For the past two weeks, I have neither rested or been able to turn off my brain. I am somewhat more organized in my thinking at this current point, but I am still reeling from the events that took place over the past two weeks from March 1st to March 14th.
I got a call midday at work from my husband, Tim. "I've got some bad news," he says over the phone. I instantly think, yeah sure, what is it this time? I thought he was going to say we were out of toilet paper or some other such nonsense and just wanted to have an interesting intro.
"Uh huh, what?"
"The dog ran away."
"No I'm serious, she ran away."
"How? What happened?" (still a little hesitant, waiting for him to say "nah, just kidding")
"I had her out to go to the bathroom and she was fine, but then all of a sudden she just took off."
I don't know what exactly I was feeling at that moment. I was still waiting for the rimshot to play and him to say that I had naively fallen for his practical joke, but that never happened. So slowly I started to comprehend what he had told me. My dog had run away. Neither him or I knew where she was. He asked me what I thought. I didn't really know what to say. I was a little angry. "Dumb dog," were my first words for the situation. Why would she do that? Doesn't she know how good she's got it? I thought in the back of my mind that she would be coming home soon and so I didn't really need to worry about it. I went about my work day as normal, with not too much thought on how to go about getting her back.
Then came the drive home. It slowly started settling in. The puppy isn't at the house. She's out there somewhere. As I got to the roads that were nearer to my house, I started watching the roads to see if I could see signs of her. My eyes were searching the open fields, looking for a flicker or red and brown fur. The windows were rolled down, listening for barking. Nothing.
When I walked into my apartment, that's when it hit me the hardest. The first sound I always heard for the previous three months was that of her in her kennel waiting to see me. That excited whimper and her tiny paws scratching at the cage. Then I would always let her out to go to the bathroom, and before she would head into the grass, she would always stand on her hind legs with her front paws on my lower shins. Her way of saying hello and to make sure she got her attention and I got mine after our eight-hour separation of the work day.
That was gone.
No sounds, just a silent apartment. No tiny pitter patter sound as she would follow me around the apartment. No whimper. Silence. That was hard. She really wasn't there. She had run away. That's when the tears started and would continue to reappear for the next 2 weeks.
That night after church, Tim and I went around again to the neighboring apartments to see if we could find her running around outside. No such luck. It was a cold night and it pained me to think she was out there in the elements. I was hoping in the back of my mind that someone had found her and she was safe and warm and nestled up in someone else's house. That was the saving grace thought that got me through the next week. We had put signs out of a missing dog and we never heard from anyone and I figured she was now the new pet for some other family. I was surprisingly okay with that, but I still didn't like not knowing anything for certain.
Then Sunday came. And the first phone call. "I saw your dog running down the sidewalk by the 7-11. I tried to follow her to catch her, but she disappeared once she went into the Publix parking lot." Wow. That means she's been outside for an entire week on her own. The little less-than-5-pound chihuahua had survived an entire week out in the wild. That's when I went into overactive parent mode. We repeatedly searched that area for the next few days and nights. Circling around, calling her name, leaving Hansel & Gretel type trails of food, hoping it would lead her back home. Nothing.
More signs were made to announce her missing status and more people were calling with their reports and sightings. I'm still glad to this very day that she stayed in the vicinity and didn't go into the neighboring cities. We may never have found her if that had happened.
She ultimately chose a 55+ trailer park community called Country Club Manor to terrorize over the next week. The first report came from the manager of the community saying that a woman had spotted her sleeping on her front porch, but in her trademark Ginger style, she had run away the minute she heard someone approaching. We started searching the streets of that area but always came up empty-handed.
The calls kept coming. "I saw your dog running around the field by the pond here at Country Club Manor." "If this is the owner of the little dog Ginger, I saw her here in Country Club Manor running by the canal." The only problem was, by the time these people had called, minutes and hours had passed by and Ginger had already moved onto a new locale by the time we showed up to try and search for her. She is a very fast dog and no one could ever catch her.
So the routine continued. People would call and we were never in the right place at the right time. We were at point A and she had already high-tailed it to point Z. We were polar opposites for the entire week that followed.
I had originally wanted to take Wednesday morning off of work in order to stake out the pond area of the community because she had been seen there repeatedly the past 2 mornings around 9 and 10am. Due to not following my instincts, I instead went to work. However, a report got called in around 9:45 that she had indeed shown up there. Neither Tim or myself was home so we couldn't head over there to look for. I did, however, at that time head home early. It was about 1:45 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that a huge storm was moving in to Lake County and other surrounding areas.
The weather reports were on the radio about tornado watches, sever thunderstorm watches, and flood warnings. These are not good things to hear when you have a pint-sized pup running around the great outdoors. I tried to drive home as fast as I could in order to beat the storms, but did not accomplish that task. It was raining and storming by the time I got home. I won't lie. I was not a happy camper. I was so mad at myself for not having stayed home that morning like I originally wanted to. I was mad that she had indeed been where I thought she'd be around the time I thought she would be and I wasn't there to see her.
I needed to vent so terribly, so I called my mom. Tim was still at work. I called her and explained everything and she decided to come over and help me search for her, no matter how bad the weather got. Time was of the essence. Ginger had already been gone over a week and a half and there was no way of knowing her physical state by that point. My mom came over and we went searching. All the usual spots. We drove around Country Club Manor calling for her. I went into the management office to see if any further reports had been called in to her. She said she hadn't heard of any new news. She didn't realize Ginger was still lost. She did tell me that Ginger had been seen a few times at their recycling center and the neighboring house to the right of it, down a dirt road.
My mom and I headed over that direction to look for her. I felt it was important to mention all this information because there is always humor to be found in any disaster. When we got over to the recycling area, I got out into the rain to walk the field by foot and to call to her. We weren't sure how stable the ground was in that condition and didn't want to drive into it. Or so I thought. I got out and told my mom I would be right back. I had walked about 20 paces from the Yaris, when I heard the horn honk. My heart leapt into my throat. I thought she was honking because she had seen Ginger. I ran back as fast, yet safely, as I could on the wet, soggy ground. I got back to the car asking what was wrong. My mom had attempted to follow me in the car, and now the front tires were 1/4th covered by mud and that car was not budging.
We tried to free it. Put it in reverse. Neutral. Pushed. Put wood and leaves under the wheels to give it some traction. Nothing worked. The little car was stuck! We were trying to push it again when a car pulled up. A mother, son, and daughter got out of the car to help us try to liberate the tiny car from the gunk. It turns out that the daughter was Dee who goes to our church. They weren't afraid to get their hands dirty. They pushed and dug dirt out from under the wheels just like we had done. Nothing was working. We slightly rocked the car, but it wasn't enough.
Finally, a local sheriff police officer in a 4x4 pulled up. It still cracks me up to remember the way he went about his business. He never said a word. His white pick-up pulled up. He got out. He pulled a thick, yellow cord from the flatbed and knelt down beside the back tire of the car. He reached under and attached the belt to its proper place. He stood up, knees and hands covered in mud, and finally spoke. "Okay, whose done this before?" We weren't quite sure what he was asking so he explained himself. He said, I need someone to sit in the car and make sure the wheel stays straight and I'm going to tow the car out. He then hopped into his truck and drove forward. The little Yaris then went into reverse with ease as she tugged it from the mud. He then just as quietly as before knelt back down and got his bungee cord back. I made eye contact with him and said Thank you and he got the final word by saying "Well it was raining, I figured I had to." I never did get his name but Thank You whoever you were!
We then packed up and headed home yet again. I have to admit, I really did think that after that night of storms and rain and wind that the calls would stop coming about her whereabouts. I couldn't shake images from my mind of her possible outcomes. I thought that all was lost at that point.
Then that following Saturday, the fateful day of March 13th, I got a new type of call. A lovely woman named Jean Nilsen had been the patron saint who was the guardian angel my dog had needed. She is an animal lover by nature and has always had the habit throughout her entire life of leaving food outside for any animal that might be in need of it. She had been putting food out randomly and would notice that it was gone the next morning. She wasn't aware what had been eating her kindly-left morsels until that Saturday morning. Her husband, George, had woken her up and told her to come look out the window at what had been eating the food. That was when they first spotted Ginger around 7am that morning eating the food. Then Jean called me. God bless you Jean.
She told me the whole story. I was thankful that she had been being fed. I was pretty sure her canine survival skills weren't producing too much food for the pampered, little house dog. Jean then invited me to come to her house that night when the food would be put out and to wait for her to show up and hopefully catch her. The plan was set. I went over to her house around 8:30 and the food was put out about 9:00. I have to pause here for a second and say how blown away I was by her and her husband's kindness. That was an ultimate leap of faith on their parts to welcome a stranger into their home and let me stay there for the night so I could capture my dog. They both went to bed around 9 and left me sitting on their porch by the window with a constant eye on the dog bowl outside. They didn't know that I wasn't some serial killer or some kleptomaniac that would rob them blind. Yet they were kind enough to let me have the upper hand on catching my lost pet. Jean had even provided the food!
I sat in silence. Only the light outside on the porch was on. I didn't want her to see me through the window and not come to the food. So I sat there in the dim lighting and went to work on a book of word searches. I had gone through about 5 pages when Tim called me for a status update. I told him where things were currently and just going on with random ramblings when she first appeared. I couldn't believe I was seeing her. My heart started racing. I whispered to Tim "oh my gosh, she's right outside. She just showed up. She's so pretty." It was like seeing a mythical creature for the first time. I imagine that would be how it feels to see a unicorn or some other fanciful creature that you had only heard about in fairy tales. In all her time that she had been missing, she had become somewhat of an apparition in her own rite. Constant sightings had been spoken of, but I had not yet seen her with my own eyes. I had almost forgotten how radiant her reddish-brown fur was and how little she truly was.
She daintily approached the food bowl, constantly looking around for any signs of danger. She was literally inches from me, only separated by patio walls and doors. I told Tim I had to go and I would call him back.
As quietly as I could manage, I put the book down and opened the glass window in order to call to her. I was hoping hoping hoping that she would hear my voice and that would be it. She would wait for me to come and rescue her. No such luck. I opened the window, waited and contemplated, and then spoke. "Ginger." Gone.
I tried to push open the patio door. It wouldn't budge. I had to push against it with all my might and it finally opened into the open air. I went outside with a flashlight to search for her. Gone. She had run away from the mere sound I made. Whose mouth it came from didn't matter. She just heard it and that was enough reason for her to dart off in her best attempt to protect herself. I called for her, hoping she'd recognize my voice but she never came back out. Attempt one: Fail.
I went back inside, dejected, but hoping she would reappear later on and give me another chance to try a different approach. As I was sitting and waiting, I was trying to think of a new way to go about catching her. I knew that even if the door would have opened easier, she would be gone before I got the opportunity to show myself. She would take off at any sound she heard. So I moved the dog dish closer to the door. That way, I figured, I could maybe jump out quicker and nab her. I also left the door cracked open so I wouldn't have to fight to open it again. Another hour or so passed, another 100 words found and circled in the word search book, and then she made her second showing. I was so afraid to do anything. I just wanted to stand there and watch her for a while. This might be the last time I would ever see her. As I was building up the courage to open the door and possibly throw a blanket on her if she started to run, something made a noise down the driveway and she was gone again in a flash. I went out again with the flashlight in her wake, but she was gone again. There was no sight of her and she didn't respond to being called.
At that point, I realized that as fast as she is there was no way I was going to be able to catch her on my own. I went out to see if there was a way to set up a blockade so she would only have one way of escape rather than 2 that she had on the first two attempts. Jean had told me to come wake her up if I needed help, and I needed help. I woke her up and we both waited again on the patio. We had a strategy set up for Ginger's capture. There were two doors, the patio door and the front/side door, and if both doors were to be opened at the same time, Ginger would be stuck in the middle of the two with no route of escape. So that was the plan. Once sighted, we would simultaneously open the doors and try to stop her from running off. Of course, first she had to come back to the food for a third try.
It was now about 3 in the morning. Jean made us some very strong coffee so we could stay awake and then we waited. Find a word. Look at the dog bowl. Find a word. Look at the dog bowl. Find a word... THERE SHE IS! Silence. I was about to make a gesture to Jean to man her station, but something outside frightened her off yet again and she darted off. Oh for goodness' sake! Take that situation and repeat it once more and then Ginger never showed herself again for the rest of the morning.
In the meantime, on a side note, two other renegades showed themselves. The tasty kibbles that were intended for Ginger acted as bait for bringing out all the local fugitives. There was a stray gray tabby that had been getting all the female cats of the neighborhood impregnated and was on the most wanted list of the park maintenance workers. He was one smart cat. I was sitting inside the porch and he looked right through the window at me with his beautiful green eyes. Ginger had only seen walls and windows, but this shyster knew that I was inside that window and took off before he got any closer to the food bowl. He came back one more time, but saw that I was still there and stood as in opposition to his plans for a meal. He took off and didn't come back.
Later, the second of the vagabonds made an appearance. This one was a beautiful red fox. One of the biggest I have ever seen, but maybe that's due to how close we were to one another. He didn't even look around. He just came right up to the food and gobbled up a few good mouthfuls. I thought Jean, being such an animal lover, would want to see him so I attempted to get her attention by snapping lightly toward her. The fox heard me. Before Jean could come over, the fox was gone. These elusive animals were good sources of entertainment while waiting for the most important one to once again emerge. She never did though. She was done. Scared off one too many times, I suppose, and was now in her place of hiding yet again, possibly at the opposite end of the park for all I know. I sat up and 4 and 5 am passed by and I started to doze off. Jean then took over the helm and I rested for about an hour on the patio wicker couch. When I woke up, the dog had still not been seen by Jean so I admitted defeat. I walked around outside calling her name a few times, but she didn't respond. I decided to head home at that point and continued to plan ways to continue the search.
I went a little loony by that point. I went to the morning service of church and barely heard a word because my mind was frantically thinking of ways to get my dog back. That afternoon, I took my laundry basket, some dog food, fishing wire, and a stick and was going to attempt to catch her the old-fashioned way. It was man vs. beast at this point. Which redhead would prevail???
My mom and Carolyn came over again and we tried to wait her out. Carolyn and I searched the park and my mom kept watch on the jimmy-rigged booby trap. Calls started coming in then from the opposite side of the park. She had been seen on the other side of the canal in the Trout Lake reserve. A kind woman showed us how to get over there, but by the time we got there, she was nowhere to be seen. We exhausted ourselves searching for the dog yet again, but never did succeed at finding her. My mom told me at that point to just wait it out. To let go a little and let the park people continue to try and catch her. They had plans to use live traps on the next day, so I was going to wait. Hoping they'd be able to lure her in and safely return her to me without the literal run-around.
I didn't have to wait that long. It seems like the moment I let go and stopped worrying about her outcome, the phone rang. I was getting to the point where I didn't want to even pick up the phone. They were all the same and none of them really helped to get my little dog back. So I started doing homework that had been put off and put off and put off while I had started searching for Ginger. Then as I was sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, cutting out clips of lettering for my graphics art class, the phone rang. I debated picking it up. I didn't want to hear how someone had seen her 15 minutes ago but couldn't catch her... yet again. I fought the urge to let it go. I clicked the phone on. "Hello?" "Yeah uhmm, I think I've got your dog." ::silence::
"You have her?!?!"
"You mean, you're holding her in your hands? You have her?"
The address was given and I high-tailed it over to the community one last time. Those kind people had set their own live trap (with vegetables, nonetheless) and managed to catch my pup! The people were very kind. The men made a few jokes about how she didn't know she was a chihuahua. She must be part pit-bull because of her survival skills and the fight she put up to resist being caught. The lady who was holding her then handed her over and my heart just melted. She was so thin. She was skin and bones. Her ribs and backbone were protruding pretty bad and she was in rough shape. I thanked them for all their help and headed home with my sweet little baby.
When I got her in the car, I put her in her dog bed on the passenger side and gave her some food. She was starved so much and she completely wolfed down half of the bowl without hesitation. As soon as she started scarfing it down though, I realized the error of my ways. It only took about 10 seconds for her stomach to start churning and rumbling. That food wasn't going to stay in her stomach for long. She didn't want to stay on the passenger side. My baby had missed me and so she kept trying to crawl over the divider to get into my lap. I finally just scooped her up and drove carefully with her on my lap. Within 5 minutes, all that food was ready to make it's triumphant return. I held her off of me the best I could and most of it went into her doggy bed. She didn't want to lay in there anyway!
I called my mom once I got her home. She and my sister Carolyn were excited to hear the news that Ginger was home. They decided to come over and help me get her sorted out. My mom has a sixth sense of how to treat injured / sick animals (I swear she could have made a great vet) and I was glad to have her help. Since Ginger couldn't keep down solid foods, my mom brought Pedialyte over (yes the kind for sick children) and she drank it and held it down and she lapped at her water, so all of this was great. She had gathered a few "friends" (aka: ticks) while she was out in the wild and we had to remove those. She wasn't too happy for that pinching feeling and she let my mom know it! We then gave her some children's tylenol just so she could relax and finally sleep. I can only image how little sleep she got while she was out for those 2 weeks.
Tim took her to the vet the next morning. They removed one more lingering "friend" and said she would have to come back for shots because she was too much underweight. Big surprise there. But they gave us heartworm pills for her and advised us on what was best to feed her to get her back to health.
It was a long ordeal and it seemed like I was never going to get her back. I must have given up hope at least twice daily. It was very frustrating to be so close and never catch her. I was determined to get her back and I thank everyone that helped me look for her... for all those wonderful people at Country Club Manor and people driving on the highway who took the time to call the phone number and give me updates. If not for them, I probably would have never seen her again. I'm glad she is back to being the boss of the house. I treasure her and all her cute little things she does... and even the naughty ones like chewing my shoes and having "accidents". Overall, I'm just glad she's home and the Roberts family has been restored to our full 2 and 3/8ths. =)