Albuquerque Journal Article – Living Gracefully


Together in a Crowd

Grace is a 13 year old Chihuahua with a bad back, permanently dislocated knee caps, and a staggering rear gait. You could say she has pluck and courage but she doesn’t consciously throw her shoulders back and “power through”. She doesn’t need to. She just runs and sniffs and eats and plays with the other 24-30 dogs in her free-ranging canine group as though she were as able-bodied as any of them. If you watch carefully you see her compadres making allowances, giving her a clear path. On late afternoon hikes through the hillsides of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains her friends often wait for her to catch up. She is one of them. She belongs.

Dogs have a strong need to interact with each other, making conflicts inevitable. There is certainly a hierarchy in this established, disparate group. There may even be adherents to opposing political views. But you’d never know it. Abandoned and neglected dogs are added and immediately accepted by the others. Resource competition is rare and brief. That’s because the dogs of the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary have advantages enjoyed by few pets.

The canine residents of this sanctuary aren’t genetically superior. They do well together because they have natural choices. Grace copes well physically and behaviorally. She takes breaks from the action. I’ve observed her ambling away to curl up and bury her head in the corner of one of the dozens of pet beds of the “Big Dog House”. It really is huge, so big that a person lives there too.

Gracie and her companions also benefit from the predictability of a reliable structure. This girl knows the routine; she’s enjoyed life at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary in Glorieta, NM since she was found abandoned on the road as a canine teenager in a family way. Soon after Heart and Soul’s director Natalie Owings took her in Gracie delivered her brood of 6, all of whom have found good homes. Learn more about their good work on their website

There’s more to this story. In next Friday’s column I’ll apply these concepts to pet dogs. You don’t want to miss it.


Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.