Dispatches Tagline

Lion Food

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020: Animals, Black Range, Hikes, Nature, Sawyers, Southwest New Mexico.

It was forecast to reach the low 90s in town, so I figured I’d head for the high country. I could do the Black Range Crest Trail to 9,700′ Sawyers Peak, a hike I’d only done twice before because it was less than 7 miles round trip. I could make it longer by fighting my way through another mile and a half of deadfall, or I could try a branch trail that might or might not be passable since the 2013 wildfire. Although it’d be hot at first, I figured there was also a good chance of clouds and rain in the afternoon.

When I got to the trailhead up in 8,200′ Emory Pass, there were already two other vehicles, plus a pile of stuff concerning a lost dog: a khaki jacket, a pile of dog food, and a note with a phone number.

As I hiked up the trail, I pondered the dog note. All dogs are supposed to be on leash on these trails, but nobody complies with the rule, hence the lost dog. And if their dog was lost, why did they leave? Why wasn’t the owner still here, waiting or looking for their dog? Why did they expect others to find the dog for them? If I’d lost something that important, I’d be camping out on the mountain.

A quarter mile up the trail I met a young guy with a camouflage backpack and an Aussie cattle dog. He said he’d been out here before dawn, scouting for elk, since he had a hunt coming up in November. He said he’d seen four bulls together, up around the peak. I wished him luck with the hunt.

A mile farther, I passed an older couple, also with an off-leash dog, who said they’d climbed the peak. A little farther and I reached the branch trail junction. I was starting down through the high-elevation forest, aiming for vague patches of tread, picking my way over fallen trees, when suddenly a dog barked up ahead. The lost dog!

I talked to the dog in a friendly way, and soon it came into view. It was a dark brown, short-haired little hound, and it looked on its last legs. Holding my hand out, I got it to come to me. It seemed in a state of shock or severe depression. It had a collar but no tag. It looked like it could hardly stand, let alone walk. As I walked past to check out the trail, the dog laid down in a depression it had made in the dirt under a ponderosa pine. I hiked another 50 yards and discovered there was literally no trail left to follow. I told the dog I’d be back later, and continued back to the crest trail.

With no branch trail I was doomed to battle deadfall past the peak. But I’d done it once before, and this time might be easier because I knew where I was going.

Traversing the side of the peak I encountered the four bull elk. They were in the standing snags above the trail, and their racks were huge. This was the first time I’d encountered a group of mature bulls in the wild, and it was pretty impressive.

I decided to skip the peak on the way in, and decide on my return whether to climb it or not – it’s only a few hundred feet above the trail. I continued south on the abandoned part of the crest trail as dark clouds moved over the range from the northwest. Finally, as I approached the grassy knoll that was my destination, I saw three young buck deer up ahead. It was a day for male ungulates!

The bucks took off and I climbed the knoll. Lightning and thunder had started farther north, and there wasn’t much cover up there. I crawled under a low juniper and ate a lunch of mixed nuts while I watched the storm come to me.

Rain started as I got up to start back. It was light at first, but by the time I got to the saddle below the knoll I had to unpack my poncho. By the time I was working my way up through the steep jungle of deadfall toward the peak, I was in a full hailstorm with lightning striking nearby and deafening cascades of thunder. Just my kind of weather!

When I reached the saddle below the peak, I decided to climb it. I hadn’t stopped thinking about that poor dog, but I wasn’t going to cut my hike short just for some fool’s pet. Besides, the dog could at least find some water now that it was raining.

There was no trail to the peak, and it was a difficult hike up broken, rocky ground with lots of deadfall. On the way back down, I strained my knee, which had been giving me trouble for the past couple of months, so I had to stop and put on a stronger brace. My pants and boots were soaked.

Continuing down the trail, I thought about the dog. I checked my pack and found a nylon strap I could use as a leash. And luckily, I’d brought two sources of meat protein – a venison bar and some salmon jerky. I’d give the salmon to the dog. And I could lay my poncho down in the dog’s dirt depression and fill it with water. I’d taken a photo of the stuff at the trailhead, and when I checked my camera, I discovered I could zoom in on the note and read the phone number. I was planning to give the owner a hard time. No leash, no tag, what were they thinking?

When I reached the branch trail, I took off my poncho so the dog would recognize me. I started calling it, and when I reached its little bed under the big pine, I saw it coming up the slope toward me.

I laid my poncho down and poured a little water into it, but the dog wasn’t interested in that. So I poured out the salmon jerky, which it ate, but not with much enthusiasm. Then I fastened my nylon strap to its collar and started leading it up toward the saddle. The dog soon balked and stood firm, and I couldn’t drag it forward. So I took the leash off.

I noticed it was a female. “Come on, girl!” I urged. I walked a little ahead, and the dog slowly followed, stopping frequently to sniff the ground. We continued this way, slowly, to the saddle, and then down the trail, me turning back frequently to encourage the dog. Soon we reached a couple of fallen logs that had to be climbed over. I crossed easily, but the dog seemed completely at a loss. She glanced from side to side, then turned around and walked away from me, her head hanging down.

I went back and called her again, and she came up. “Come on,” I said, patting the logs. She put her front legs up, and as I backed away, she finally climbed weakly over. It was as if she’d never seen a log before. Her entire attitude seemed one of shock and depression. I forged ahead, but after I’d gone a dozen yards I turned and saw she’d stopped again. She sniffed the trail, then turned and headed back toward her comfort zone. She was apparently just going to lay down and die back there under that pine.

Lion food, I thought. I’d been thinking about this for a while. People pride themselves on adopting “rescue” animals from shelters, animals that would otherwise be euthanized. The new owners are supposedly “rescuing” these animals from death.

I have a better idea. Pets make great food for wild predators. These clueless pet owners could actually help native ecosystems by donating their domesticated animals to the wild. Pets are ecologically negative – they only serve to damage nature; as food for predators, they would actually be helping nature. I did feel sorry for that dog, but it had already given up. Its spirit could live on in a mountain lion, a real animal with an actual, positive role in this ecosystem.

I reached a place where a couple bars showed on my phone, so I called the owner, but it went to voice mail. I told them where to find their dog and said if they really wanted her, they’d have to come and get her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *