Fourth of July Cautionary Tale

The Fourth of July can be a exciting day for all who celebrate it, but it was a horrifying day for me two years ago. At the end of June 2013 I lost my dog, Charlie. I was visiting a friend and put Charlie in her backyard for about an hour. My friend’s backyard is massive, full of horse stalls and chicken coops-truly a beautiful place to be.  When I went to check on Charlie she was gone! My friend and I looked everywhere to no avail.

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I couldn’t believe that Charlie would leave me. We had never been apart for more than a few hours when I was at school, but I had no evidence that she had been stolen either. So, I went on the hunt. I ran down the street calling her name. I asked anyone in sight if they had seen a little white poodle (although Charlie is a yorkiepoo, she looks more like a poodle). I stayed out until about midnight. My panic deepened when I realized that I had to head back to my other friend’s house (I was currently homeless & staying at a friend’s place), which was across town, in order to print flyers. Charlie’s recent spay surgery and unhealed belly incision was also on my mind. Would Charlie get an infection out in this dirty environment? How could I leave Charlie alone in these dark and dangerous streets? This was a high-traffic area and who knows how many wreckless drivers there were, especially at night. Was Charlie OK? Would she find herself a quiet place to sleep or wait out the night? Reluctantly, I made my way home and prayed that she would be alright. The next day I returned with dozens of printed flyers and posted them on every single pole I passed. I called for her and kept asking people if they had seen her.

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Everyday my search widened as I struggled to maintain the tiny bit of hope I had of finding her. I was paranoid every time I widened my search and walked down a new street. Maybe Charlie was on the street I had visited yesterday? What if she went North, while I headed South? What if she had turned onto the street that I had just left? I constantly backtracked to see if this had happened. What if someone picked her up and took her to their home across town? She was a friendly dog, although she was cautious towards people when I wasn’t around. I was never confident in my decision of which set of streets to march down everyday, but I was steadfast in my efforts. I headed out every morning before the sun was up so that I could be there before traffic hit. I would greet people in the street and inquire, again, about my dog. Soon, residents got accustomed to me and instead of making me ask, they offered the same greeting as I approached, “Nope, I haven’t seen Charlie, but I’ll keep my eye out. I hope you find her.” I grew restless, consumed with anxiety about the whereabouts and well-being of my precious pup. I visited the pound nearly everyday and posted my flyers, handing them out to anyone I passed.

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As the Fourth of July approached I became more panicked. How would Charlie react to all the fireworks? The previous year Charlie was fine with it, but she had been sitting next to me the entire night. How would she react alone and with all those loud noises, bright lights, and drunk people roaming around?  Would those people find her and hurt her? I remembered tales of dogs and cats having fireworks strung to their tails, running in a panic as the fireworks exploded behind them.

Soon my friends started pressuring me to be realistic about the situation. They reminded me of how big Bakersfield was and that since Charlie was such as friendly and pretty dog, there was a good chance that someone had picked her up and wouldn’t want to return her. I became suspicious of everyone and grew too excited every time I saw a little white dog in someone’s window, yard, or arms. I would run to them, screaming Charlie’s name, only to be greeted by a cute, but unfamiliar canine face.

At this time, I was unemployed and looking for work. Although I knew I needed a job, I dreaded getting a call-back because that would mean I would have less time to spend looking for my dog. After a few weeks though, as I was walking down a country road full of small corn fields and orchards, I got a call-back to work at a veterinary hospital. In those few seconds, I thought long and hard about everything that had happened. Were my friends right about moving on? Should I take the job or should I keeping walking down this street posting flyers? I accepted the job offer, knowing what it meant for my search and for my future.

I remember on my first day of work, which started at 8am, I awoke at 5am and started walking the streets in my scrubs, looking and calling out for Charlie. I had a stack of flyers in my purse, the last that I had printed. I planned to post them at the vet hospital later that day, even though the hospital was on the other side of town from where I lost Charlie.  I felt defeated as I walked into the hospital doors, but I knew the value of keeping myself busy during stressful times. Soon I had consumed myself in learning the ropes at work, but every few minutes, as I greeted a client and their pet dog, I would think of my own pup, and wonder when she would finally make her way home. It was especially difficult when clients would bring in their white poodles;they looked so much like Charlie, but the face was always different. I remember when an older woman brought in a Bichon Frise mix and I was certain that it was Charlie. I ran over, but as soon as the dog looked my way I knew it wasn’t Charlie-the eyes weren’t as soulful as Charlie’s-they weren’t my baby girl’s.

A few days after I started working, I was heading home and decided to stop by the pound. I knew it was a hopeless effort, but I had to try. As soon as I walked in the door I saw a line of people, all busy and all holding dogs. Some were turning them in to the shelter while others were adopting. I almost walked out then, certain that when I asked them if they had seen a little white poodle I would be greeted by nothing but sad, sympathetic faces. Even though I held this doubt, my curiosity and undying love for my pet led me to the kennels.

The first kennel held what looked like a bunch of black lab mixes. The next kennel housed light brown All Americans. Who knows what they breeds they were, but they all looked desperate. As I looked left, I saw a flash of white in a nearby kennel, and as I approached I saw that this enclosure held a variety of small dogs. Some were white poodles and a few were chihuahuas. I looked at their faces, but didn’t recognize any. Then I noticed a dusty, off-white poodle behind a chunky chihuahua. The chi held it’s head high, like it was proud to show itself off and recruit a potential owner, but I wasn’t interested. I tried to shoo away the chihuahua so I could get a better glance at the poodle. This poodle looked dirty and depressed. Her head was held low and her face was pointed to the ground. At one point, she looked at the Chihuahua and I caught a glimpse of those beautiful eyes, the ones that were deep and soulful. The eyes that had first caught my attention three years ago, when she was a puppy crawling toward me in the sea of white fluff that was her litter mates.

My heart pounded in my chest and I grabbed the kennel’s chain link fence and called to her. The kennel area was loud, full of barking dogs and inquiring people. I don’t know if she didn’t hear me or she just hadn’t cared, but Charlie didn’t look up at me when I called. I raised my voice and tried again. This time I got her attention and she briefly glanced at me and looked away. I couldn’t believe it-had she forgotten me already?! She didn’t seem to care who I or any other human was or what our intentions were. It was then that other people gathered by the kennel gate. I knew this was my last chance. If anyone else saw her and called a shelter staff member I knew she would be lost forever. I would have to argue and fight to prove that she was mine so that another family couldn’t take her from me. I vowed I wouldn’t lose her again and pleaded with her to come to me. I used the high-pitched voice that I used to greet her with when I got home after school. She cocked her head and turned toward me, curious now. I saw her eyes brighten in an instant and she ran toward the gate. We were both so happy to see each other again!

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I squeezed my fingers through the chain-link fence and she licked my hand all over. I knew I had to leave her again, however briefly, to call the shelter staff to release my dog. It broke my heart and I think Charlie’s too when I walked away from that kennel. She seemed confused and determined not to lose me again. She climbed the kennel fence as I promised I would be back.

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I was afraid I was too late, surely someone was already in line filling out adoption forms for Charlie. My frustration mounted when I saw the long line of people who were ahead of me to talk with the staff. Fortunately, the line moved relatively fast and soon I was at the front, reciting the tale of my lost dog to a young receptionist. The receptionist told me that Charlie had arrived at the shelter 15 minutes before I had. She seemed happy enough to help me, until I told her I didn’t have her medical records with me. I told her to call my vet office so they could vouch for me. The problem was that Charlie had a regular vet in one office, but had been spayed at another vet’s office. Although the regular vet vouched for me right away, the other vet’s office was closed. The shelter receptionist told me that I would have to wait until the shelter vet was able to examine Charlie to ensure that she was, in fact, spayed.

I complied and sat in a chair waiting, but something seemed odd. Why hadn’t the shelter vet examined Charlie when she was first turned into the pound? If he had examined her, why didn’t he notice the fresh scar on her belly? After all, Charlie had been spayed just a few days prior to her getting lost and her belly was still closely shaven. The most disturbing question that popped into my mind was, why was Charlie already up for adoption if she had barely been turned in 15 minutes before I arrived and hadn’t even been medically cleared by the shelter vet? This didn’t seem right. I volunteered at animal shelters and knew that they had a 72 hour hold for each dog to allow for the owner to find the dog, plus a veterinarian had to examine each dog to ensure that it was clear of disease before adopting it out. Why hadn’t this happened? How many other dogs had this happened to? How many lost dogs were adopted out on the same day as they were turned into the shelter? How many worried owners were out there, still searching for their dog, who had been adopted out at the shelter?

I didn’t know the answers to these questions and neither did the shelter receptionist. About an hour later the vet determined that Charlie was spayed (well duh!). Now, I just had to pay the $91 fee to free her from the shelter. Again, I complied, I would have done anything to get my dog back, but this fee did seem absurd. After all, she had barely been there 15 minutes before I arrived and claimed her. Apparently, in those 15 minutes the shelter staff had vaccinated and microchipped her. She was already up to date on her vaccines prior to entering the shelter, but I appreciated the microchip.

Soon enough a staff member brought me my dog and, together, Charlie and I waited for my sister to pick us up. Charlie was in my lap and loving on me as much as I was on her.

Now I’m very careful with Charlie. I keep her microchip info up-to-date, make sure her collar has plenty of tags that identify her and myself, and on Fourth of July I keep her inside. I hope anyone with a dog does the same on and around July 4th.

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