Winter 1973, one of the coldest in North Texas for many years, when I unknowingly (at the time) received a big surprise. His name was Davey, a name my mother bestowed upon the tiny black puppy, and she found him in the high grass about 100 yards away from the barn on our cattle and farmland a few miles south of town.
She was feeding the cattle because I was sick, (age 14), with double pneumonia and stuck in the house for a few weeks. It was afternoon and the sun barely made it through the thick clouds that rolled southward across the sky.
After a while, she drove up to the house in the truck and had a big smile on her beautiful face as she hopped out and jogged over to me with a little black puppy, with grass burrs all over him and he was yelping. It was the yelping that caught her attention. My mom could hear it over the sound of the cows mooing and moving about in the barn.
The mother had apparently abandoned him or had gone off looking for food in the desolate winter landscape. She reached down and picked him up and carried him back to the barn.
In an hour or so, she had little Davey warmed up and cleaned up and wrapped in a towel, and we fixed a big box for him and put some towels and hay inside it and sat him beside the fireplace in the living room, so he could stay warm.
He grew to be a dog of about 80 or 100 pounds — a big dog. Good-natured, friendly, but very protective to us. Always at my side as I walked the territory around our farm, hunting for small game.
The most mystical experience of my life happened one morning when Davey and I were in the big woods just a half-mile north of our farmhouse. I was carrying a shotgun, and Davey was walking beside me, and we were in a creek-bed near a fence when he suddenly stopped and growled, and the hair on his back stood up. His ears perked up and slanted forward.
I looked at him and said: “What’s wrong, Davey?” Then I looked ahead and right in front of us was a pack of about six or seven coyotes. And they stopped, though I was right there.
Davey growled and looked at them, and then he walked up to the lead coyote and the morning sun was shining on them when they smelled each other for a few seconds. And then, the coyotes headed off into the woods. I was astonished as if I’d seen a spirit of some kind. When I got home and told my mother, she said it was because Davey was a wolf. She could tell, having lived in the boonies of West Texas as a kid and young woman.
I left home in November 1977 to serve four years in the military, and a couple of years later while on duty I received a call from my mother telling me that Davey had been run over and killed by an electric meter reader in his truck. She watched as the ever-protective Davey chased his truck out of our long dirt road driveway, and he was barking, and the driver swerved to deliberately kill Davey. He died within a few minutes there in the driveway, a big black ball of fur, just as he was when my mother found him in the field not two hundred yards away from that spot.
All those years hunting and walking for hours in the woods and fields with him, we became good friends. He knew me and I knew him. So, when I heard about the truck running over him and killing him, I knew that his last thoughts as he lay dying were of all the good times that we had together. I cried that day, for an old friend that I would never see again–but would forever remember as the best Christmas present that I would ever have. That’s still true.
My mother died of cancer at age 68 in September 2003, at home in her bed. Before she died, I asked her if she remembered Davey, and tears came to her eyes. She whispered “Old Davey.”
My dad buried him on the fence line of a garden behind our ranch house. He built a little coffin for him out of a few scattered boards, dug a hole and covered it up. Davey’s still there. All these years later, I still can see his glistening eyes, his happy face, as he barked and played–chasing me around the yard. The joy of that dog. And in my heart, it feels like we’re together, and he’s always there, watching out for me.
Admiral John W. Flores is a disabled American veteran, and a journalist and author in the mountains of northern New Mexico. He is a recipient of the U.S. Navy Public Service Award—presented to him in a 2009 ceremony at the 4th Recon Battalion HQ. The citation was signed by then-Marine Corps Commandant James Conway.