Before I begin to tell our tale, it is important for you to know that we live right next to a huge woods. Now, perhaps when you think "woods" you picture something small and quaint and beautiful. A cluster of trees, a rabbit or two. This is nothing like the wilderness that runs around the back of our neighborhood. Our woods is full and deep with tracks made only by the deer that wander freely through our yard. Our woods is home to owl and coyote and is not somewhere we wander into lightly. We hold it in great respect and have been lost inside on various occasions, only to find our way out, hours later, unsure how we landed in the place where we did. It is a beautiful backdrop to our simple life and was a huge selling point when we put an offer on our very humble house.
So, yesterday morning, down one vehicle and Mark needing to work, we decided it would be best for me to drive him to a nearby train station for his commute downtown. It was early and that is the excuse I will use for being careless as we headed out the door. Some of you know that last summer we became the happy owners of a golden doodle puppy. Lexie is still all pup but has added 50 lbs to her fuzzy frame and is a constant companion to someone in our family. We really had no idea how attached we would become to this endless bundle of energy but in the last year, she has won us over and we cannot imagine life without her in it. So, as Mark and I prepared to leave for the train, we decided to take her along for the ride. I didn't leash her. I should have. I didn't know. How could I know?
Lexie was outside first. I followed right behind her and Mark was last out the door. As Mark and I headed down the stairs to the driveway, I noticed Lexie, just to my right, frozen and standing on our front lawn. Wondering what had captured her attention so completely, I looked up and followed her gaze. In our next door neighbor's yard stood two deer. They were frozen, too. I looked at Mark and Mark turned to call Lexie in but it was too late. The deer bolted and our puppy took off after them, running for all she was worth. Mark started yelling but it was no use. This was fun for her. These deer wanted to play! There was no thought, no hint of obedience, no reflections on safety... just running and running... and then, they were gone in the woods. Gone. Seriously, totally, no-way-to-see-hide-nor-hair-of-them, GONE.
Mark, dressed for work, ran into the woods yelling Lexie's name. I ran the other way doing the same. It was wet and mucky from rain and too much snow but we ran on anyway because our puppy was gone and we wanted her back. I circled back to the deer trail and followed it willy-nilly through the the pine grove on the wood's edge. Coming back out the clearing, I met up with Mark, both our hands in the air to signal that neither of us had her.
"It could be that we never see her again..." Mark said sadly.
It had been 30 minutes. She had already been gone half an hour.
Regrouping, Mark ran home to change clothes and find boots. I woke the kids, told them she was lost and asked them to get dressed and find boots. In minutes, we were split into teams in the woods. Mark and the older boys headed north to the deer bed, the little ones and I followed a creek down the long side of the woods and then cut back in at a clearing where there is little brush to obstruct our view. Nothing. No puppy.
I couldn't hear Mark and the older boys anymore. We were just too far apart. I knew the little ones were tired and we had already walked 30 minutes in. Josiah would call her name and then moan a little... almost a cry, but not quite. And I prayed and prayed as I walked... for protection, for return... and asked Josiah and Elizabeth to pray, too.
It is wild in the woods... thick and amazing and a little bit dangerous. It is mating season for the deer and I just kept thinking that if a buck finds my golden doodle chasing his deer, the antlers will settle that case... and Lexie will lose. I kept wondering what would happen if she came upon a group of coyotes settling in from a night of carousing here and there. One on one, she had hope, but a pack?
Finally, I told Josiah and Elizabeth we had to head back. We were tired from walking and hoarse from calling. Each of us was fighting off a heavy loneliness that encompasses those who have lost a pet. Our companion was not alongside. She was gone. And try as we might, we could not find her.
The woods ends at our neighborhood and just past that is a four-lane road. As we came out, I could hear the traffic... weekday, morning traffic... the world heading off to do what they do. The van was not in the driveway and I didn't know what to think. Did Mark find her and have to drive her off to the vet? Has he gone looking by van? We had come out the clearing and were still far from the house when I saw the van squeal around the corner, come up our street and turn quickly into our drive. Mark got out. No Lexie.
Not yet past the clearing, I put out my hands to signal that I didn't have her either and I could see him speaking to us but we were too far away to hear. I put my hand to my ear and he cupped his mouth. I could hear him now... did I hear him right?
"We have her!" he yelled. "We have her and she is okay!"
The little ones and I ran through the yard and into the house and there was our dear dog! She was muddy to her chin and stunk to high heaven, but she was there. In the midst of much hugging and petting and tail-wagging, Mark explained that he was so afraid she had gone to the road that he had to go off that way and look for her. When he found her, she was half a block from a BIG road, having already crossed busy traffic to get to that spot. She was totally disoriented and he was actually afraid that she might bolt again. He came up to her quietly and she was so freaked out that she didn't even respond in classic Lexie fashion, but instead just seemed sad and relieved.
After a bath and two bowls of puppy food, we tucked our wet dog into her bed for a snooze. Mark never did go into work but called into meetings from home instead and all of our plans for Thursday were canceled. Instead, we spent time at home together. We threw Lexie a ball and never got tired of it as she retrieved it again and again. We gave her some treats and revelled in the fact that all of us were home, right where we belong. And we were thankful and prayed thankful prayers again and again and in quiet minutes shook our tired heads at the turn our day had taken.
And when I went to bed, I called her name and she came with me and I fell asleep with a 50 lb puppy laying at the foot of my bed. And I honestly felt that in our little corner, all was right with the world.