Thursday, June 12, 2008

a story of a dog: the sequel

Around 9:00 as Brian made his way through his checklist of shutting up the unfamiliar house for the night the call came out, "Anyone seen the dog?"

"Anyone seen Duchess?" he repeated the question in a more insistent tone. From all over the house came the response "No! I haven't seen her." "No, she's not in here." "Anyone tried the basement?" Now running footsteps joined the hollering. Feet running up stairs, closet doors creaking open and slamming shut. "She's not in here!" "She's not in the basement!"

"How about the back yard?!?" Brian's tone changed to full, father-in-command. His tone told us that if one of us let her in the back yard and forgot to bring her in, we'd better right the wrong and quickly.

I ran up to our gargantuan bedroom with the gargantuan closets, flinging open doors and fighting off a sick feeling in my stomach. "She's not here. How could she not be here?"
By now the rest of the family was outside in the front of the house calling up and down the street, "DUCHESS! DUCHESS! Come here, Duchess!"

In Conklin, Duchess had two hiding spots she would run to if she was in the mood to stress us out -- behind the shed in the backyard (sniffing for rabbits), and across the street to visit Hannah, the crazy Setter. She was not in our backyard here in Endicott. Not tonight. Not under the shed or behind the garage or in the mess of bushes between the garage and the shed.

One of the kids had grabbed the box of doggie treats out of the kitchen cupboard. This method was usually sure-fire. Shake the box. Watch the dog come running. Not tonight.

Our next door neighbor came off his front porch and started talking to Brian in broken English. I managed to listen to him and simultaneously make a mental note that his Eastern European accent probably explained why he had seemed to dodge all of our attempts at neighborly conversation. Brian followed the hand gestures -- more than the exact words of the man -- toward the group of apartments half a block away. My heart flipped with relief when we heard a familiar bark, but as I came closer to the house, still in my barefeet, relief was disappointed at a small, white, yappy dog running toward the fence. This was not Duchess.

These kind people left their lighted backyard party tent set up between rental houses to walk to the fence and ask what our dog looked like. "Black and white? Spots? Yes, we saw her. A kid from a couple of streets over was carrying her that direction." They pointed over the fence toward their guess at where this kid lived.

Oh, this was not good news. The way they said "that kid", like he was infamous in this neighborhood, tricked us into all sorts of scary mental images. Our dog seemed to have been stolen. She is so gentle, she'd probably let anyone pick her up and take her anywhere. And that is when another voice started in my head, "See. You shouldn't have moved here. Just like you worried. It's not safe. You've only been here a couple of days and already your dog has been stolen by some delinquent."

At this point, Brian split us up into two distressed search parties. He would go toward that good-for-nothing dog napper's house (at least our best guess at the street he lived on); the boys would go east; the girls and I would go west. We got the box of treats.

This story will give away the prejudices I have, but when I rounded the corner of our block and saw a whole family sitting out on their porch yelling toward a teenaged guy who happened to be coming our direction, I considered leaving Duchess for dead. I had the girls with me so I acted like this was a normal state of affairs, something we'd seen every day in the past ten years.

I approached the overflowing porch and called out, "We are looking for our dog. She's spotted black and white. Have you seen her?" The calm tone of my voice surprised me. The obvious matriarch of the family leaned over the railing, "Does she have a black spot over one eye -- like that dog Wishbone?"

And all prejudices melted. This woman had seen our dog! And, apparantly, watched the same PBS children's television program as we had about 15 years ago. We had a common bond. "Yes. That's her. Did she run by your house?"

By now the entire family was leaning over the porch railing hollering at us. "We saw her run that way. Toward the parking lot." Now we were getting somewhere. "Thank you so much!" I gave my best neighborly smile and wave -- not wanting to appear rude, even though I just wanted to get out of there and begin searching the parking lot they mentioned.

The girls and I ran toward the parking lot on the corner of our street. I didn't know who used this lot, but it was bordered with overgrown bushes, weeds and trees. Of course Duchess would be here! She must be sniffing out some squirrel or city rodent. We shook the box of treats bravely toward the bushes. We hollered her name even more. By now the boys had rejoined us and together the five of us ran figure-eights around the lot yelling for our lost doggie. Hope dimmed pretty quickly. If she had been here she was gone now.

Thinking that she might have been trying to get to our backyard through this lot, we headed the half block back toward our house. Maybe she had chased squirrels through the vacant parking lot and the neighbor's yard and was hunkered down behind the shed in our yard. We didn't know what else to think so we searched that spot again, all the while yelling out her name. I hoped our new neighbors weren't too annoyed with all our hollering.

Brian came back to the garage and hopped onto our son's 10-speed. He thought he could cover more territory on wheels. I noticed his expression as he pulled out of the driveway. It was grim. I wondered if he realized what he looked like, a grown man with a grim expression riding around on his son's bicycle. (I should remind you that even though Duchess belongs to our family, she is without question Brian's dog. They are bonded. I didn't want to think about how Brian would feel if we lost her.)

At this point, the kids and I decided to hang around the house. We split up into the front and back yards for better visibility. The girls and I sat on our front steps. It was pretty much dark now. We prayed together. "God, we believe you know right where Duchess is. We want you to know that we trust you. Please keep her safe. Please direct her back toward the house. Help someone who is kind to find her and know what to do with her." And then I added, "God, this doesn't seem like a coincidence. You know we've just moved here, and we're a little bit nervous in our new neighborhood. You know Duchess has already helped us to meet our neighbors. If the Enemy has anything to do with this, we want to say that he has no authority here, because of You, Jesus."

By now, my youngest daughter was full-out sobbing. I thought making some phone calls to friends and family might comfort her. She began dialing. "Grandma, we've lost Duchess. We're looking everywhere and we can't find her. Would you pray for her, please?" And Grandma prayed right then with her. "Coleen, we've lost Duchess. We're looking everywhere and we can't find her. Would you pray for her, please?" And Coleen prayed right then and there with her. (and told her she'd come the next day and walk door to door with Natalie to see if any kind neighbors had taken in a stray, speckled dog for the night) "Uncle Wes, we've lost Duchess. We're looking for her everywhere and we can't find her. Would you pray for her, please?" Uncle Wes offers to bring over his big flashlight and help search.

Aunt JoAnn has already arrived from Apalachin to help. She used to live on this street and lose her cat. She knows all the best places to search. Uncle Ryan is on his way from Newark Valley. He was the last one to leave our Memorial Day barbecue and had just arrived home when we called. He got in his car and came right back.

One of my children came out to the front steps. Without turning around I hear the porch door swing shut and this child (who shall remain nameless) hurrying toward me on the cement sidewalk, "Mom I need to tell you something. I lied to you about {offense to remain nameless} and I am so sorry." Tears came next.

"Oh, honey. Thank you for telling me that. But why do you want to tell me that right now?" I already suspected the reason. And I wanted to squash it like a dirty bug.
"I thought maybe Duchess was lost because I lied to you."

With the confession out in the clear, I looked my child straight in the eyes. "You know God is not like that, right? That is not his character."

More tears. "Yes, but I just wanted to make sure." Big hug. I hated that my child was feeling this pain, but if we were able to reclaim a confession and clean conscience and our dog out of this deal, even better.

Uncle Ryan pulled up to the parking meter in front of our house. He rolled down the window, "Where do you want me to look?" Andrew hopped into the front seat and they began to pull away. A thought, like a brand new idea, popped into my head and I spoke it out to Ryan just as quickly, "Why don't you start at the police station? It's at the end of the street. Maybe someone has told them about Duchess." It seemed like a long shot.

Aunt JoAnn was back at the house with us now. She comforted the girls with hugs and stories of finding her cat days after he had run away. How people had been kind and obviously fed the cat until she could find him again.

We saw the headlights of our van coming back toward the house. Brian had ditched the bike when darkness came and was trolling the neighborhood in our minivan. As it got closer we saw an arm hanging out the window holding up a little black and white spotted dog. "Look what we found!"

Triumph. The lost had been found.

Ryan pulled into the driveway behind our van. He had gone straight to the police station and asked the officer standing outside the door if they had seen a little black and white dog. The officer opened the garage door and asked, "Is this who you are looking for?"

Inside the house, Duchess was feasting on treats and compliments with a few admonitions thrown in between. Stories were flying just like the finale of any other type of ordeal. The police had seen a little dog sniffing around their building and took her into their storage garage for the night. Brian had ridden his bike two dozen blocks and talked to about as many people. At the Endicott Inn on Washington Avenue (and how shall I describe this establishment to my non-area readers? The word skeevy comes to mind.) a few had asked about a finder's reward. Brian answered from his 10-speed, "Just a reward of helping a neighbor." One of the girls in the group reprimanded "Shut up! We're not going to take money. If we find her we'll bring her to you. Where do you live?" And two dozen more people learned the Murphy family's new address at 106 Jefferson Avenue.

Two dozen more people in our new neighborhood that Duchess introduced to us. Well, that and the entire second shift of the Endicott police department. A good combination, I'm thinking.

Blurry photo of us sitting in the living room and telling stories after finding Duchess.
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