On a summer afternoon, 12 years ago, I was out with the dogs on the sand hills, about a half a mile from home.
Over the weekends, kids love to bring their four-wheelers up to these undulating sand hills, racing them up and down the trails, but the rest of the time there’s a great stillness except for the screech of a hawk soaring overhead, the cawing of ravens (they used to love swooping down and teasing the dogs), the song of a coyote watching from a distance, and the rustling of a breeze through the clumps of yellow flowers.
Pine trees group together in the bowl-shaped dips of the hills, and junipers on the tops. In the sandy soil, every mound of grass, sage or flowers hides a secret entranceway to what lies below: the underground home of a family of rabbits, mice or skunks. The dogs loved to sniff at these burrows, obviously learning a lot more about the inhabitants than I ever did.
Also lying around in the sand are the remains of other homes – the shards of pottery, grinding stones, broken mixing bowls and charcoal residue of old fire pits tell of the ancestral Pueblo people who lived here for hundreds of years until a drought settled on the land 700 years ago and forced them to move to what is now New Mexico.
I was scrambling up the side of one of the dips after standing in the shade of some pine trees. Twinkle had reached the top ahead of me, peered back down and then ran off to play with one of the other dogs. Then a single shot rang out and I heard a single yelp. She stopped at my feet, blood bubbling out from a hole in her side. Then she sank to the ground and her eyes went blank.
It took me a moment to realize what had happened. “Stop shooting,” I yelled, scrambling to the top. Over another mound of sand, about 200 yards away, two teenage boys turned and began running away.
Twinkle was staggering toward me. She stopped at my feet, blood bubbling out from a hole in her side. Then she sank to the ground and her eyes went blank.
I carried her body back home, then ran back to where the horror had happened. Alongside the paw prints of a cotton tail rabbit were the prints of two people, stopping at the trail where they’d parked their truck. That place was now empty but for some wheel prints. I took a photo of the wheel prints.
Back home, the other dogs were standing next to Twinkle, occasionally pawing and sniffing her body.
I drove into town to the sheriff’s office. One of the deputies came back out with me to the scene of the crime. On the way, he asked if there had been any cows out there. “It’s legal to shoot dogs if they’re chasing cows,” he explained.
He also told me that it’s legal to shoot “varmints.” That would include the coyotes I always hear singing out there. “Did your dog look like a coyote?” he wondered.
He inspected the wheel prints and had me walk him through what had happened. But there wasn’t much that could be done. I put an ad in the local newspaper offering a reward for information leading to the arrest etc. From the calls I received – some of them anonymous – it seemed that there was little doubt who had done this: lots of people knew the two boys at the high school ... not well liked ... but there was no proof.
And even if there were, the young men would have pleaded that it was a mistake and that they hadn’t see a person with her when she'd appeared over the sand hill, so they’d "thought she was a varmint, Your Honor."
And since Twinkle, a mutt, had no monetary value, that would probably have been the end of it.
Twelve years later, I still avoid that place in the sand hills.
And 12 years later, this country is trying to figure out, yet again, what to do about guns. Perhaps, as some would have us believe, I should have had a gun there myself that day. After all, they tell us, “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Whatever our country decides in the coming weeks, you can be sure that the right to go out and shoot innocent animals of kinds shall not be infringed.