Finding D.O.G.

First Sight

First Sight

Seven years ago, 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

Seven 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 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 12 years old, Bowie has only a little grey and a touch of arthritis and will still follow me anywhere, though I have to limit his miles to easy ones. Dio has kept 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.

21 Responses to Finding D.O.G.

  1. What a wonderful story, thank you so much for sharing.

  2. gaucho8782 says:

    Being a dog lover this story has always been my favorite. It brings a tear to my eye that this wonderful dog came from a tough environment to living a “dream life”!

  3. dianaed2013 says:

    This is such a wonderful tale – I am not a dog lover but was heartened by your kindness which was rewarded it seems by the loyalty of the dog. Great photos as well!

  4. jdawgswords says:

    I want to read your post but this phone is STUPID!!!!! ERRRRRRR!!!!!!! Anyway I had a dog named d-o-g

  5. Definitely meant to be. Did you ever notice that “dog” is “God” spelled backwards? There’s no doubt at all that D.O.G. was G.O.D.’s gift to you! 😀

    ❤ ❤ ❤

    With Love,


  6. Gordon says:

    What a great story!

  7. Steve says:

    A GREAT story and two beautiful dogs.

  8. Pamela says:

    I was reading your article out loud to my husband and had to stop because of the tears. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing and caring. I love dogs.

  10. Lavinia Ross says:

    This is a beautiful story, Mary. Dio is one lucky dog, with you both being in the right place at the right time to find each other, and a lot of help from Bowie to make it go smoothly.

  11. Pit says:

    Even if I knew the story from a previous posting of yours, it’s stll an ever so moving one. I’m so happy you two found each other.
    Have a great weekend,

  12. shazza says:

    Glad they are both still doing so well. I love hearing about them. 🙂 X

  13. Thanks for choosing to take that leap of faith! ❤

  14. hilthethrill says:

    Looks like my Belgian shepherd, Macbeth. He was the very best soul. Loved this blog.

  15. nutsfortreasure says:

    All we need comes to us if we just use our eyes and heart. Bless you for not giving up.

  16. girlonahike says:

    What a cute dog! My Golden Lab and I do all of our adventures together too. Dogs are the best! Alicia @

  17. creekwaterwoman says:

    Fantastic story!

  18. JoAnna says:

    I love this. Thank you, so much for accepting this sweet gift. I hope you don’t mind if I re-blog this at some point.

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