting different places every few months, having a second dog – a wild one no less – was totally impractical. But this bedraggled, sweet-eyed creature had crossed my path and chosen to follow me. I wanted to trust him the way he was willing to trust me. I sat in the car for 15 minutes, coming to terms with what I already knew: this dog was mine, then I abandoned my plans to camp out that night, pulled a U-turn and drove straight back to New Mexico with that stinky, wild dog curled up in the backseat.

He slept the entire trip, only occasionally sitting up to look out the window, a road trip natural. I was afraid to let him out of the car. If he ran off it would break my heart and I didn’t want to scare him with a leash. Somewhere along the way, I named him D.O.G.

New Orleans D.O.G.

New Orleans D.O.G., Louisiana

We got back to the Earthship well after dark and I opened the car door and let him loose. The other two dogs at my place pounced on him, but he sorted himself out like a good-natured dog and soon everybody was running around the driveway together. I took all four on a get-acquainted hike down my long dirt road. The moon was new and the stars were epic; I couldn’t see all black Dio in the dark, but I was no longer worried about him running away. He had found friends and I knew he’d follow us forever.

Mount Rundle D.O.G.

Mount Rundle D.O.G., British Columbia

It took another day for Dio to let me touch him and a month before he’d roll over for a belly rub. He was especially afraid of men and it was a year until he would willingly go up to strangers. Gradually, he got over his fears of brooms and sticks, running water, bridges and quick movements, though he’s still wary of children and terrified of gun fire.

Desert Dog Meets the Pacific

Desert Dog Meets the Pacific, California

Four years later, you’d never know Dio had a rough start. He’s sleek and handsome, obedient, unflinchingly friendly and more worldly than most people. By last count, Dio has been hiking with me in 44 states. (He’s missing Hawaii, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Georgia, and Florida. Bowie has been to 49; he’s only missing Hawaii.) Not bad for a wild dog! He and Bowie are inseparable and people regularly ask me if they’re related. Now ten years old, Bowie has no grey and no arthritis and still hikes many long miles with me. Dio is keeping both of us young!

Dogs running in dog-deep snow, Maine

When people hear Dio’s story, they usually say he’s a lucky dog, but luck implies chance and I know I was meant to find Dio. Across all the Southwest’s open, rugged space, I pulled my car over at that nondescript spot, went for a trail-less hike to a nameless butte in the middle of nowhere and found a perfect dog. That’s not luck, that’s love.

Dio on Day 2

Happy dog Dio on day two of the rest of his life…

Check out Travels with Bowie & D.O.G. under Archives A to Z for lots of photos from our travels all over North America. These dogs have seen more of the world than most people.

Chaco Canyon D.O.G.

Chaco Canyon D.O.G., New Mexico

Pemaquid Point D.O.G., Maine

Pemaquid Point D.O.G., Maine

Las Vegas D.O.G.

Las Vegas D.O.G., Nevada

Athabasca Glacier D.O.G. British Columbia

Athabasca Glacier D.O.G. British Columbia

Emerald Lake D.O.G.

Emerald Lake D.O.G., Colorado

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
This entry was posted in Appalachian Trail, Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Vagabonding 101 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Finding D.O.G.

  1. richard says:

    what a beautiful story. thank you.

  2. Great story. Best way to get a dog !! Find one who needs you.

  3. vishnevats says:

    Love this story. It was so meant to be. There are so many instances of animals adopting humans in the most unlikely places. I wonder what draws us there? Their need?

  4. klbexplores says:

    Some call it fate or destiny. I believe you were meant to be together and the extraordinary way you found each other is a wonderful story. The kind of story we are all blessed to have heard.

  5. gaucho8782 says:

    My favorite story!! I have two dogs myself that I’ve taken on quite a few adventures, they love the mountains as much as I do.

  6. ritaroberts says:

    I love all your stories Mary, but this one is my favourite. You and your dogs are such good friends and I think everyone seems to love them almost as much as yourself Bowie certainly took to D.O.G they look so happy wherever they go that is, as long as they are with you. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

  7. Wonderful story! Your dogs look so beautiful and well-cared for.

  8. Love this! What a great story. He sounds like a terrific dog–glad you found each other!

  9. I am so happy to read this and believe you were intended to find that dog and he to find you. No question there are many dogs out in those desolate places of New Mexico. Sounds like he was on the downhill slide when you found him. Funny to see his photo on Pemaquid Point – I spent many days on those same rocks.

  10. Brian says:

    You are both so lucky. He is an awesome dog and you are an awesome owner. He looks a lot like my Violet (also was a stray), only bigger. Love your blog!

  11. shazzarob says:

    what a great story.Two very handsome boys.:-D

  12. Mavis says:

    I’ve never wanted to visit the US so much until I started reading your blog!

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  14. Sweet, beautiful puppy!!!!!! Isn’t amazing when you find the most amazing friend!!!!??? I love this story! I’m so happy you found each other!!!!

  15. ashley eastwood says:

    D.O.G you crazy dog. He is so aware. Miss you three.

  16. forkinriver says:

    I know it’s been said many times before, but this truly is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it. You’re so lucky to have two such loves in your life. Wishing you three very safe travels during your adventures together!

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  19. nutsfortreasure says:

    Thanks for saving him and letting him feel love HUGS I know it is hard to feed and care for animals but in the end we are so much better off for all we do for them. Missed your stories.

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  22. Best dog story I’ve read in a while. I am so glad that yo found D.O.G. wonderful- wonderful. This kind of story makes one wonder if is chance or destiny or love as yu have written. Who knows? Maybe he is a dog angel that put you to the test.


    • Thanks, Yvonne! Yes, I do feel like Dio was a test, for sure. Keeping him meant committing to a wild life, right when Bowie and I were both starting to get a little lazy. We’ve been on an extraordinary journey together ever since. I’m lucky he found me. 🙂

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