Friday, January 12, 2018

When dogs disappear, they take a piece of our hearts

     Where do lost dogs go?
     What lonely roads do they travel? What hardships endure?
     Teddy is a mixed breed poodle who came to live with the Barrons in Northbrook. When they got him in early November, Teddy had already seen his share of woe — rescued from a breeder, he had never been outside the barn where he lived. The Barrons adopted him from a shelter to be a companion to their dog Barnaby. Teddy was timid. He startled easily.
     On Nov. 27, Dalya Barron, 7, came home from school and walked Teddy. All it took was a loud noise — a roofer's nail gun — to set Teddy running. He pulled the 2nd grader to the ground, she let go of the leash.
     Teddy was gone.
     The search started immediately. Dalya's mother Catherine Barron started going door to door. When she finished that first day, she looked at her Fitbit: she had walked 15 miles.
     Her husband, Dani, printed up 500 fliers, and they stuck them everywhere. Northbrook, Glenview, Highland Park.
     Such publicity is considered key to getting your dog back, but there is a downside.

     "With my cellphone number everywhere, we got pranked," Catherine said. "Someone told us they found her; they didn't. Another person told me they heard a coyote eating something in their yard and if I wanted to come and see if it was Teddy I could. A lot of weirdness."
     Even without the malice of strangers, losing a dog is traumatic.
     "Oh my God," said Susan Taney, director of Lost Dogs Illinois, which helps unite thousands of missing pets with their owners every year. "It's a loved family member. It's your baby. You're desperate."
     The Barrons struggled with the absence.
     "The day after we lost him, when I was walking at school, I was sorta crying, sort of not crying," said Dalya, who felt the weight of losing Teddy. "All my friends were like, 'What happened?' I couldn't even talk."
     At first they were hopeful. The beginning of December was mild, in the 50s. But the month wore on and it started getting cold. Fellow dog owners went on patrol, searching. Every time I heard a dog bark, I'd drift over in that direction, looking for Teddy.
     It got colder and colder. Neighbors traded speculation: maybe a coyote got him. We have coyotes, scruffy, yellow-eyed creatures padding their way hungrily through the backyards.
     Cold weather really hit. The teens. Single digits. The posters with Teddy's photo flapped forlornly in the killing wind.
     "About three or four weeks, we thought: 'What are the odds?"' said Dani.
     December 27, exactly one month after Teddy disappeared, the temperature was 5 degrees. A few of the Herbst boys were looking to pass the time on Christmas break.
     "What's more fun that hitting stuff with hammers?" observed Max Herbst, 12. "There's a creek by our house, that was completely frozen over. So we just go chip away."
     With him was his brother Patrick, 14, and their friend Reese Marquez, 12.
     "Look, there's a dog," said Reese, who remembered the posters. "That's the lost dog."
     They approached Teddy, who weakly tried to flee.
     "He walked away from us onto the creek," said Reese. "We didn't want the ice to break. We carefully walked. He finally sat down and waited for us to come to him. Max picked him up."
     "He was shaking a ton," said Max.
      The boys took off their coats and covered the dog.
     "I thought we should probably get him inside," said Patrick.
     They did. A call was placed. Catherine Barron started screaming. They hurried over.
     "Total shock, total joy," said the boys' mother, Leslie Herbst, describing the reunion.
     Teddy had gone from 24 to 14 pounds.
     "You could see his spine," said Dani. "Like a skeleton."
     Since then, Teddy's putting on weight, and perhaps learned a lesson.
     "He's just become a different dog," said Ella. "Before he got lost, he wouldn't approach anyone, barked at everyone. But now we've got him back, he's become more friendly, better with people."
     "The weirdest part of this whole thing is, in one month, nobody saw him, in densely populated Northbrook, there was not one sighting," said Catherine Barron. "He somehow managed to stay out of everybody's view."
     Which returns to our original question: Where do lost dogs go?

Teddy, center, with (left to right) Ella, Dalya and Catherine Barron and Barnaby.


  1. no flu shot Neil? sorry to hear your sick.

  2. We know that their are good people and we know that there are asses. The puzzle is what is the percentage of each. It's more than a puzzle, it's a fundamental, unknowable conundrum of life. We want to think that most people are good but we just don't know. We see that 30 or so percent of the populace support Trump no mater what he does. This is a discouraging bit of data on the nature of mankind. This train of thought is going through my mind because of the revelation in this column that people saw a flyer asking for help solving an episode of human heartache and instead of helping, some of them saw it as an opportunity to make a prank call. What kind of dead souled person does such a thing? And what percentage of the human race is wired in such an odious fashion? I pray that it is a tiny percentage.

    This column had the best quote I've ever read in a newspaper article, a quote that could have come out of my sons mouths at the same age. “What’s more fun that hitting stuff with hammers?” That quote alone is worthy of a long reverie.

    1. On the other hand, “What’s more fun that hitting stuff with hammers?” also reveals another dark side of human nature: finding entertainment in acts of destruction.

    2. To be fair, hitting things with hammers as they are intended to be used results in creation. Perhaps the aspect of human nature shown is a tendency toward action and toward shaping one's environment

    3. If I was still a young boy, I'd bust up creek-ice with a hammer. If I'd had a hammer and a frozen creek, leaving the ice untouched wouldn't have occurred to me.

    4. For small boys it seems the wintertime equivalent of Toad's delight in "messing around with boats."


    5. "There's nothing half so much doing..."?

    6. The same kind of dead-souled, heartless POS who rips down missing cat flyers from a telephone pole in front of her house, in zero weather and deep snow cover. When confronted, she said she did it because she's annoyed with the nails in the if she owns it. The kind of person who hates her neighbors and strikes back by literally sentencing their lost pet to a miserable death in the wintertime. I called her a Gritch, and it's exactly what you think it means. It's been six weeks now. The poor creature has not been found. People make me sick.

  3. Very exciting and rewarding variation on the prodigal son motif. My guess is that the great majority of lost dogs stay lost, likewise with prodigal sons.


  4. It's really hard to believe that nobody noticed the dog for an entire month. Was the leash still attached?

    1. Someone probably kept it, at least a while.

    2. I meant the dog, not the leash. Someone probably took the dog in for a while. Sheesh, who would keep a leash?

    3. Good point, and certainly a reasonable possibility. Tony Galati: Pet Detective ; )

    4. We've been invited to sharpen ourselves on Neil's blog. What better way than working on a mystery?

  5. Once this scruffy little mutt came trotting into our garage like he owned the place. We fed him and gave him a bath (which he needed), then called animal control the next morning. He had indeed been reported missing, from the next subdivision. His name was, in fact, "Scruffy." He got back with his family, who gifted us with a nice houseplant.

    The difference is, this little guy trusted people instead of avoiding them, which is why he got rescued so quickly.

    1. Boy, that's a life lesson in a nutshell right there!

  6. A happy ending. I've always wondered what happens to lost pets; surely many of them are taken in by another well-meaning person or family, or brought to a shelter -- at least, that's what I hope.


  7. "Where do lost dogs go." No longer enjoy the company of a dog, but with advancing age I often face the same existential conundrum with my reading glasses.


  8. Or sadly it could be Rainbow Bridge. :(


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