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Emily Grossman

Dog Gone

February 18, 2008 at 6:22 AM

Valentine’s Day almost ended perfectly, with thoughtful gifts of chocolate, steak, and heart-shaped boxes of ammunition tied with red bows. We were just toasting ourselves with a buttery pinot noir, settling into the couch when we realised we’d let the dog out and he hadn’t come back. What? “Ben’s gone. Gonna go look for him in the truck.” From the tone of George’s voice, I could tell he was worried.

“Ben, Come!” Punk. I stood in the toe-nipping doorway, my calls being eaten by the wind. While George drove around the camp, I paced from window to window, peering into the dark woods that jutted from the whiteness, waiting for something in them to move. When all this failed, we took another drive to search more closely for tracks in the snow. Then George stayed home to watch for him while I went back out in the car and checked the highway and neighborhoods.

“Ben, Come!” Bonehead. As my fret grew, I tried to comfort myself with thoughts of other dogs who run loose with no consequences. But Alaska in February can be especially cruel and unforgiving to a highly specialized chocolate lab with no street savvy and not a mean bone to speak of. (We’d even trained the bite instinct out of him as a puppy; his mouth was so soft that he retrieved eggshells from the trash can unharmed.) I tried not to think of possible encounters with crazed moose, packs of Rottweilers, and highway semi's on ice. Maybe he was just hooking up with a dame; after all, it’s Valentine’s Day. Methodically, I made my way down each avenue to its end and back, probing the landscape with my headlights for fresh paw prints shaped like Ben’s. Only one set of tracks gave me any leads, to a husky pacing casually at the end of her drive; she wasn’t talking.

The fuel light had been glowing empty orange for a while already when I stopped back by the house to see George alone on the couch. With still no sign of Ben, I gassed up the tank for round three.

“Ben, Come!” Stupid dog. Twigs and branches tumbled across the headlights’ scope. Newer tracks gradually became sanded down into smooth ripples. Disappearing. I didn’t even know which road I was on anymore. I drove till there were no more roads, till I wandered to the end of the landing strip over at Tennessee Miller’s old homestead. An empty street lamp, a drifting runway, and darkness surrounded me.

I was alone.

I was still alone when I curled up on the couch to watch the back yard at 2:00 am. I willed the dark shapes to move, to become a dog and run to the door. I summoned with my heart, hoping that maybe Ben would get the message and get himself back to me. Though undue guilt would have typically persuaded me not to pester God over such a trivial matter, I prayed.

If Ben wasn’t tucked in tonight like every other night of his life, then it was because he couldn’t make it back, and there were only two explanations for that: he was either in someone else’s home, or he was probably dead. Lying on the couch, trying to keep my drooping eyes fixed outside, I thought about dead, and then I tried not to think about dead, about the frail mess of bones and blood and pain that make up life.

He shouldn’t be such a big deal. It’s not like he’s a human. (I can’t even imagine what it would be like if it was George missing!) But that’s just it; I have no children, so it’s my pet that constitutes the third member of my family trio. See, he wasn’t just a dog, he was also my hiking buddy. He’s the one who licked my hand when I cried that day on top of the mountain–-when I was not invited, and everyone else had gone out across the ridge without me. And when I wept about the fishing trip because it was just the boys, it was Ben who buried his head in my lap and tried as best as any four-legged friend could to offer a sympathy hug. At times when I felt most rejected, my dog was my best friend. He was just four years old, strong and beautiful and perfect. Honey brown eyes, baggy-pants skin, floppy ears. Frail bones and blood...

Every time I drifted off, guilt painfully snapped me awake for not watching. Then I dreamed he came home. When the welcome home scene finally dissolved and consciousness took over, I curled up tightly in hopes that my blanket could shun the day out of existence. Since it didn’t, I got up. But I wouldn’t hike anymore. I wouldn’t eat breakfast, either.

George and I discussed our next option and decided to file a lost dog report with the local radio station. We checked it out and discovered that this could be done easily on line. So I opened up their website.

And read:

FOUND: Male chocolate lab. Very friendly.

From Tia Pietsch
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 6:36 AM

I almost started to cry when I read your blog...I can't imagine my pet(s) getting lost outside, especially this week with the terrible weather we had! I'm glad you found him!


From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 6:41 AM
I still cry when I think about it.

Hey, I didn't make it to Homer this week on account of the weather. Wow, you guys really got a mess!

From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 6:48 AM
I love labs, and I always like lab owners. Glad you got your dog back. I keep wishing to this day I could spend another day with my dog.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 7:02 AM

The woman who (thankfully) picked him up almost ran over him on the highway. Apparently, he was several miles downwind, heading toward the mountains. I don't know, he was probably thinking in his head about the ptarmigan on top of Skyline, thinking if he kept at it, he could make it by morning. I've thought of doing things like that myself from time to time...

From Harriet Y.
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 7:12 AM
When I read your well written story early this morning, it made my day. I am glad you got Ben back.
From putch panis
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 8:41 AM
I sure am glad your story had a happy ending. Imagine if something had gone terribly wrong, that memory would stay with you every Valentine's. How's Ben now? I have two "children", too - a pitbull and a mongrel. I wouldn't know what to do if they got lost somewhere.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 9:32 AM
What a scare! I'm so glad you got him back, Emily.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 10:49 AM
Putch, you reminded me just now that my pets have all died on holidays. And my family members and I were all born on holidays, all but my dad. But he is interesting in that he has the same b-day as George's dad.

I suppose every day's a holiday, if you look hard enough.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 12:20 PM
Today's President's Day. That's pretty obscure.
From Tara S.
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 3:41 PM
I'm so glad he was found. I was starting to cry. I've been there.
From Shailee Kennedy
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 5:13 PM
Emily, have you had him chipped? They put a computer chip in his ear, file your contact information, and if he's ever lost and then brought to a shelter or vet, they have to check for chips and notify you if they find one. That also prohibits shelters from putting the animal to sleep. With luck you'll never need it, but it only costs about $35, and it gives a little extra peace of mind.

I'll also put in a word for pet insurance, if you haven't considered that---it's also quite affordable for a young, healthy dog.

From Donna Clegg
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 11:42 PM
Loved your story Emily. You should write a screen play. You were the first person I thought of when I heard Diablo Cody wrote "Juno" because someone read her blog and encouraged her to write a screen play. You are a wonderful writer and it sures beats stripping! (Not you - Diablo's former profession)
From Rosalind Porter
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 11:47 PM
Aww, I was worried that it was going to be a sad ending. So glad Ben came home.

My dog did something similar when I was a child, went off rabbiting in the forest and never came back. Parents had to drive home to pick me up from school... but NO dog... Lots of tears, went to bed clutching his leash, everyone distraught. Then the phone rung at 11pm and the manager of a Little Chef motorway diner told my father she had just found a very muddy dog raiding her garbage cans and did we want him back as he was now happily eating burgers in front of her heater.

The forest was 30 miles from home and he was on the right direction to find his way back - he'd crossed 2 busy roads and walked 20 miles. Fortunately my father went to pick him up and there was a happy reunion. (He lived on til he was 17...)

Your story did remind me of that traumatic childhood event! Give Ben a big hug from Britain please!

From Bernardo B
Posted on February 18, 2008 at 11:56 PM
Thank God you found him! I used to have 2 dogs before I moved to the US and losing one was one of my biggest fears...Do you have an idea why he escaped?
From putch panis
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 1:40 AM
I sure would not want to have a chip in my ear. Could they put it somewhere else? Do you have a fence? Maybe a Lab can also jump the fence... hmm....
From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 7:00 AM
I think a chip sounds like a good idea. Not sure it would help him keep his wits about him regarding highways, but at least he would have some id. A regular collar interferes with his training collar, so it doesn't always make it back on him.

Gee, haven't you heard of fences? Yeah, that would be nice. Usually we watch him when we let him out and he stays in bound, but he escaped our notice this time.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 7:23 AM
"Train the bite instinct out" and put a chip in him. I think that's our future.

Hey, can you actually train the bite instinct out of a dog? If another dog attacked him, would he fight back? Revert to wolf and tear go for the neck, hopefully?

From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 8:19 AM
No, he wouldn't. I won't go into lengthy detail, but basically you teach working labs to "fetch", "hold" and "drop". Ben went through three sessions a day for several weeks to develop what is called a "soft mouth". When they retrieve, they are never to bite down on the bird, but to grip it like a hand would. By the end of his training, you could have him spit out his food if you wanted him to.

Some labs would probably bite when attacked, but Ben's been attacked twice in my presence by other dogs, and he just kind of locks up, and then he tries to heel. I had to rescue him from a golden retriever this fall. Stories circulated around town about the girl on Skyline who put an attacking dog in a headlock and pummeled it, but those rumors are widely exaggerated. :)

I say he's an 80 pound chicken, but then again he threw his life on the line during a grizzly bear encounter once. So maybe I don't know what he's really capable of doing.

From sharelle taylor
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 8:40 AM
such a relief that it ended up well. Our blue cattle dog did the smae during a thunder storm last week, whole night with no sign of him, the kids worried, but there he was for morning tea the next day.
The only dogs he fights with routinely are golden labradours and golden retrievers - he's such an embarrassment.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 8:59 AM
"Stories circulated around town about the girl on Skyline who put an attacking dog in a headlock and pummeled it,"

Where can I get some Skyline? Sounds like good stuff.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 9:17 AM
Ha, Skyline's a mountain, and it is good stuff. Coming down your first time will make you hurt more than going up it did. But it's guaranteed to get you high.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 9:35 AM
Sharelle, you live in the land of heelers, don't you? Our upstairs neighbor just brought home a four-week-old heeler. He serenades us at night with his lonely heartfelt puppy songs. Glad your dog came home.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 10:16 AM
If I was training a bird dog, I wouldn't do it by destroying him like that. I'd do it by feeding him only Purina and only at a certain hour. The he wouldn't eat the bird because it wasn't Purina, and it wasn't 4:00 o'clock. The chip in him would allow him to tell time.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 10:45 AM
Ben has an internal clock that says 9:00 and 6:00. That's Purina time. Everything else is judged by the shoes he sees you put on when you leave the house.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 11:30 AM
What does he do when he sees you put on your high-heeled sneakers? I know what I'd do.
From sharelle taylor
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 11:33 AM
Yeah, Emily, blue heeler country, and kelpie county.
We had a german short haired pointer for 13 years, and they are like labs - they are bred to hunt and retrieve, not to kill or eat the dropped animal.
Ours was a bit special needs though, if you get my meaning.
She found a decomposing kookaburra on the side of the road once, and clamped her jaws around it - i tell you none of us was putting our fingers there to fish it out. so we just kept walking with her crunching and gulping, us gagging, for a k until she finally finished it.
From Bill Busen
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 4:57 PM
Maybe you should work on tone.
From Karin Lin
Posted on February 19, 2008 at 7:47 PM
Awww, Emily, I'm so glad your story had a happy ending. A few years ago we lost one of our cats---he's brain-damaged so we didn't think he'd be able to find his way back, and after two weeks we'd given up all hope of finding him. So it was a huge joy and relief when our neighbor, who'd seen our post on the neighborhood Yahoo! group, showed up at our door with our Lewis, skinny and dirty but alive and well. I'm sure you and George are thrilled to have Ben back.
From Ray Randall
Posted on February 20, 2008 at 1:34 AM
Read in today's paper that you can put in a GPS chip so you can trach your dog within a few feet. My wife wants to have one put in my ear.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 20, 2008 at 7:16 AM
If GPS means happiness, happiness won't find you underneath a canopy of trees.
From Antonello Lofù
Posted on February 21, 2008 at 12:14 AM
You lost the chance to substitute it with a smart and beautiful cat.

Make it happen again!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 7:57 AM
Ooh, you didn't just say that!

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