Annie and I came around the bend, and there was old Tom. He was holding an empty leash.
“She got away?” I asked.
He nodded, his ancient face working with tears and frustration. His black Lab, ridiculously named Donut, broke through a fence and escaped. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do. She keeps taking off.”
I sympathized. I once had a black Lab-pit bull mix named Chico, Annie’s brother, who was always running away. I couldn’t build a tall enough fence to keep him in. I remember the fear that filled my heart as I walked the streets of our forested Oregon coast neighborhood with an empty leash in one hand and a box of Milk-Bones in the other. What if he never came back? What if he got out on the highway and was hit by a car? Why doesn’t he come when I call? Ultimately I had to take him to a shelter. I couldn’t keep him in, and he was fighting with other dogs. One neighbor threatened to shoot him. The day he bit a dog and then bit me while I was trying to stop the fight, I knew I had to give up my baby, whom I had raised from seven weeks old. I still have a scar on my leg and a pain in my heart.
“Is that her?” Tom asked, pointing way down 98th Street where I could just make out a black dot next to a green garbage bin.
“I think so.”
Just then, another neighbor drove by the dog, and Donut started running west toward Highway 101. Please God, I prayed, let her turn on Birch and go toward my house where it’s safe. The neighbor, Shirley, stopped and rolled her window down.
“Is that my dog?’ Tom asked.
“Yes, it is.”
Shirley and I, both widows, talked for a minute about how glad we were to see a break in the weather, some blue sky instead of constant rain. “It’s depressing,” she said. “And I never get depressed.” Oh, I could tell her things about being depressed, but Tom was already walking toward where we had last seen Donut. Tom will be 80 this year, and his legs seem to miss a beat with every step. I feared this chase was too much for him. Annie and I hurried to catch up.
You see, dog owners understand each other. When a dog is in trouble, we all jump in to help. I may not be part of the Mom club, but I’m deep into the dog lovers’ club. I think Tom has children and grandchildren, one of whom may have chosen Donut’s name, but at that moment, it didn’t matter. There were no kids around. It was all about our dogs.
We caught up. Tom leaned down to pet Annie. “You’re a good dog,” he told her. I shared that she had been throwing up earlier and seemed a little sluggish, but now she seemed better. He rubbed her tawny head. “Not feeling so good, huh?” Donut and Annie are both nine years old, starting to feel the aches of old age.
We walked down Birch to where the resident dogs would have been barking if Donut were nearby. Nothing. Annie had been sniffing the trail where Donut had urinated, but she didn’t find anything on Birch.
It was getting late. Annie was limping. I had to be at church in an hour to lead choir practice. But all I could think about was Donut. Tom was hoping Donut had come home by now. We parted at the turnoff to my street.
As we got to our house, Pat across the street was just getting out of his truck.
“Have you seen a big black dog?” I asked.
“Well, yes.” He said he had seen Donut prowling around his yard at 3 a.m., but he didn’t know where she was now. He shook his head. His own yellow Lab named Harley barked at us from inside the house.
Twenty minutes later, I was at the piano practicing when Pat pounded on my door. He and another neighbor had gone looking for Donut and found her on Highway 101 heading south. The running dog did not respond when they tried to capture her.
Oh no. I ramped up my prayers. She could get killed out there. I called Tom’s house. No answer. I left a message, but that wasn’t enough. What if he was in his yard or still walking around with his empty leash? I drove to his house. Nobody home, garage open, car gone. Clearly he had gone to look for Donut.
Please God, please God. Should I get in my car and try to catch her? But Pat and the other neighbor had already tried. Donut didn’t know me. I could cause a wreck or cause her to run into traffic. Tom was already out there somewhere. I had to get ready for church.
A half hour later, my phone rang. Tom. He and yet another neighbor named Larry had found Donut up near the airport, a half mile north of here. I was afraid to ask. “Is she okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s a wonder she didn’t get hit.”
I let out my breath. Thank you, God. I could picture their teary reunion, Tom scolding and hugging his dog at the same time. This morning, writing with Annie asleep beside me, I’m still saying thank you. I’m grateful that Donut is safe and grateful to be part of a caring neighborhood that will unite to save a dog with a stupid name and an urge to run.
Tom is no doubt working on his fence and cussing out the dog that almost broke his heart.
When you don’t have kids around, your dogs mean everything.
I welcome your dog stories. I know dogs are not children and it’s tragic when a child disappears, but we love our dogs and consider them family. I did not bake a cake or throw a party for Annie’s birthday last week, but I did sing to her and give her lots of Milk-Bones. Her vet sent an e-card which I shared with her.
Keep the comments coming on the other posts, too. Take a minute to look back at what other readers are saying. We have a great community here, and I’m grateful for all of you.