Uncle Eli and I had talked for months about visiting Rancho de Chihuahua, but the logistics were difficult. He lives in Colorado, my travel schedule is hectic, and the dog rescue in the mountains of northern New Mexico closes to visitors for the winter in mid-November.
So, it was with a certain amount of amazement on Saturday morning that I found myself in Chimayo sitting on the big comfy orange sofa, well-known from many a Facebook post, with a Chihuahua wearing a Christmas sweater perched on my lap.
Eli, his friend KW, and I had driven the thirty miles from Santa Fe after an early breakfast. We drove slowly through the rural community until we located the downward-sloping driveway with a red gate described in the directions. Joy, the founder of the rescue, came out to the car and filled us in on the protocol of meeting the dogs. Once inside the fenced yard a few of the resident canines escorted us into the sunny sitting room. We all took a few minutes to settle in.
Then, a door I hadn’t noticed was opened and a river of small dogs, mostly Chihuahuas streamed in. They flowed over the top of the coffee table and around both sides of it. All, it seemed, with one goal in mind: get on the sofa and check out the visitors. I don’t know for sure how many, but my best guess is twenty-something. The barking ended quickly. Friendly and polite, the dogs found places to lie down–on our laps, in the spaces between us, on the back of the sofa. The shy ones kept their distance, taking up positions around the room where they could watch and listen.
Joy sat on the floor and told us about Rancho de Chihuahua. She and her husband, Steven, relocated the rescue from Los Angeles to this farm in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains about seven years ago so they could help more dogs. They take in the old, the neglected, the sick. Many will stay with them for life, but some are up for adoption, which is why we were visiting.
A few days earlier a healthy Papillon-mix named Toby was abandoned at a local veterinary clinic. Instead of euthanizing the sweet-natured pup, the staff gave him a check up and Joy rescued him. She posted his story and photo on Facebook. After a flurry of emails and phone calls between Eli and Joy, Eli made plans to drive to New Mexico.
While KW and I took photos and tried to learn names–Buddy, Clownfish, Harold, Fig–Eli and Toby met. They hit it off and all too soon it was time for us to leave.
With reluctance I said goodbye to Gabby, the tiny gray Chihuahua wearing a bright red sweater. She is old and frail, but after spending half an hour with her I could find no better words to describe her than those used by Steven in the title of his book about the joys and sorrows of rescuing dogs. She was “a small furry prayer” spreading goodwill with her calm, sweet presence.
Eli called Sunday. Toby was settling in, playing with a brand new squeak toy. The two had already gone for their first walk in the park across the street from Eli’s house.
Joy Nicholson and Steven Kotler run Rancho de Chihuahua in Chimayo, New Mexico. I highly recommend Steven’s book A Small Furry Prayer: dog rescue and the meaning of life, which is how Eli and I came to learn about their rescue work.