This summer I will turn 70. A fairly ripe old age. But I should have died when I was 3. I’m alive today because a dog – our family pet – saved my life. His name was Hondo, and he was a mixed breed of collie and German shepherd. And he was my constant companion and guardian. Had it not been for Hondo’s intelligence, bravery and love for me, I wouldn’t be writing this column, or walking on this Earth.

Steven Price/Courtesy photo

My father was a newly minted forest ranger. He, my young mother and I lived on a remote ranger station in the mountains of northern Arizona. Just the place for a rambunctious, rangy dog. The archetypal Western man, my dad named 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, followed me everywhere I went. One day the dog 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. Too young and too unschooled in the ways of large domestic animals, I climbed unafraid through the corral fence and got behind one of the horses. Not happy with my pesky presence, the horse reacted aggressively, shooting out a hind leg and kicking me in the back of the head.

I went down hard, face first in the mud and manure. I was out cold with a fractured skull and bleeding profusely.

All this time, my mother had been hanging up freshly washed clothes near the house. Suddenly she was confronted by Hondo, who ran crazy circles around her, barked madly, and tugged at her skirt with his muzzle. My mother didn’t understand why the dog was so upset, but because I was nowhere to be seen she became concerned. Hondo released his bite, barked some more, then took off. My mother followed the dog, who led her to where I was lying in the horse pasture, unconscious and losing blood.

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.


Steven Price/Courtesy photo

Scared to death but undaunted, my mother picked me up from the muck and carried me to the family car, laying me out on the back seat, my head propped up 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 was nauseous. Never in my young life had I ever refused a candy bar.

My surgery lasted several hours. The surgeon had to pick shards of bone from my skull like shattered glass. I guess it was touch-and-go for a while, but I survived, of course. I spent most of the rest of my third year of 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. In my mind I became a professional football player, a soldier and an astronaut.

Hondo wasn’t so lucky. A few months after my accident, he wandered from the house one evening and never returned. My father later learned that the 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, as in profound. Deep was Hondo’s love and loyalty to me, and profound is my debt and gratitude to Hondo. Good dog. Damn good dog.

Steven Price is a Kennebunkport resident. He can be reached at [email protected]

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