As the dogs bask quietly in the sun, it’s difficult to imagine how we survived the past two days. That we are together again is testament to a happy ending, but its fruition wasn’t always expected…
THE SNOW STAIR
The trouble started with several brutal storms while we vacationed in Mexico last week. Our house sitter called to say that, after 20 inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain, Shamus, our Newf, leveraged this new mantel to jump the fence. Thankfully, true to Newf form, Shamus appreciates companionship more than freedom. He came back immediately. We were lucky.
When our sitter shoveled snow from the point of exit, the problem appeared to be solved – until it wasn’t. Shamus found another weight-bearing point. The only solution, until we came home, was sentencing Shamus to doggy jail at the maximum security kennel – along with Emmett who would surely learn this new trick too.
THE “NO!” STARE
Upon our return to more freezing rain, we waited impatiently for the 40 degrees of melt promised by the weather man. I supervised the dogs’ outings while Tim left town for several days. On Wednesday, Shamus oh-so-obviously made calculations to jump. I wagged my finger and said “No, no, no!” calling both dogs back for treats. This worked so well that, in subsequent recalls, Shamus came back with expectations before doing his business. Overkill, obviously. But it kept him contained.
GETTING A JUMP ON THINGS
Tim promised to clear the fence when he returned, but I wanted to do my part too. I chipped, beat and hefted layers of snow infused with ice as strong as steel reinforcements, creating an inside mote 2 1/2 feet deep and spanning 4 post lengths. It felt like an enormous feat. I have the back injury to prove it. And it wasn’t nearly enough. Our dog yard spans a half acre.
Taking the boys out after dinner that night, Shamus showed interest in a high drift. I moved down the hill yelling “Don’t do it! No!” as he crouched his back legs to spring. He took the leap as my feet flew forward, my head hit the ground and my back locked in a twinge. Before I could get up, Emmett whined for his departed pack-mate and climbed the fence to follow Shamus.
THE 20 HOUR SEARCH BEGINS
The temperature was 14 degrees. It was dark. I called the neighbors and all kept their eyes peeled. Audra, my closest neighbor, spread the word and joined my search. Tim left NYC a day early and was home by midnight. While I drove circles around the mountain, he geared up and snowshoed through the woods. For all my boys, Tim included, I feared the worst: injuries, hypothermia, frostbite, a deadly run-in with our resident coyotes.
At 3 a.m., Tim and I settled in to regroup. There was no sleep. Having opened the yard gates and dog door earlier hoping for a return, we listened for any sign. By 6 a.m., the sky turned from pitch black to a hint of dark gray. Tim and I geared up with snowshoes and headed back into the woods together.
TRACKING CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL
Emmett had run in spirals trotting gingerly beside turkey tracks until they were crossed by deer tracks, spinning around again after rabbit tracks. Most prints were 3-6 inches deep and they crossed each other, forcing us to look deep into the holes to identify their source. I lost Emmett’s trail countless times and picked it up again later only to end where I began.
Tim followed Shamus’ tracks, which eventually traveled in a straight line. At times, there were body imprints where Shamus crashed several feet into the deep snow. Tim’s snowshoes sank too, at times, and his knees – in need of surgery – ached as he lifted the shoes out for each next step. My back screamed. Pouring sweat, our fingers and toes turned to ice. Each of us, when asking the other how we felt, said we were fine compared to what the dogs must be feeling. We kept moving forward. It was all we could do.
ORGANIZING THE SEARCH PARTY
Friends and Family – By 8 a.m., I returned to greet the search party assembled by Tim. Our friend Mike stayed at the house in case our boys returned in need of medical care. Dawn and Lori drove the streets. Lori picked Tim up along the way.
Local Animal Services – Leaving our number with animal control, the man seemed scattered and offered little comfort. Menands Shelter refuses lost dog calls. And Nassau Veterinary Clinic finally offered a ray of sunlight. Christina, at reception, alerted the whole clinic. Debbie, a vet tech, said to call the local highway departments. Every client who walked in the door was made aware – all day long.
Help in Unexpected Places – Fred and Bob at the Nassau Highway Department not only kept an eye out, but they sent trucks and hiked along the power lines tracking what appears to have been a coyote. Fred even called us that afternoon for updates and friended me on Facebook for news. The Schodack Highway Department spread the word too, through supervisors and staff.
I made fliers for – and spoke with people at – post offices, gas stations and convenience stores. We spoke with Andy, our mail man, who spread the word to the FedEx and UPS guys. Fliers went to every neighbor’s house, Bill at the transfer station, and to the propane delivery man.
Coming Together – The energy of the entire town and the support of our family and friends gave Tim and me the energy needed to push through our exhaustion and past heads full of frightening, negative thoughts.
A MAN WITH A MAP AND A PLAN
Tim found tracks near a dilapidated trailer home and snowshoed in to learn what direction the dogs were headed. They had been gone 18 hours at this point. We now know they had traveled about 6 straight miles plus countless zig-zags. It was 2 hours before sunset and temps were dropping to 10 degrees. The good news? Shamus and Emmett were traveling together.
With a bead on their trail, Tim entered the opposite side of the woods hoping to meet them head on. I drove to the trailer to wait. There was no guarantee the dogs were still here, but it was worth looking.
After hiking a mile in, Tim called asking me to lay on the horn so he could follow the sound out. I honked. He heard nothing. A few minutes later, I honked again. He still heard nothing. He decided to keep hiking while I widened the search around the mountain.
Before we hung up, I told Tim about a snow boulder that rolled off the plow stack in front of my car. It wasn’t there the first two times I drove by, yet it now faced me – featuring a giant, yellow pee stain. I laughed and said, “Maybe it’s a sign!” One could only hope. We hung up and I drove off.
I’VE GOT THEM!
Moments later, Tim called and said, “I’ve got them.”
What? But where is he? After several dropped cell connections, I went back to his car so we could meet up and called Nassau vet to say we’d bring both dogs soon. Tim came out of the woods and I ran out of the car to help him, tears flowing. The dogs pulled him toward me with exuberance and, together, Tim and I put them in the car.
I looked at Tim, astonished. They looked incredible. “Are they okay?”
He shrugged with doubt. “Their pads are bleeding. They’re shaking. They flung themselves in the snow to rest several times while I walked them out.”
I looked in the back seat. My boys were now slumped trembling against one another. Their heads merged with the car seat. The skin hung loose from their faces, deflated. The energetic trot toward me was fleeting.
Tim recalled how he yelled their names and heard Shamus bark. As he moved closer in his hat, sunglasses, coat, gloves and snowshoes, they both barked defensively. When he took off his hat, glasses and gloves, Shamus came post-holing through the snow, collapsing into Tim’s legs. Emmett bounded after, plowing his body into Shamus for warmth. Tim said Emmett’s eyes expressed a grateful sense of relief at being rescued. The dogs were not enjoying their adventure. They were very confused, scared and lost.
THE IMPOSSIBLE VET EXAM
Emmett lay wilted, shivering in the sun on the waiting room floor. He looked 60 pounds worth of small wrapped in Tim’s big, red parka. A ravenous Shamus briefly begged for treats from the counter, then greeted newcomers with a weak but wagging tail. We entered the exam room separately, each boy getting a thorough once over.
I don’t know how or why, but there was no hypothermia. Nothing appeared broken. There was no frostbite. We were told Shamus looked like he enjoyed his adventure and Emmett just seemed exhausted. With pain meds to ease the aches of their vigorous hike, we were to feed and water them as usual and let them rest. It was a miracle.
Then, at check-out, Debbie called to say she had taken down the LOST flier at the post office. Tim took down the one at Stewart’s. How very satisfying.
We brought water bowls to our exhausted dogs in their beds, made rounds of thank-you calls, and our reunited pack fell asleep shortly after dinner. We slept straight on ’til morning.
The dogs were traumatized the next day, refusing to go outside, even after so many hours of sleep. We coaxed them out after breakfast and they limped painfully through the yard. Each stuck close to their humans until they relieved themselves in grand quantities and returned to the house. When the dogs were safely inside, all my emotions broke free.
Sleeping for hours on my watch and as Tim came home from work to shovel, Shamus didn’t climb the stairs to sleep with us. Things still weren’t right. Last night, Shamus stopped bearing weight on his left, front paw. We iced it, offered pain meds. Seeing our boy in pain is torturous. We hunkered down on the floor with him and moved to bed only after Shamus was more comfortable. Would this nightmare ever end?
We brought Shamus back to Nassau Vet this morning. X-rays showed no breaks. Tendinitis is likely the culprit. A questionable flap of skin could be a tiny bit of frostbite, or the housing for a thorn. We have new pain meds, a wrap and antibiotics. The improvement since has been tremendous. My heart may finally stop breaking.
On the way home once more, I had the chance to take down another flier. I now knew the relief Tim and Debbie felt removing the others. There is nothing better than saying, “We found them!”
Today we spent hours clearing the rest of the snow by hand, me chipping away at ice, Tim shoveling it away, each of us making the yard safe once more. The dogs came out with confidence today. I think we may have crossed to the other side of this.
It’s time to finally move on…