My Four-Legged Savior

October 6, 2009

By Kate Kuzminski, DVM

Fort McDermitt, Nev. is about as remote a spot as you can find in the contiguous 48 states.

The remains of the old Piute Indian Agency, on the border between Oregon and Nevada, sprawl across a dry riverbed with nothing but sage brush and jagged mountains in sight for hundreds of miles.

No trees or vegetation are evident—only a muted brown landscape and bone dry air—in this place where only the hardiest survive.

It must've been fate

I had taken the rental car a couple miles down the road, across the first cattle guard, to get cell reception. I was trying to connect with one of our technicians, whose house was threatened by the California fires, to find out whether she would be joining us and if she could bring some supplies.

Nevada road
Survival is difficult in Fort McDermitt, Nev.
HSVMA

As I pulled the car over—in an area that could only be described as the middle of nowhere—and started to search for messages, I saw a dust devil surface over the hill and run right directly toward the car. At the center of the cloud of dust was an emaciated little cattle dog.

She had a rope around her neck and was clearly in rough shape. One eye was blind and infected, she obviously had recently given birth to puppies, and was just a rack of bones.

I got out and crouched down, and she slowly crawled over. So many questions ran through my mind: Where the hell did she come from? Did she have a litter close by (a later search of the area yielded nothing)? Will she let me pick her up? Will she bite me or freak out in the car?

But ultimately I wondered—how are you alive, dog, and how did you find me?

How the cosmos had conspired to make this dog cross my path at the same moment I happened to be in that spot! I loaded her into the car—all skin and bones, and covered in dust—with no resistance at all.

Was she the one?

Delilah Rose
Delilah Rose is now thriving and living comfortably with Jenica Wycoff, a veterinary student at UC Davis.
Jenica Wycoff

I had often said my next dog would be a cattle dog from one of our reservation clinics. Having lost four dogs in the past year and a half, I knew it was likely time.

I had just lost my last dog in May. She died as I tried desperately—and unsuccessfully, thanks to a plane delay in Philadelphia—to return from a project in Guatemala with Veterinarians Without Borders.

Unfortunately, this is always a risk in my line of work. I am frequently on the road, unreachable or too far away to get back in time if an emergency arises.

So when I came across this little waif in the desert, I named her Delilah Rose McDermitt and thought she may be the one—and she almost was.

After some food and medical attention back at the clinic, she started to thrive. The veterinary student from UC Davis who cared for her fell pretty hard, too. And who am I to stand in the way of true love?

While tough to let her go, Delilah has now found a great life in California.

We were both saved

Although I saved Delilah's life in the desert, she truly rescued me, too.

She helped me realize that although the dog I had long-considered my soul mate is no longer on this earth, the possibility of finding another special dog to share my life with is real, and perhaps just around the corner.

It's an incredible feeling to bring an animal with such endurance and spirit—and likely not much time left—into a place where she will be loved, kept safe and well-cared for.

And my house will just have to wait for another special dog to find me.

Dr. Kate Kuzminski is a staff veterinarian with HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) and a frequent volunteer with Veterinarians Without Boarders in Guatemala. She was the trip leader on the reservation clinics in Nevada this past August.