Dances With Dognappers
Dognapping is alive and well on the reservation. Hounds abound wherever you go; you can’t walk, run, bike or drive without having to deal with them. Most are ugly and mean. Pregnant dogs waddle about aimlessly, seemingly searching in vain for the male dog that put them in their present predicament. A ready supply of hounds feeds the bustling local dognapping trade.
Here’s how it works: some nefarious yet entrepreneurial sort drives around the Rez with a keen eye and a truck, and grabs any wayward dog he sees. He then sets up shop near the main drag with a sign that reads: EIGHT DOLLAR DOGS. That’s right, for the low, low price of eight bucks you too can have an ugly Rez dog. When I saw the sign and the commotion around it, I had to stop and check out the action for myself.
(Note: I may have been the last holdout on the Rez who didn’t own at least one dog. Locals and transient teachers alike seemed to each possess one pooch minimum per household. My friend and colleague, Chris, procured a ragged scrawny dachshund a few months ago named Junior who insists on humping the leg of any human who stays still for more than three seconds.)
The entrepreneurial spirit runs in funny ways around the Rez. Nobody makes or sells anything really useful, but they try to peddle rocks and jewelry and breakfast tamales and other useless wares all the time. There is a “video store” in town that features VHS tapes. At the nearby laundromat, a woman came up to me to sell socks. Only problem was the socks were used. And dirty. I shook my head no. Then a dude came up to sell me a “lizard,” which was actually an ugly rock with an ink dot for an eye. Only two dollars. I said no again. Down at the video store, they had “Purple Rain” for rent. I wasn’t in the mood to watch Prince rocking a jerry curl mullet, so I headed down the dusty main strip and found “Eight Dollar Dogs.”
I pulled over for a look-see at the merchandise. About a dozen dogs were being held in an ersatz five by five chicken wire jail cell. Eight to ten larger dogs were about five feet away in the bed of a muddy white Ford truck. Little kids were all around speaking in Zuni, pointing at the smaller dogs inside the chicken wire. I was looking for a diamond in the rough among these mongrel pooches. I wanted a “fu-fu” kind of dog for the Rez to make an ironic statement, like a Shitzu with a pink bow. No such luck.
About that time, things got more interesting. A Pontiac Grand Prix pulled up – I think it was gray but everything here gets coated in dust and mud, so it was hard to tell. The driver popped out quickly, a male of about 30 or so, and he was decidedly animated. Speaking in Zuni, he was shouting, which is not a normal local speaking style. The proprietor of “Eight Dollar Dogs” begin to wave his hands defensively and explain his side of matters. The women around me were laughing. The children were wide-eyed. A grandmotherly figure looked at me and took on the role of interpreter between laughs.
The driver of the Grand Prix saw his own dog in the cage as he drove by and accused the proprietor of being a “dognapper.” My interpreter indicated this was likely the truth and such “dog peddlers” grab whatever hounds they see without any effort to see if the dog already belongs to someone.
Mr. Grand Prix was pointing his index finger at the dog peddler.
“What’s he saying now?” I asked.
“He wants his dog right now, but the dog peddler say ‘half price – four dollars: finder’s fee’.”
The crowd laughed, but the Mr. Grand Prix just jumped in his car and kicked up dust peeling away in a hurry/ fury. I wondered if he was going to get a gun but I didn’t want to be around to find out. His dog remained behind, looking content to let the humans sort it all out. I offered the proprietor a check for eight dollars, thinking he’d say no, but he mulled it over and accepted. “If this bounces, I can find you at the high school.” True. And I had $9.21 in my account, so the check is solid. In the memo, I put “dognapper's fee.”
Out of the chicken wire I selected a dog who looks a poor man’s version of Benji from the 1970s movies of that name. The real Benji wasn’t that cool and this dog is even less cool. He has the kind of fur poodles do if they are mixed with about six other ugly breeds. I tell the dog, “Your name is Holmes. Holmes Mitchell.” He seemed confused, which is understandable given that he was almost certainly dognapped just hours before and undoubtedly had another name till then. Plus he’s used to hearing Zuni instead of English. But he was still easy to hold – the size of a rugby ball – and I tossed him in the back of my SUV and we headed the mile’s distance to my home - Holmes’ new home.
Since then, I haven’t really trained him much. My heart’s not in it and there seems to be no point. I have a fenced yard and I keep Holmes outside day and night. I remembered my own previous dog from years before, a stupid fat rubbery dachshund named Barry, and thought about beating Holmes just on principle in case he was like Barry but I realized that was an illogical notion and restrained. So far, I’ve bought no dog food for Holmes, but I share stuff I make with him like grilled cheese and high fiber oatmeal. He seems to like it and since he lives outside, I don’t really care what this diet does to his “system.” My one obsessive concern revolves around the dognappers. I don’t want them to get Holmes and I’ve taken this as my personal battle. I told Holmes: “You are my dog. Stay here. Don’t let any dognappers take you. I don’t want to have to pay four bucks to get you back.” He looked at me strangely. I think he’s mulling over all his options.