It's been a very challenging winter, and there have been quite a few stories going around social media lately about dogs going missing in the snow, particularly senior dogs.
I'm usually the one who screams the loudest with outrage that anyone could lose their dog or let their dog out of their sight. How could people be so careless, so irresponsible.... bla bla bla???
And then, it happened to us.
If it were not for the quick action of my boyfriend, Gil, this story would have had a very different ending. I would be writing a very different blog post tonight (or, more accurately, I'd be in the psych ward!). I could be posting pictures of Hobie and to Facebook and Twitter, pleading for help in finding our beloved mutt, scouring the woods day and night. But instead, Hobie is home, safe and sound, with the rest of the family, in our warm, cozy (that's code for "too-small") house.
How did this happen, anyway?
When Gil got home from work, he let the dogs into the fully-fenced backyard as he always does. I usually arrive home two or three hours after Gil. After a few minutes, like all good parents, he realized thing were a little quieter than usual. When he went to investigate, sure enough he discovered nobody was in the back yard. He went to the front of the house, and there were Cooper and Charlie, playing in the driveway. Good boys! They hadn't run away, and they had stayed away from the frozen lake! But Hobie was not with them.
Gil grabbed a flashlight, put the twins in the house, and walked up and down our snow-and-ice-covered dirt road, searching for Hobie. With no sign of the dog in any of the usual spots, or out on the frozen lake (thank goodness for that part), Gil hopped in the pickup truck and decided to drive the neighborhood looking for the Hobester. At the end of our dirt road, where it meets the main road to Worcester; there, to the left, walking towards the bridge, the forest and the highway, was Hobie. Gil drove up, parked the truck just before the bridge, and got out. When he grabbed Hobie's collar, the collar came right off Hobie's head! To make matters worse, Hobie seemed completely disoriented, did not recognize Gil, could not hear or see Gil, and had obviously lost his way home. If he was using his nose, it wouldn't have helped much, since everything is covered in 10,000 feet of snow (ok, I exaggerate, but it sure seems like 10,000 feet!).
I looked at that same section of road tonight on my way home, and it is pitch black -- there are no streetlights. We really do live in the middle of nowhere.
Now mind you, this is a somewhat heavily-traveled road for work traffic. It's the main route from "nowhere-ville" to the city of Worcester, with 6-foot-high snowbanks at the moment, and no sidewalks. This all happened in the dark, during the 6 p.m. hour when people who work in the city are coming home.
Gil managed to trot after Hobie, grabbed him and put the collar back on, and then he realized.... "How the heck am I going to get Hobie into the truck? He can't climb anymore." Amazingly, Gil picked up all 80+ pounds of Hobie and put him into the truck's cab, drove back home, and then carried Hobie into the house!
He then asked a neighbor to help check the gates, and that's when the latch was discovered to be "frozen open". I had just checked that latch the day before, and I know it was securely shut. But with all the shoveling and plowing and snow-blowing going on, it got opened again, and not securely latched. We've had a lot of people coming and going around here. But everyone knows the rules -- they're all good friends as well as helpers/workers. They know that "the big thing" is: never let the dogs out, always secure the gates. We do not know exactly what happened, but somehow the latch on the far gate to the back yard, which we cannot see from either entrance to our house, became frozen in the open position. The gate was "closed" but not secured. Any dog could simply push on it with a nose or a paw, and the gate would fly open. And that's exactly what must have happened.
So that's how we (almost) lost our elderly dog in the snow.
Our story has a happy ending. Others are not so lucky.
I've learned two lessons: don't trust anyone else to securely close the gates -- they simply are just not going to do it as diligently as we pet parents do; and 2) don't criticize dog owners who lose their pets -- accidents happen. This could happen to anyone.
Above all, have a plan and make sure everyone in the family has a plan for "if the dogs get loose". When I'm home, it's grab a leash, a handful of dog biscuits, and jog the neighborhood. If the dogs are not in one of four usual "hangouts", go back, get in the car and drive the neighborhood looking for them. Gil knew the plan, and took over in my absence. He's not as used to it as I am, but he knew what to do, and he did it. He's my hero. He loves the animals as much as I do... come to think of it, he may even love them more than I do!