Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pets never far from my mind, doggone it

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This is hard to admit, but when my wife and I boarded a jet for sunny New Mexico, we were kind of looking forward to spending some time away from our three dogs.

It's not that we don't love them; it's just that absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder when you are talking about your pets, especially if you own a 13-year-old basset hound who, like a drooling, wrinkled vampire with a brain the size of a chocolate-covered peanut, refuses to sleep at night and instead meanders around endlessly searching for his next meal while his nails click-clack in a monotonous staccato on the hardwood floors.

So while our sleep-deprived daughter looked after the pack at home, we wandered in peace around the city of Las Cruces and the formerly Mexican village of Mesilla, a collection of ancient adobe buildings famous as a one-time hangout of Billy the Kid and parked beside the legendary Rio Grande river, which would be an awesome sight if it actually contained water.

The thing about New Mexico is that, along with loving Canadian tourists, the people down here are hardcore dog lovers and it is almost impossible to walk through a store or a restaurant or cross a street without tripping over random hounds basking in the midday sun.

For instance, we strolled through a bookshop in Mesilla and, around every corner, found ourselves being snuffled inquisitively by a dog, or at least part of a dog. Over by the history section was a dog with three legs, while a dog with one ear and half a tail loitered in the true-crime section. All in all, there were five dogs who called the shop home, though if you put them all together, they'd add up to roughly 21/2 dogs.

None of this, however, prepared me for the day we met "Sam." There we were, on a sizzling Saturday, visiting the farmers market in the heart of Las Cruces, the second-largest city in New Mexico, when, under a row of shade trees, we stumbled on a long row of cages.

It was an adoption fair being held by the Las Cruces animal shelter and inside each cage was a dog yipping and yapping to attract the attention of passersby.

Except for the small black mutt, a wiener dog cross of some kind, who just lay there, baking, giving off palpable rays of sadness. Like a magnet, I was drawn to the little guy, whose cage sported a small sign describing his life story.

This was Sam and he had been found wandering around the downtown, hungry and blind in one eye. Recently, a young girl, another tourist, had fallen in love with Sam and wanted to take him home, but couldn't get him on her flight, so the girl's grandmother made a donation large enough to ensure Sam will be kept alive until he finds his "forever home."

As I stood there, one of the clever volunteers popped Sam into my arms and, when I stroked his fur, he began to make small, unmistakable noises of enjoyment.

"Listen to that," said the volunteer. "That's the first time I've heard him make a sound."

Yes, I desperately wanted to take him with me, but, as my lovely spouse reminded me, we already own three dogs and were facing a dozen more flights in the next few days, so I was forced to walk away after leaving a donation.

But Sam was not our only holiday canine encounter. Days later, in the Seattle airport waiting for a plane to Victoria, I found myself chatting with a tiny dog stuffed into the carry-on bag of the man in front of me, who turned out to be famed actor Ron Perlman, star of TV shows such as Sons of Anarchy and films such as Hell Boy. Ron didn't seem like he wanted to be bothered by the likes of me, but his pup was extremely engaging.

Three days later, during a family gathering in my sister's condo in Vancouver, we experienced a near-life-altering moment with her silver-coloured Labrador retriever, Parker, who is obsessed with cutlery.

What happened was Parker snatched a steak knife from the kitchen counter and, with the pointy end protruding from his furry muzzle, began dashing around in a state of doggy ecstasy trying to hamstring all the guests.

Oddly, this made me miss my own dogs, so I used our iPad to do a FaceTime video link with my daughter that allowed us to watch our pets snoring soundly as my daughter's boyfriend scrubbed the floor on his hands and knees.

It seems my daughter ordered her beau to clean up after one of the dogs had an untimely gastrointestinal incident. I can feel my heart growing fonder already.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2012 A2

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