I was planning a trip to South Dakota - a quick flight, seeing the fall colors, meeting friends and then home again, all within a week. A pet sitter, alternative to a kennel, seemed like an ideal little vacation for Sophie so we arranged a meet and greet session. Then the niggling voice, Sophie's body language: all is not as it seems. Still we arranged that Sophie would come back a week before I was to leave to spend a couple of hours with the sitter, without me. That was the fateful Friday when I turned over Sophie to the sitter. Within half an hour, a frantic phone call: "Sophie has run away! She's in the field down the road. Can you come and help find her?" Seems as if the sitter put Soph in the yard, went back inside her house, and Soph climbed the gate and ran to all that was familiar - a farm with a white fence and the woods beyond. Two hours later she was running up the road toward me but a motor scooter coming up behind her - and sounding a lot like gunshots or fireworks - startled her and she took off again for corn fields and was out of sight the rest of the day. It had been almost 6 hours of searching, calling; darkness was coming on and Sophie did not reappear. I went home to rest preparing to return before dawn Saturday.
Oh, the miles between us. The pet sitter lives in a small town 25 miles away from our home! All that next day, I drove and walked the neighborhoods and called her name and gave out posters, walked the fields at the end of the road, talked to firemen, police, border patrol, kids, strangers who had to translate my words to their own language for their companions, people walking dogs or washing cars or watering lawns or holding garage sales, strangers I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley at midnight - anybody standing and breathing got a poster and heard my plea. And everyone - EVERYONE - was kind, sympathetic, compassionate and promised to watch and call. My daughter posted the story on craigslist and we got phone calls from 15-20 miles further away with sightings. We're still in communication with Mike, a young man 70 or 80 miles south whose border collie has been missing for a month and who emailed every lead he heard about! Two women staked out their neighborhoods at night and early in the morning and both want to take care of Sophie if I ever need their help. Just yesterday I had a phone call from an elderly woman who wondered if she should still keep looking; she was so happy to hear that Sophie is safely home.
Just a few words about the pet sitter - I will not dwell here. Her concern turned to blaming me and then blaming Sophie for punishing me; her messages got more caustic as the week went by. No wonder my inner niggling voice and Sophie's avoidant body language at our meet and greet! And I'm so glad that Sophie ran within the first half hour of a trial visit so I was still available to search and find her. I'm not putting a positive spin on this woman's behavior and attitude. I am so aware that of the dozens of people - all strangers - that I met and talked to in a week, there was only one who was undesirable, disrespectful, mean. The rest, every single one, from age 5 to 85 were absolutely honorable, caring, wanting only the best outcome and were doing all they could to bring that about.
I spent long days from dawn till dusk walking the fields, in between the corn rows, in and out of barns, hayfields, rolling under barbed wire fences, opening cattle gates, searching drainage ditches, calling, praying, crying, calling. Then sleeping out in my car at the end of the road near Jerry's farm. Late afternoons he would drive his four wheeler down to feed the calves; at dawn he greeted me with a cheery "Good morning! Sleep well?" He encouraged me to walk wherever I wanted to go, to tell anybody I met that I was looking for my dog, and to trust that she would show up. My kids and grandkids came to help; others -strangers, now become friends- walked the fields and the river bank looking and calling. On Tuesday Sophie was seen at Jerry's pond. I left a blanket and food out for her there then brought it by my car at night so I could hear her. On Thursday four kids on bicycles saw her in the field across from Jerry's but I still couldn't find her. I was exhausted and went home at dark. Jerry promised to call if he saw her. At 7 am Friday morning, he called! He saw her! He kept her in sight (she ran if anybody tried to get close) and called me several more times as I was dashing the 25 miles from my house to the field. My son-in-law arrived 10 minutes after I did on Friday morning. My car doors were open, Sophie jumped in and then out again and came running to him as soon as she saw him. She jumped in the car as I was running from the opposite end of the trees toward the car. She cried and wiggled from head to tail, smiling and jumping around and "hugging" me with her whole body. Then back in the car and home we went - tired, dirty, smelling like a farm, thirsty and hungry but she was alive and had only a couple of barbed wire scrapes on her leg.
Jerry, who opened his farm to us, refused any reward. He simply said to me, "You don't owe me a thing. No matter how much money or how many toys you have, life is really all about helping each other." Truly a gracious man; an inspiration.
Now here's what Sophie taught me:
1.) always trust your instincts
2.) hang out with the people who love you; they are many
3.) turn your back on those who don't; they are few
4.) when something or someone doesn't feel right, refer to 1.) above,
then run like the wind
5.) trust that you will always find your way to those who love you
6.) when all is said and done, look forward to the next adventure
7.) repeat for your whole life, especially 1.)
The trip to South Dakota? Cancelled. Maybe next summer Sophie and I will be ready for a road trip and a family reunion. We know the world is full of people who want to be connected and who love stories with happy endings!