The other night, I got a text from my neighbors and close friends Josie, their young and skittish doggy, had bolted, jerking the retractable leash out of the mom’s hand and dashing off into the woods. They searched and called her, but it was raining hard, and the first day of early darkness.
Well, I’d been watching the Great British Bake Off finale and didn’t have my phone turned on for the text alerting me that Josie was missing. It was after 11 p.m. I texted back, but my friends had gone to bed.
Hm, thought I. Maybe I’ll drive around the block and look for her. McIrish was already asleep, and besides, he gets to rescue animals (and humans) all the time. Our block is two-and-a-half miles long, and it’s very dark and rural out here. Maybe my headlights would pick up a forlorn little doggy dragging her leash.
They didn’t. I went home and got into bed, then had another thought. Luther is incredible at seeing and smelling critters. Sure, sure, it was now after midnight, but I pictured Tess, the teenage daughter of Josie’s family. I love Tess. I’ve loved her since the day she was born. Also, Luther had been rather naughty lately—rolling in the same dead animal twice within 24 hours, tearing a chair in his exuberance to snuggle, etc. It was time for him to start earning his keep. Allegedly, he’s part bloodhound.
The LLBean muck boots and raincoat were put back on. I took Luther and walked down the street and into the woodsy area where Josie had last been seen. Luther was quite excited indeed at this late-night walk. Figuring the vast wastelands between Josie’s house and the big corn field would be a good place to start, I started down the dirt lane. Peeked in the old barn, thinking Josie might’ve taken shelter there.
Suddenly, Luther began dragging me up the hill, past the former cow shed. Alas, the beam of the flashlight showed no reflective eyes, and my gentle calls of “Josie, Josie,” went unanswered. Then I wondered if maybe Luther was smelling a bear or coyote, fisher cat or skunk. I imagined my family learning that I’d been mauled to death by a mountain lion (we do have one or two in Connecticut). “That damn hero complex of hers. She just HAD to go out in the middle of the night and get herself killed.” My funeral would not be as I often picture it, not with my husband and children irked with me.
So I went back home. At least, I thought, Luther’s smell was out there. If Josie was stuck, as we believed she was, hopefully the scent of a big male dog would keep the coyotes at bay.
In the morning, Tess came over; the schools were closed for election day, and both her parents had to go to work, unfortunately. She was trying hard to be brave, but she adores that dog. I tried to reassure her and, being Miss Hyper-Organized, had already googled “how to find a dog lost in the woods,” posted on Facebook and started a “lost dog” poster. I gave Tess something to eat, called the vet, the animal control officer and a kennel where lost dogs show up sometimes. Sometimes, pragmatism is the best balm for a worried heart.
Then we loaded Luther into the car with treats, an extra leash, and one of Josie’s toys for Luther to sniff for her scent (Hey. I watch movies. It could happen.) “Let’s start where Luther got excited last night,” I said, and so we went to the corn field entrance, where my dog again proceeded to charge up the hill. Tess headed toward the stream, calling “Josie! Want to go for a ride?” as suggested by the Google.
At the edge of the field where the wild stretch began, Luther started sniffing and leaping and trembling. Looking out over the bracken and snarls of pricker bushes, I said to Tess, “I think she’s in there somewhere.” We peered into the briars, but the undergrowth was so thick, we couldn’t see two feet in front of us. “Call her,” I said, and Tess did. We watched to see if any of the undergrowth moved, listened for a whine or bark. But there was nothing.
Then Tess’s young, healthy eyes caught a glimpse of something turquoise. “Josie?” she said. After a second or two, we heard a small jingle. Not Luther’s dog tags…but dog tags still. “Josie!” Tess said again, and crawled her way into the snarled, thorn-riddled brush. I tied Luther to a tree, and by the time I got back, Tess was so deep in the growth I couldn’t see her. “I’ve got you, Josie!” she said. “I’m here!”
The leash was so tangled Josie could barely move. Tess unclipped her, but she couldn’t get out…honestly, we needed a machete. But I am a rather large and brawny woman, so I crashed into the briars and vines toward my brave little friend and her doggy, hefted Josie into my arms and carried her out to the field, Tess now able to follow the path of destruction I left.
Luther was thrilled to see Josie, and the two dogs, blithely ignorant to the emotional suffering the humans had endured, romped for a few minutes before getting their muddy butts into my previously immaculate car. Tess and I tore up the lost dog flyers and hugged…then noticed that Josie was in dire need of a bath. Back to my house, because I’m kind of an expert at washing stinky dogs. We fed Josie and toweled her off, and I took Tess home so she and her puppy could get some sleep.
Luther proved himself to be a true hound dog after all. I think he knows he did something important. Josie’s owners called me a hero and promised a case of Annie’s Mac and Cheese (they know me well) and many hugs as reward. But sometimes, all you need is to remember the face of a kid who found her dog after a long, cold, rainy night, and you don’t need a single thing more.