Finding D.O.G.

First Sight

First Sight

Six years ago today, I took a road trip to Monument Valley, near the Arizona – Utah border, and crossed paths with a spirit animal in the shape of a bedraggled dog. Keeping a skinny, filthy, half-wild mutt 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., Alberta

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

Six 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. I believe that Dio followed me out of that desert because he wanted to see more of the world. By last count, Dio has been hiking with me in 47 states. (He’s missing Hawaii, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. 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 eleven years old, Bowie has no grey and only a little arthritis and still hikes many 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. Alberta

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.

23 Responses to Finding D.O.G.

  1. Beautiful story!!! D.O.G. was a gift to you–and you a gift to him. Definitely meant to be. No coincidences or “luck” about it! 😀 I’m so happy for all of you!


  2. roadrunnersdiary says:

    Your story is touching and beautiful, thanks so much for sharing it here.

  3. wander1965 says:

    Spirits come to us when we need them to it seems. And some of them hang around. I met one in human form while wandering near Crestone, CO. Even took a photo of him. Though it seems the experience was just for me and just for that day. I’m glad D.O.G. has become more permanent in your lives.

  4. Barneysday says:

    An incredibly great and compassionate story. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Lavinia Ross says:

    There you are! I wondered where you had gone off to. The story of D.O.G. is my favorite one from all your travels. He was meant to be your dog.

  6. ritaroberts says:

    Yes I have been following you with your dogs Mary but I did not know how D O G was found. What an incredible story, and I agree you were meant to find him and the bond with you Bowie and D O G is so touching.

  7. seeinsilver says:

    Love you post and dog photos – hope to cross paths in a couple years when I set myself free!

  8. Jardin says:

    Brilliant – lovely story. I found my dog through serendipity too – may you have many more happy times together.

  9. klbexplores says:

    What a beautiful story of shared love. Sometimes the most wonderful things happen which when we look back have become come defining moments in our lives. Happy travels to you three as you go down your path.

  10. I echo Lavinia’s comment — I never tire of hearing about D.O.G.’s picking you and Bowie as his forever family… it was fate, and I am sure you’re both the better for it.

  11. Wow, beautiful and loving story. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Keevan says:

    I love this story! From a fellow road warrior traveling with Dog, I know what a commitment this is for you. Dogs definitely dictate your wanderings and daily adventures, and take up much valuable space in limited quarters. Dio and D.O.G. are two lucky pooches. Our gal is 13 years old and still loves to go for daily hikes. Best of Luck to you all.

  13. Melissa Shaw-Smith says:

    Such a great story, and so beautifully told. Thanks.

  14. mvschulze says:

    How remarkable that you two happened to come together. Beautiful story complimented by your exceptional lifestyle.Thanks for the ride, as usual. M 🙂

  15. pmdello says:

    Wow on this story. Yep, it was meant to be. 😍

  16. Rhonda says:

    Beautiful remembrances of things meant to be. Thank you for sharing your story…

  17. I saw a bumber sticker once that said “Who rescued who?”

  18. Pam says:

    The world is full of mystery and beauty, not just in wild landscapes but in wild hearts as well! Great story, may you all spend many more years exploring together.

  19. vagabondexpedition says:

    Brilliant writing to convey the story to us all! Any insight as to how D.O.G. came to be out there? It almost sounds like he was abused, but it seems odd that someone would go so far out of their way (of civilization) to abandoned him. Either way, as you said, it was definitely meant to be for everything to come together for you all to be united!

  20. Michael says:

    Pawprints on our hearts

  21. nomaggsrush says:

    Heartwarming story – our dogs always choose us not the other way round 😀

  22. Linda P. says:

    Beautiful story. The photographs deepen the emotional import, too.

  23. vanja vucko says:

    i wish you a long life , because you are incredible person, i am glad you love dogs ! so they love you !

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