I wasn’t supposed to fall in love out here, but I couldn’t help myself. I met him on the CDT on my first night out of Grants, NM. His trail name was Miles, and he loved hiking. What was worse was that he had eyes that melted my heart.
Damnit. Not again. No no noooo.
I first heard about the stray dog on my walk out of Grants. Another hiker messaged me to say that a stray dog was found wandering around on trail following hikers. My group made it about 20 miles that day and I had forgotten about the stray dog by the time we set up camp.
I forgot about it until a dog randomly wandered into our camp. We scratched our heads, laughed, and gave him water. He was covered in ticks and had no collar… most likely a stray vs runaway. I ate my dinner in my tent and stared at the dog through the bug netting. I didn’t want him to become my problem. This was MY cheese. Go away, dog. And if you even touch my tent, heaven help you. That night, he curled up to sleep inches from my head. I heard him quietly sighing all night.
The next day, my group woke up really early for a morning summit on Mt Taylor. As I slid on my backpack, I saw the dog heading away from the trail. Yes!! I could sneak away. This would be easy!
It didn’t work. The dog magically beat me to the summit of Mt Taylor. When I made it up there, he gave me this judging look like “Finally.. What took so long? Are you sure you’re a thruhiker?”
Crap. I looked at the dog and then 5,000 feet down at Grants. Why did town have to be so far away? It wasn’t even an option to go back now. I tried to ignore him as much as I could, but the dog just kept following us anyway. We talked about what to do with him. Do we throw rocks at him? Do we feed him our “extra” food and call an animal rescue group in 80 miles? Will the dog even last that long? I checked my map and tried to find closer towns, but we were in the middle of nowhere. Was there even a “right” thing to do? I had no answers, but I started rationing my food.. just in case.
I finally gave in and started feeding the dog my food. I am weak. I couldn’t abandon him to his slow death. He made it obvious that he would just keep following us to our next town. And I didn’t want to look behind me and watch him starve to death.
I finally got phone reception on the side of a mountain. The dog and I took a break in the shade while I called an animal rescue group. The lady on the other end listened to my story and seemed honestly concerned. But she told me that she was currently full. She told me to call back when I made it to town. I clung to hope that someone could help us.
I called back the animal rescue group when I was 3 hours from town. There was no answer, so I left a message on voicemail. I also tried animal control and the non-emergency police number. They all went to voicemail and I left messages for them to call me back. A mile from town, I started to worry… Nobody had called me back, and I absolutely couldn’t keep the dog in my hotel room. I guessed that he wasn’t housebroken, and would pee and poop all over my hotel room, not to mention his tick infestation. In one last ditch effort, Craiglist and the animal shelter in Grants were checked for missing dogs. Nothing came back.
I briefly thought of keeping the dog on trail. But it wasn’t the right thing for me to do. The unofficial motto for the CDT is “Embrace the Brutality.” I willingly signed up for this sufferfest and the dog did not. It simply wasn’t fair for him to walk to Canada with me. Plus I am hitting some serious Colorado snow in the next section, and it would be dangerous for Miles to join me.
I had to make a painful decision. I looked at him, tears pooling in my eyes and told him that I loved him, that he was a good dog who deserved a family, and that we were out of options. We walked by a few farms and I turned to him and said “No!”. He looked confused until I said it again. “NO NO NO”. I walked away quickly. The last time that I saw him, he was sitting under a sage bush. It broke my heart, but I didn’t know what else to do. And who knows…maybe animal control would have put him down anyway. Maybe this actually was the best option for him, even if it ripped me apart to walk away.
Miles.. happy trails to my sweet boy.. it was a pleasure to hike with you. And I am so sorry.