On the occasion of my 62nd birthday and my retirement from office life, I found myself recalling events that happened 59 years ago, when I was 3 years old and a dog named Hondo saved my life. Had it not been for Hondo’s intelligence, bravery and love for me, I never would have seen that birthday or lived to enjoy my retirement.

My father was a forest ranger. He, my young mother and I lived on a remote ranger station in northern Arizona. We had a family dog, a collie-German shepherd mix. The ultimate Western man, my dad named the dog Hondo, after the title character of a Louis L’Amour Western novel that was published in 1953, the year I was born.

Hondo was devoted to me and my constant companion. One day Hondo and I wandered away from our small house in the mountains and made our way to the back pasture to play, where two horses – Whitey and General – were corralled. Unafraid of the horses, I climbed through the corral fence and got behind one of them. Not happy about my presence, he kicked me in the back of the head.

I went down hard, face first in the mud and manure, with a fractured skull.

All this time, my mother had been hanging up clothes near the house. Suddenly she was confronted by Hondo, who barked madly, then tugged at her skirt, then barked some more. My mother didn’t understand why the dog was so upset, but because I wasn’t by his side she became concerned. Hondo barked again and then took off, leading her to where I was lying in the pasture, bleeding and unconscious.

My mother was only 22, with no medical training, and we were hours from the nearest hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My father was gone, off fighting a forest fire.

Scared to death but undaunted, she picked me up from the muck and carried me to the family car, where she laid me on the back seat, my head propped on a pillow of blood-soaked towels.

Then she drove us to the hospital, alone and afraid. My only memory of this event is her stopping for gas and buying me a Snickers candy bar, which I refused because I felt nauseated.

I survived, of course. I spent most of the third year of my life wearing a football helmet to protect my healing skull. This was not hard duty for a 3-year-old, as I just incorporated the helmet into my play life. I was a football player and an astronaut and a jet pilot.

Hondo wasn’t so lucky. A few months after my accident, he wandered from the house and never returned. My father later learned that local ranchers, their cattle beset by coyotes, had been putting out poisoned meat. We presumed that was Hondo’s fate.

Hondo means “deep” in Spanish. Deep was Hondo’s love and loyalty to me, and deep is my debt and gratitude to Hondo. Good dog.