Everybody loves a happy ending (at least the people I hang out with). One of the happiest endings ever is being reunited with a lost dog. Take the Chicago policeman, who recently got his canine partner back, or the Australian couple whose sheepherder dog swam 5 nautical miles and lived on an Island, like Robinson Crusoe, until he could be rescued. There are countless other heart-warming stories - from post-Katrina dog & owner reunions to soldiers able to reunite with their Iraqi dogs to one dog reclaimed by his owner 6 years after he went missing. I've been both a dog loser and dog finder over the years. Let me tell you, it really shakes you up when your best friend disappears because the door was left wide open or a bunch of firecrackers went off nearby. Let me also add, when you meet up with your lost dog, it's a sublime experience, almost impossible to describe unless you've had it.
There are many stories out there of lost and found dogs, but ours is worth retelling for several reasons. Equally compelling, in a different way, is the famed writer Virginia Woolf's little-known book, Flush, the biographical story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel. Flush was also lost (athough stolen), but found when a hefty ransom was paid to the dog-nappers. If nothing else, these stories give you hope that you can find your dog, should you lose him or her. There are also some steps to take to make sure your dog is identified in case s/he leaves home.
Lost and Found Dogs:
My Story #1
We had Buster, a mixed Lhasa Apso-mini cocker spaniel, for 11 years before he ran away in the late 1990s in downtown Denver. When we lived in the suburbs of Denver, during the 1980s, he'd trotted down the street a few times, but always came home quickly. This time, he escaped out the front door of our downtown building, carelessly left open by someone. The Colorado Rockies' baseball game had just ended, and the streets were full of people, cars and the general pandemonium that follows a baseball game. Our other dog, Mozart, a Portuguese Water Dog (yes, the Obama variety) also ran out, but he quickly returned when we called his name. Buster did not come home with Mozart. Because he was so small, and the color of asphalt, he blended in with the congested traffic on the street. Although a family dog, Buster clearly owned my daughter. C. She was 17 at the time, off working, and when she came home, late that day, and found Buster gone, she was heartbroken. I walked the streets with her, calling "Buster, Buster," but no dog came running to our call. Our family didn't sleep much that night or the next. We made numerous calls to the pound,and posted flyers on the nearby telephone poles (some in Spanish) seeking Buster's return,mentioning a reward. I placed classified ads in both city newspapers (there were still two at the time) and waited. (This was in the days before Craigs List, or I would have gone there, also). After a few days, with no sign of Buster, I feared the worse. Either he'd been run over or dog-napped. C was inconsolable.A few days later, I got two phone calls in a row - each person describing a dog they'd found and seeking the reward; one dog was a standard poodle; the other a large mixed breed (apparently the reward was more important than the description of our missing dog). I was close to giving up hope (my ESP abilities always are impacted by personal matters of the heart). C just prayed and prayed. Just when I decided I would have to learn to live without Buster (who liked to sit at my feet, like a cat, while I wrote), the phone rang again. Fortunately, C was at home. The man calling said he'd read the missing dog ad in the newspaper and thought he had found him. He'd kept a found dog for almost two weeks (about the time Buster disappeared). He'd seen him running down the street, weaving in and out of traffic, and thought he'd better collect him to keep him out of harm's way. He kept thinking there would be some way to learn about who the dog belonged to (he had a collar and a rabies tag, but no phone number). He said the dog was then at a friend's house, because the friend had a yard where he could be safe. This detail raised an alarm within me, but he described Buster so perfectly, I decided I had no choice but to trust him. So C and I arranged to meet him and his wife out front of the downtown bus station,which was his suggestion. "You'll recognize me, because I look like Jesus," he said. He also said he'd take us to his friend's home, which wasn't far from downtown so we could claim our dog, who he had re-named "Gizmo." My daughter and I were a bit apprehensive about meeting and driving around with strangers, but we were so eager to get Buster/Gizmo back, we went to the bus station. There, we found our dog-finders, sitting on the sidewalk - a long-haired man of about 30 or so and his wife. It turned out they were homeless, and they and Buster/Gizmo had been living on the streets, and along the river that ran through downtown since the day he took off. The man said he worried about the dog, because he was so little and scared, but he always made sure to feed him. "We walk a lot," he told me. "And when he couldn't keep up, I found a grocery cart, and wheeled him around in it. He was a very good boy," he said. "Once or twice when we were sleeping by the river, he barked to alert us when someone approached. He's a good guard dog." The man recounted how he'd gone to the library that very day and looked on the computer for any notices of missing dogs in the newspaper. That's how he'd found our ad. It had taken him a while to get to the library and to call from there, but the fact was, he cared enough to try to find us. And so they piled into our car and In 15 minutes or so, we had reached the "friend's" house. The man went inside and came out with Buster, who was sporting a e twine leash attached to his collar. Buster was shivering like mad, but so overjoyed to see C, he started whimpering. I have no doubt he was confused. We drove the couple back to the bus station and offered them the reward we promised. They didn't want to take the cash, at first, but then decided it would buy them a bus ticket out of town, to a better place and a better life."I'm really going to miss him," the man said. "Gizmo was a great pet." We then took Buster to the vet, and because he'd been outside, by the river, during some pretty heavy thunderstorms, he'd come down with bronchitis. His coat was matted and full of thorns and weeds. We got him some meds and a bath, and he returned to life pretty much as normal, given his nearly two-week adventure on the streets and down by the river. Some time later, I ran into a neighbor/friend who worked for the police department. When I told her Buster's story, she told me one of her own. It seems a colleague from the PD told her he'd seen a homeless couple downtown, wheeling a small dog around in a grocery cart, like he was their baby. He thought it was an amusing sight, so he told her about it. Of course, my friend didn't connect the story with us, until I explained what thad happened. The moral of this story is: never give up on your lost pet. You never know when or how s/he will come home - even weeks, months or years later. Another few morals : sometimes when you lose a pet and the pet returns, you learn valuable lessons about what you truly value in life. And finally: You can also learn lessons from those who find or help you reunite with your dog. These are usually the compassionate people who understand the depth of your bond with your pet.
Virginia Woolf's Story
Who knew this iconic poet/writer (A Room of One's Own, To the Lighthouse, Orlando) would be writing a biography/ fictionalized memoir about Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel, Flush. Not only does this story (set in the 1800s) contain the dog's point of view (anthropomorphism), it's full of modern, experimental and poetic license few people relate to Virginia Woolf. Although this rare book ( I recently added ir to my collection) is only 126 pages long (containing an antique photograph of Flush), it takes a very long time to read. Woolf's sentences are so dense and complicated (the book was published in 1933). One important section describes Flush goes missing. But Flush, unlike Buster, did not run away; he was dog-napped. Elizabeth Barrett Browning paid a princely sum to the dog-robbers to retrieve her dog, but he was returned to her, unharmed. The amazing part about this slim volume is that Virginia Woolf, more well-known for Mrs. Dalloway, and The Waves, among others mentioned above, so boldly experimented, writing about both Brownings and their lives and emotions. Once you read this book, you may acquire a completely different perspective about Woolf's writing. And also more hope that lost dogs (however missing) can be found.
My story #2
Just this week, a set of 2 runaway dogs (longhaired Labrador Retrievers) came to our yard. They were dehydrated and famished. We set out gallons of water for them and some dry food, which they gobbled up, as if they hadn't been fed or watered in days. They were lovely, well-mannered dogs, with lush coats, and no collars. We called the closest Human Society Shelter and also the well-known Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe. Neither shelter could take the dogs, because, by law, we first had to report them to Animal Control who had to pick them up (also by law). Long story short, Animal Control never showed up, and eventually the dog's owner, who lived a mile away or so, came to our door (Animal Control told her of our report the day before). By the time she appeared, the dogs had been taken to Animal Control's drop-off shelter by our neighbors (who own a large truck big enough to carry them both). I later learned more than 50 dogs had run away in the San Diego area several days earlier after a series of rare and powerful thunderstorms over our area (something akin to a barrage of firecrackers going off on July 4). There are two morals to this story: Make sure your dogs are properly tagged at all times. During major storms or July 4, check to make sure your pets are safely contained, so they can not run away out of fear. Learn the laws in your city about what rules you must follow if you find a lost dog.
Other important steps to protect your dog.
As a result of the latest experience, I am going to order a better ID tag for Ziggy, our young dog. I plan to ask our vet for her views on micro-chipping (quite a controversy on both sides of this debate). On the pro side, lost dogs can be scanned for microchips which allows them to be quickly returned. On the con side, there is no universal micro-chip scanner and some people fear the intrusion or invasion of privacy contained in a micro-chip.
Less controversial, but of great importance, I recommend contacting and supporting The American Humane Society in your area. Over the past several months, many dogs and other pets have been taken out of foreclosed homes or have been given up as a result (because most apartments and homeless shelters won't take them).Many hundreds of thousands more are at risk of being abandoned throughout the country (even left in a foreclosed home). During my recent quest to reunite the 2 lost Retrievers with their owner, I met a woman who said she owned a lot of acreage and would be glad to work with the local Human Society shelter to provide space for overflow pets (a problem at many shelters lately). . I am certain there are many more people like her with farms or acreage or very large fenced yards that could temporarily shelter a foreclosed pet.
Yes, the economic recession is not over. More foreclosures are likely. The downturning economy has taken a terrible toll on families and also on their animals. Unfortunately, dogs and other pets can not tell us how they feel about being abandoned or given up by their families. We can only guess at their fright and confusion.
If you are an animal lover, there is something you can do, short of volunteering your acreage, that will benefit the animals, the shelters who care for them, and ultimately the owners who had to give them up. If you can not adopt a newly homeless dog or cat, you can donate food or other items to the greatly overcrowded shelters. You can also volunteer to work or find more space for the newly homeless pets. In gratitude for the safe return of Buster, 12 years ago, I have made the Humane Society my charity of choice.
I also recently learned of an amazing group: No Paws Left Behind, working with people facing foreclosure to find shelter for their pets or foster-pet care until the owners can get back on their feet. This amazing not-for-profit group acts as a safety net for those who do not know what to do. Please support them, volunteeer or help as best you can.
For further information or assistance, please contact: AmericanHumaneSociety.org and/or NoPawsLeftBehind.org