Reporter's notebook: Dogs and glonnies, strays of the rez

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, February 14, 2013

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A lot has been written about the stray dog problem on the Navajo Nation, but never from the dogs' point of view.

Photographer Donovan Quintero and I decided to spend a day following the dogs of the Chinle Basha's around to see what they had to "tell" us about their lives.

Upon arriving at Basha's in the morning, we observed a pack of three foxy red dogs which appeared to be related, and a separately scavenging tri-color Australian shepherd mix.

None of them looked to be in particularly bad shape.

One of the females of the red pack had the telltale distended teats of a nursing mother.

While the Aussie mix roamed the dirt strip between the parking lot and U.S. 191 nosing at fast food wrappers, the red pack took a more proactive approach. The pack would trot around the parking lot until it found someone eating in their car. They would hang out with infinite patience, staring into the car window, wagging their tails.

Generally this got them either ignored or shooed away, but they stuck to their work. Finally, after a couple of hours, they found a soft touch. Our local propane distributor, Norman Blackwater, was parked in his truck, eating what looked like a chicken burrito. Every so often he would throw a tiny crumb to the hungry canines, who surprisingly didn't fight over the scraps.

"Who do you think is more successful?" mused Blackwater. "The dogs or the glonnies?"

I looked back to the entrance of the shopping center, where my photographer was trying to rouse an alarmingly still alcoholic lying on his back on the ground. As with the dogs, people were walking by without taking notice, practically stepping over the guy. Eventually the glonny got up and walked away.

"I think the dogs are doing better today," I said. "They're more sympathetic."

While the dogs were begging sycophantically, only the nursing female would let me pet her. I imagined some people got annoyed with them and slapped or kicked them away.

When the sun passed the noonday mark, both the dogs and the pack of glonnies who had also been working the parking lot migrated to the southern exposure of the building, where they sat against the cinder block wall, soaked up the sun and napped.

One of the glonnies, a white-mustached man I'd been seeing there for years, motioned me over.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

I explained about the "Day in the Life of a Rez Dog" story.

"I can tell you all about those dogs," White Mustache said.

He motioned to the male. "That one's Runco, protector of glonnies," he said.

"How do they protect you?" I asked.

"We feed them," he said. "If someone comes around to us, he runs at them and barks."

To illustrate, White Mustache finished the sandwich he had been eating and laid the wrapper down near Runco, who licked at the meager leavings gratefully. The three dogs lay down by the glonnies and napped. It seemed the strays of the rez, dogs and people, had a symbiotic relationship.

White Mustache said he thought the red trio was owned. "In the evening, they go out that way," he said, indicating a spot to the northwest of the store.

The dogs decided they had had enough of a nap and went back to work, surrounding a car occupied by Wayne Claw, a school board member and director of the local nursing home.

Claw ate his sandwich and ignored them.

"Do you ever feed them?" I asked, motioning to the dogs, who were trotting back to the store entrance to protect the glonnies.

"I sometimes buy them a sandwich," Claw said. "I graduated with some of those guys."

It took me a second to realize he was talking about the drunk men, not the dogs.

Since we pretty much knew what the Basha's dogs were going to do the rest of the day, we headed up N7 toward the canyon to find more strays. We were maybe a quarter-mile from the store when a white shepherd mix darted across the street and was hit by a car. It lay there, its spine twisted, still alive and obviously in pain. The driver didn't stop.

As with the prone glonny, people just drove around the dying animal.

We tried calling the police, hoping someone could come and put it out of its misery with his service revolver. The police referred us to Animal Control. I had tried calling them for this very reason before, and had been told they would only come out if a dog had bitten somebody. I hadn't seen an animal control officer in Chinle in about four years.

While I was on the phone with the local veterinarian's assistant, trying to persuade him to fill a hypodermic with something lethal and come out, the animal mercifully lowered its head and passed away.

Both in the mood for a more positive rez dog story, we headed up the canyon to Spider Rock Campground, where we had heard proprietor Howard Smith was fostering some puppies born to a stray mother dog and working with the Blackhat Humane Society to find them homes.

Howard and his lady friend had jury-rigged a quite comfortable pen for the pups, wrapping a plastic box with blankets for a doghouse and situating the enclosure so the mother dog could jump down from the porch of their mobile home and feed them. Smith planned to get the mother spayed and look for a home for her as well.

The pups had been vaccinated and were fat and playful. The couple had found most of them homes and the rest were going to a rescue in Glendale that had agreed to foster them and take them to an adoption day.

Unlike the glonnies, the pups had plenty of food and a warm place to sleep.

I went back to Basha's around dusk and didn't find my pack. It had started to snow, so I thought I would come back in the morning, when I could follow their tracks.

I went out shortly after daybreak, but the dogs had already come and gone. Their tracks meandered around the parking lot a couple of times, then took a sharp turn around the metal fence that surrounds the shopping center on three sides. From there, it looked like they had unsuccessfully chased a rabbit in the field north of Basha's.

Eventually, as White Mustache had surmised, the tracks turned in to cluster of houses. Romping around three people who were standing outside one house was Runco, Protector of Glonnies.

At least one dog, and possibly all three were the "owned strays" that are wreaking such havoc on the Navajo Nation, multiplying and spreading diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever while their owners have no idea where they are for most of the day.

While I had been tracking the dogs, a steady trickle of humans had crossed 191 and were heading west along the Basha's fence. I wondered if some of them were the glonnies from the previous day, coming back from the bootlegger's or maybe wherever they had found to sleep, following almost the same pattern as the dogs.

The dogs at least had a family, albeit a marginal one. I hoped the human strays had somewhere to go.

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