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Dog-GONE Scared

February 1, 2010 Fear, Fido No Comments

February 2009. I was out to dinner in Palo Alto with my friend Gordon. When we get together, he and I sit there for many hours and talk about everything and nothing over several bottles of wine. I wasn’t paying attention to the many text messages that I was receiving from my husband while we were chatting. Now, if you know Greg, you know he isn’t the type to incessantly text me — especially when he knows I’m out with friends. Usually the only messages I get from him are, “Did you feed the dog?” Well, not this time. It had to do with the dog, but not whether he had been fed.

Greg was inquiring if I had Argus with me, if I had dropped him off at a friend’s, and if I otherwise knew of his whereabouts. I calmly replied “no” to all of these questions and made no rush to end my dinner with Gordon. The truth of the matter is that Argus gets out of the gate somewhat often. He goes down to the creek or mills around our little cul de sac and comes home. I figured this is what had happened. Unfortunately, Argus didn’t have his collar on that would let people know he belonged to us.

Oh no.

It wasn’t until Greg called me, frantically searching for him with no luck, that I abruptly bid Gordon farewell and started to think about the reality of Argus being gone. Of course, Greg had searched all of the usual haunts and had talked to all of the neighbors — no one had seen him. He was GONE. While I drove toward San Mateo, I called friends and they started looking for Argus as well. Before going home, I stopped at each of our two dog parks, calling his name and running around trying to find him. I was now starting to panic. I went home and lost it when I saw Greg. He was distraught as well. We continued looking for a couple of hours and resigned ourselves to go to bed and start anew in the morning. It was raining, but we left the back of Greg’s Element open and a bowl of food there. We’ve never known Argus to turn down a meal… It was a restless night for both of us and we woke early to get a jump on the search efforts.

The following morning, we both called in to work and spent the morning looking for Argus. I quickly made up a flyer with a picture representative of Argus’ distinctive face and size. The SPCA doesn’t open until 11 AM, so we canvassed the neighborhood to pass the time. A few people thought they had seen him, but the leads went nowhere. We were so exhausted by this time we didn’t know what to do, other than hope beyond hope that someone had found him and turned him into the pound. We had really started to come to terms with the fact that he might never come back, that someone had taken him in and that we’d lost him forever. It really felt quite desperate.

Finally, the SPCA opened and we were one of the first ones there. We had to fill out a form with his physical characteristics and the nature of what had happened. The lady took us back to where they keep all the strays. It was a T-intersection down a hallway, where we first turned left and walked a long hallway of “jail cells” where barking dogs were pleading for us to choose them. Argus wasn’t there. The pit in my stomach was worsening, reality setting in. We headed down the right side of the “T” and got to the last cell. Argus was there! I could not imagine the amount of relief that I felt when we saw him!  We knew it was him — true to Argus’ form, he snapped at his cellmate once he saw us, like the jerk he can be. Greg was in tears the moment he saw him. I was in shock. I had already cried my tears and had started the grieving process of having lost him. I give Greg all the credit for keeping hope alive.

The bottom line is that we diverted disaster and it was a terrible fear that had set into both of us. Wait — all three of us. Argus wound up at the SPCA because he had either wandered four blocks up to the fire station or someone had found him and turned him in there. According to their records, the kind firemen deposited him at the SPCA’s collection center around 11 PM that night. He spent a long, cold, lonely night by himself in a pen and I’m sure that it wasn’t pleasant. He had to have been terrified that we wouldn’t come for him. But that wasn’t the first of his fears that night.

Fast forward one year.

(Stay with me here. I realize this is a long story made even longer… )

We were in Tahoe this past weekend, and I’d taken Argus on a strenuous 6-mile hike involving a lot of elevation gain as well as him “post-holing” where his paws sink into very deep snow and he’s working hard with every step. He slept for a couple of hours while we grabbed beers at the end of the day and then slept the entire drive home. He was dog-tired! We were shocked when he was itching to get out of the house this morning around 5 AM. Greg let him out and he instantly went for the gate, pawed it open, and started to make a run for it. This NEVER happens, especially not at 5 AM.  Greg corralled him and brought him into the bed with us, telling me what had happened. Argus was between us, panting like he was under a lot of stress. His stomach started making funny noises, so I thought I’d let him out and watch him. Dog puke in the bed is no fun.

He did the same thing: bee-line for the gate and started to let himself out. I told him to wait (which he obediently did, amazingly) while I donned my robe and slippers and grabbed a leash. He took off like a bullet! I let him get around the block and realized he just wanted to sniff at and pee on the same things as always. He just wanted out of the house! I made him come back home, but he was very hesitant to come in the house. As I was waiting at the door for him —

Beep!

A-ha! I waited under the smoke alarm in the kitchen. Nothing. I waited in the guest room. Nothing. I went to the basement and found that its battery was almost dead and the alarm was beeping every 30 seconds or so. THIS is what had driven our dog to run both times. It jogged my memory to the prior year when Greg had said that an alarm was beeping when he got home, but that he’d forgotten about it when he realized Argus was gone. I took the battery out and invited Argus back to bed with us, proud of my sleuthing skills!

It’s a vicious cycle to think of how frightened Argus was of the beeping — enough to make him run — then to think of how scared we were of losing him. We can all rest assured now that we change the smoke alarm batteries every six months without fail!

One potential up-side is that I may have found a way to make my lazy dog run with me…

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