Just about two and a half years ago today, on an ordinary workaday Thursday, my beloved and wacky and half-wild bonded puppy-brothers Calvin & Dexter ran through a mysteriously opened front door, and have not been seen since. It was right at the arrival of full darkness – about 5:00 pm., and it was freezing cold. There was deep hard-pack snow on the ground – snow that would not melt that year until mid-March.
Now, these boys had gone missing just a month before, while my husband and I were on the vacation of a lifetime – a 7-day cruise around the Galapagos Islands, snorkeling and studying the blue footed booby in its native habitat. My daughter had been home with the animals (the dogs, 2 birds, and a cat). It was New’ Year’s Eve, and at some point on the cat (that had figured out how to open the front door handle) had in fact done just that and the dogs were gone. The handle was replaced immediately upon our return with a paw-proof knob, by the way, in a classic case of shutting the door of a hideously empty barn.
That first go-round, my daughter and her then boyfriend (now husband) experienced the unbearable anguish of having lost someone else’s children. They and all their local friends and acquaintances spent every new hour of that New Year trying to find my babies: making and posting flyers, enlisted our local dog-rescuers and animal control people, hiking the trails around our house, and leaving items with our scent all over the neighborhood.
As you can imagine, the last two days we spent on ‘vacation’ were torture: I could neither sleep nor eat. My husband bought some cookies in Santa Cruz and promised me he would feed them to the dogs when we were all reunited (see video) but I could not imagine a happy ending for them, after spending 48 hours in that unrelenting snow and cold. We got back from Ecuador on January 3, and after another 6 full days of all of us hiking, calling, setting out food, posting flyers in knee-deep ice, setting up & monitoring cameras, almost always in sub-zero temperatures or freezing rains, my husband found them, thin and scraped and scabbed, hunkered down about 3 miles away from us in the woods up on the approach to Breakneck Mountain (close to Lake Surprise Camp, for those of you who know the area). Their adventure was published in the local paper. They were found a day shy of my birthday, and I felt as if I’d been granted a miracle as a birthday present. They ate their South American cookies with a very good appetite.
By the time they bolted again, a month later, they had gained back about half the weight they’d lost, but were still weak and in poor condition. I had walked them at about 2 in the afternoon, and they had seemed to be happy and on the mend, although at one point I met a neighbor walking his labradoodle Walter and said to him, “I think they liked it up in the woods: I think if they had the chance they’d go back”. I was surprised that these words emerged from out of my mouth, but then realized that there was in fact a strange and longing look in their eyes that day…but we finished our walk as usual and I crated them and went off to an appointment. When I walked out my front door it was fully closed.
My husband had arrived home ahead of me, an hour or so later, drove the car in the garage, opened their crates, opened the door to the main part of the house, and then watched in horror as they bolted out the now – mysteriously open front door. I arrived about a minute later to find him standing on the driveway, saying with audible despair, “we have no dogs.” We followed their tracks down the driveway out towards our road (which eventually feeds onto Route 9 in Cold Spring, NY), but those tracks disappeared after about 30 feet – the road had been ploughed and the ground was frozen solid and precipitation-free, unlike our slightly snowier driveway. We are still not sure how the front door came to be standing open, but there was a receipt for a fuel oil delivery on the doorknob and a UPS shipment was on the porch and I can only surmise that somehow one of the drivers had inadvertently, unknowingly, knocked the front door slightly ajar.
Calvin and Dexter had originally been picked up in Arkansas as feral strays totally bonded to each other. They went straight to a shelter and and were never fostered, so that when I got them they were a totally unknown quantity. I found them completely uncivilized, unhousebroken, unfamiliar with crates (which they later came to like), and addicted to devouring clothes and furniture, but totally undeserving of their recently acquired reputation for viciousness towards each other. They played in a completely brotherly fashion but were very rough with each other, and people who watched them at the dog park were visibly taken aback by the snarling and growling and full body blows.
These boys were a bizarre but addicting combination of feral behavior and elemental goodness and affection: they wanted nothing beyond each other’s company and your lap. They radiated love, focused through soulful eyes and the infamous “Pyr paw.” They became vitally important to me: I kept them with me constantly and they were very quickly housebroken: I had acquired them as I was recovering from a very protracted and serious bout of Lyme disease, after years of missing dogs in in a life previously filled with dogs. For two years they provided me with the most amazing love and comfort, and a million new reasons to get up out of bed every day. They quickly and irrevocably became my heart. They still are.
I really didn’t know if I could survive their loss. I could not sleep, or eat, and I cried constantly. We hung posters, implemented robocalls, made contact with every local vet (and later every vet I could contact within a 100 mile radius) and and registered them with every rescue organization in the area. We set up cameras on the trails they’d traveled the first time. We hiked and drove the woods every day for months – my husband even bought snowshoes and spent countless days in the Highlands, following every possible pathway from our house. We learned to tell the difference between dog and coyote tracks. A friend with a helicopter pilot’s license did a fly-over. In spite of constant snow pack and new snowfall about every third day, we never saw dog tracks we could not trace to a local-pet-in-residence. We followed up on possible sightings as far away as Albany. We got constant calls about a pair of brown and white spaniels that ran free about a mile from my house: the first time I bushwhacked through snow and ice in deep and very steep woods, tracking them to their house and taking a picture that I have used since, to demonstrate to people that they had in fact seen these dogs, and not my much-whiter boys.
In June, multiple sightings of a possible candidate (some accounts were of two dogs, but most were of one) caused us to basically invade an area off of Route 82, set up cameras, hike railroad tracks for hours a day, and enlist the vigilant eyes of local residents. We used a pet tracker, until the people at Buddha Dog convinced me that that was the worst way to locate a missing animal. Eventually there were no more sightings. I consulted several psychics. Searching went on for so long, and was so physically and emotionally exhausting that I had to go deep into my thinking and my emotions and learn to live in mutually exclusive ‘realities’: I had to think and act as if they were alive and in desperate need of rescue, with time running out, with me doing every thing I could think of to do; and at the same time I had to accept that they were gone from me and that I would have to let go of them and learn to live without them, or die of grief. There were times when I could have accepted that particular outcome, but for the human children who still needed me around.
In fact, I have become firmly convinced that none of the sightings of my dogs were credible, (although lately even that conviction has been shaken: one of my faithful followers, the one who reported seeing Calvin in June, is positive the dog she saw had a much more Calvin-like tail and much more white than the dog I ultimately decided was the one she must have seen – a young male captured by Buddha Dog in the exact location of the ‘Calvin’ sighting). Neither do I believe my dogs went into the woods the night they escaped, because I am totally convinced that we would have seen some sign of them. I think it most likely that my boys were picked up by someone – probably in a car – who moved them either out of the area altogether, or to some more local but intentionally sequestered location. The number of “microchip miracles” I’ve read about have kept alive in me a little pilot light of hope that one day I might be granted such a miracle with one or both of my boys, but I have decided that I don’t want to wait any longer than I have to.
I know all the things that are known to happen to lost dogs: they get sold for fighting, drown in lakes and wells, get killed by cars or trains or coyotes or other predators (including hunters and hoarders and sadists), live off the land for years, wander into moving vans and get transported across the country where they promptly go missing again, are stolen during robberies or are just taken by people who think they are abused because they are thin, or who decide they’d like to keep them as their own dear pets. I am a slow learner and for two years have believed that I needed to accept that they are gone: these two years have taught me that they may indeed be gone, but that there is still a decent – if unquantifiable – chance that they may not be, and that if the media campaign spreads far enough, someone with a connection to us may see them and bring us word. I pray every day that they are healthy, happy, and together, but I still want them back
I am asking for your help in any way that makes sense to you. What I would like is “Likes” for my page – “Likes” all over the Northeast, so that if for someone sees them foraging like the feral beasts the originally were, or being walked down a city street, or sitting next to a pet owner in a vet’s waiting room, they will know to contact me. I am asking everyone who reads this to like the page, share the page, email the poster to their vets and dog-walkers, and keep an eye out people.
My boys are chipped, and went missing with collars and tags showing their names, and phone numbers for us and our vet (Croton Animal Hospital).