Before I had children, I was obsessed with my dogs. I swore I would never become that person who let her beloved pets fall to the bottom of the family totem pole just because she had procreated. Although children command more attention and a different kind of love, pets really do enrich our lives. A particular story about my dogs has a surprising holiday twist.[hr]
It happened on a Wednesday in mid-October. Arriving home from work, my husband, Ryan noticed that our beagle, Buddy, and dachshund, Walter, were not at the front door when he turned the key, howling their demands for attention and Milk Bones. He was surprised that they didn’t come crashing through their dog door as he entered the house, just a few seconds past their mark. He started to worry after he walked through the living room, looked in the backyard and saw no sign of them. Worry turned to fear when he saw an eight inch hole in the fence—just big enough for two determined hounds to squeeze through.
As always, I called to check in during my evening commute. I expected the regular conversation about pushing laundry, checking mail, and starting dinner. Instead, I got Ryan’s panicked report that “the boys” had left the yard and that he had no idea where they were headed or how long they’d been gone. With a sinking feeling, I remembered that Buddy had no identification: his tag had broken off his collar the week before.
The boys were gone. They were really gone.
Fingers would have been easy to point. Ryan (Spouse in Charge of Yard Maintenance) should have noticed and mended the hole in the fence. I (Spouse in Charge of Pet Care) should have put Buddy’s broken tag back on his collar, not on the kitchen counter to fix “later.” But, punishing winds blew at ten miles per hour, and temperatures plunged into the mid-60’s. With such treacherous conditions and the fading daylight, blame was a luxury we couldn’t afford. We pulled together to find our boys.
Our San Antonio family dropped everything to help. My brother Patrick, a newlywed of two weeks, left his under-the-weather bride at home and joined the search party. My brother Steven and his wife Lindsay made “Lost Dog” signs to post. In a triumph of graphic design, they included a family portrait from happier days, with Ryan and me airbrushed to the limits of plausible attractiveness, and Buddy and Walter striking just the right balance of puckishness and canine devotion. Who wouldn’t want to reunite a family like that? In all, the Rouse clan blanketed the area with nine able-bodied and sharp-eyed adults.
Our neighbors rallied, keeping an eye out during their evening walks and—in the case of the ten-year old boy from down the block—canvassing the streets on his bike for almost two hours.
Reports from the field were spotty. An eight year old boy insisted he’d “seen a dog” when he “got off the bus after school.” When pressed, he conceded that he didn’t really remember what color the dog was, but that it might have been “big and black.” Area matrons placed Buddy in two different locations during the same window of time. No one reported seeing Walter. Had a Samaritan picked him up? Had he left the neighborhood? Or, did his low-slung physique and dark complexion just make him harder to spot?
At some point during the crisis, the parcel of raw land that traverses our subdivision (which, on most published maps and in generally accepted real estate parlance had always been referred to as a “greenbelt”) was re-christened “The Ravine.” The new name emphasized the danger, turning a 30-yard wide strip of undeveloped land into a cavernous maw just waiting to swallow our boys. It also made for twisted send-ups of the old Lassie show, as we repeatedly sent humans into The Ravine to search for lost dogs.
Our family has a high sense of drama.
Three hours, eighty signs, and one lost cell phone later, we had to call it off. We assumed the boys had been taken in by a neighbor or had wandered so far away that we would not be able to find them with an in-person search. We posted notices on Craigslist and our neighborhood website. We drafted an ad to run in the newspaper classifieds. In all cases, rewards were promised. We even paid extra for the Express News bold font. By 10 o’clock, there was nothing more to do.
Then, at 10:21, we heard something. It sounded like scratching—the insistent kind. We ran to the front door and saw the white flag of Buddy’s tail waving through the glass. We fumbled with the lock, hardly believing that Buddy was home! With the door open, we saw he wasn’t alone. Little Walter stood in the shadows behind him, no worse for the wear. The role-reversal was surreal. The dogs saw their arrival as nothing special, while the humans inside jumped and squealed, delighted and amazed to see their companions again.
We’ve tried to get it out of them, but the boys aren’t telling where they went or how they spent their time. Were they hot on the trail of a woodland creature or just strolling around North San Antonio? More importantly, how did they manage to stay together? And when did they decide the come back?
Although these questions remain unanswered, Buddy and Walter inspired my Christmas wish for you:
That you find opportunity and the courage to seize it;
That someone you love stays by your side; and
That all your adventures end with safe return home.
God bless you this season and through 2014!