Last weekend, on Saturday around 6 pm, my dog, Bella, decided to leave home. She’s an older gal – probably around 15 years old at this point. She’s lost furry siblings (Duke and Jackson) to doggy heaven. And all of her friends and contemporaries that were adopted around the same time as her in 2006 have gone off to the Rainbow Bridge as well. Suffice it to say that Bella is the “last b*tch standing.”
She’s having those issues that usually accompany aging, whether you walk around on four legs or two. She has trouble seeing. She has trouble hearing. Her teeth aren’t what they used to be. Walking on her hips has become a challenge, so she’s learned how to do this little hop-thing to get down the stairs. She also doesn’t hide her feelings very well, and if she meets a dog or person she doesn’t like, will growl and huff from under the table or the stairs, two of her favorite spots. It’s all for show, though, because she’s actually sweet as can be. Grumpy, but sweet.
So, when we came home from dinner to find that she wasn’t in the yard or in her bed in the garage, we were concerned. We have an electric fence that she’s had for more than 6 years, and she doesn’t ever leave. She LOVES the outdoors and guarding our little acre of land, getting upset if we lock her in the house, especially when it’s raining because she loves sitting in the rain. I had heard stories about older dogs who decided that it was “their time” and left to go “peacefully move on” in the woods alone. I was heartbroken thinking that this was happening with Bella.
It was late and dark, and so we did our best to walk around and drive around and call her name, shining flashlights in the neighbors yards and into the woods. Even though she’s pretty much deaf and blind. Because what the heck else can you do?? When she didn’t come
running hobbling back in, we knew we’d have to wait until morning to continue.
The next morning, I woke up and put on my sneakers and prepped to head into the woods again. We live in a rural/farm/wooded area right off of a river so there’re lots of places for her to adventure. It’s a pretty small town where most of the people have lived for generations. We’ve only lived here about 6 years, so we’re still “newbies” as far as most are concerned, despite the fact that my husband grew up in the area. I signed onto Facebook and found “Residents of Centreville,” a page reserved for people to announce lost pets and/or complain about beach traffic, tar and chipped roads, roaming cats, or restaurant service.
I let everyone know where I lived and posted a description and picture of Bella. What happened next, I could have never expected. People in my neighborhood, some of whom I’ve never met, were commenting. Then, they were going outside to look for her and yell her name. Some drove around other surrounding neighborhoods looking for her. A very nice woman I’d never met named Mary Margaret offered to come meet me later in the day with her dog, Jessica, who has a “great nose.” I thanked her but had no expectation that I’d see her later.
We went searching. 1 hour passes. 2 more. 4 more after that. It’s now the afternoon. We’ve gone all through the woods, around the neighborhoods, through the farms, down a bunch of dirt and gravel roads calling her name. Nothing. With her physical limitations, I’m thinking that she couldn’t have gone very far. It’s hot, and she’s been without water. And now, with her being about 19 hours gone, I’m fearing the worst.
As I was walking through the woods (dodging spiders and their webs and praying that the skunk I could smell would come nowhere near me), thinking back on our life together. I adopted her after I graduated from college in 2006. A friend called from the shelter and begged me to take her, as it was her “due date”… the bad kind. In county facilities for animals in Miami, the terminology “due date” is actually a “death date.”
She was a feisty younger dog (estimated to be 2 or 3 years old) who chewed all of my baseboards while I was at work and peed in my bed as punishment to me when I kept her out of the bedroom. I spent thousands of dollars in veterinary bills due to her skin issues and upkeep, and I would have spent thousands more. I hadn’t even wanted a dog at the time, but… I love that strange little border collie shepherd mix. She is the most loyal dog I have ever had the pleasure of having in my family. Whereas my other dogs would likely leave with almost anyone who offered them food, Bella has always been my girl, and my girl alone.
19 and a half hours gone, and still nothing. Someone tells me that yelling a dog’s name near cornfields can cause confusion because the sound bounces around, so I start to call her name more softly. I stop and listen for leaves rustling. Still nothing except spiders, bees, squirrels, snakes, and the lingering smell of a skunk.
Just then, Mary Margaret and her pointer, Jessica, show up. As we start to plot our next path into the woods, the Sheriff’s deputy comes rolling by. It’s his day off and he’s going to check on his friend’s house who is out of town. “Oh, hi Dennis!” Mary Margaret knows him well. We stop to chat and he asks me about my lost dog.
Then, I see her.
She hobbles toward us, tail wagging, covered in mud. She’s exhausted, so Dennis offers us a ride home in his friend’s golf cart, which he quickly goes to find. From the looks of where she was walking from, she was likely at least a mile away from home.
She’s happy to see me, but doesn’t seem to want to go home. Maybe she’s just disoriented, or maybe she was trying to move on in the only way her independent soul knew how, and all of the commotion I’ve caused has thwarted her plans to peacefully transition. Well guess what, Bella, I wasn’t ready. She looks at me as if to say, “OK, OK, you win… Let’s go home.” When I bring her home, she lays on the kitchen floor, drinking a ton of water and scarfing down her food.
As I watched her, I was reminded of the true definition of community. Miriam-Webster might have their definition, but I have mine. Community: A group of people who support and help one another without expectation of anything in return. I definitely live in one of those. You know, we often complain about living in a “small town.” But a lot of times, those people in our little small town will sacrifice a great deal to help us when we really need it!
It’s easy to forget in this fragmented, digital world that community comes in many forms. I’ve got the ladies of this blog as my long-term long-distance community. There’s my actual family. My work community. And also, in this case, the often-criticized social media community which connected me to my local community in my time of need. I’m thankful for all of them.
Margo is a married mom of 2, financial advisor and dog mommy in Maryland.