You see them all the time, taped to lampposts at the street corners, dog run fences, pet store bulletin boards, the waiting room at the vet's. You see the photo and you wince. Even if the dreaded words LOST DOG don't appear over it, you already know what the words down beneath it will read. Our dog is missing. We'll give you money if you find him. Please call us if you see him. We miss him so much.
And you know, right that very moment, that you'd never take a penny of their money, not even if they begged you--that isn't the reward you want. You know that if by some miracle that dog came trotting up to you and your dog, looking scared and hungry, you'd find some way to keep him from getting away again, call that number, get him back to his people, and you'd stay warm inside all winter, remembering the joyful frantic tear-stained reunion you'd brought about. It's every dog lover's secret fantasy.
But you've been through this too many times before to buy into the dream. You know you'll never see that dog. You'll never know what happened to him, or her. You'll watch that flyer get rain-sodden and fall off the lamppost--or if they put it in a plastic sheathe, you'll see it for months, the picture a little more faded every week, until it just disappears. You'll hope that the dog was found (and feel a little irritated that nobody ever puts up WE FOUND OUR DOG! flyers). But that would be the best-case scenario, and how often do those ever pan out? You know the dog was never found.
People also get lost, and you see those posters sometimes as well, and you don't always find out what happened in those cases either, and you don't even want to think about how devastating that would be. But for someone who knows and loves dogs, there's something uniquely poignant about a missing pooch--because the dog can't tell anyone his name, where he lives, who his people are. He carries all that knowledge inside of him, but doesn't know what to do with it, how to apply it. He wants more than anything to go home, and tries desperately to get there, but he just can't figure out how, and usually only succeeds in getting more lost than he already was.
Some dogs, to be sure, can find their way home better than any human, but we've bred a lot of that self-reliance out of our pets in our quest to make them more 'manageable', and "The Incredible Journey" is precisely that. The normal journey for a lost dog in a city is further and further away from home, until all hope is gone. Or nearly all.
My friend Dawn emailed me on December 10th--almost precisely a year since she'd emailed me about Max, her aunt's dog, needing a home. This was about a dog who already had a home--then somehow managed to mislay it--
There is a missing dog that was spotted in [Central] park about a week ago (dog has been missing since November 29th). Here is the owner's info in case anyone in the area spots him again---he is a friendly dog and the owners are heartbroken, they've been going to the AC&C daily hoping that someone will turn him in. He was also spotted on West End Avenue.
The flyer she emailed me had the photo I've put up top, and these too-familiar words--
Last Seen at 51st and Eighth Avenue
Thursday, November 29th, 2007
If you’ve seen him, please contact Eilis (pronounced A-lish)
Lost Dog flyers aren't just on lampposts anymore, you see. Lost Dogs have invaded the internet, gone digital on us. These flyers never get rainsodden, the photos never fade with age, and they reach a lot more people, a lot more quickly. But you still don't usually hear the ending of the story. Not usually.
I couldn't really offer any help with regards to Tenaby, living well uptown from where he was lost. My handful of blog readers don't take their dogs to Central Park. But that wasn't the only reason I didn't do anything. I have to admit, I just didn't want to get involved in a lost dog story again.
A few months earlier, not long before I started this blog, I'd tried to spread the word about a lost female Shepherd Mix--her owner had approached me on the very block we live, holding flyers with the image of a dog who looked like Max, who was standing next to me. She looked at him like she was ready to cry--"I lost mine", she told me sadly. The dog's name was Lea. It was summer, and kids were setting off firecrackers everywhere, constantly--apparently Lea had been startled by the noise, and ran out the door of the street level apartment she lived in. Shepherds can be very nervous--thankfully, Max isn't so easily freaked by loud noises.
I still don't know what happened. I've never seen the woman since. I didn't feel comfortable about calling her, just to ask. I posted the information online, mentioned Lea to other people with dogs, watched the flyers get rain-sodden and faded.
A few weeks later, I had Max at the Rocky Run, and two young woman passing by stopped and asked me where I got him. They thought he might be Lea. He really did look a lot like the dog in the flyer. With one minor anatomical difference, which they had apparently missed. I didn't mind a bit. At least they cared enough to ask. I assume they never heard the ending of Lea's story either. There probably was no ending. There probably never will be.
But there's an ending to Tenaby's story. My friend relayed it to me. Want to hear it? You sure? Lost dog stories can end very badly. We just heard about a beagle named Olive, who got out of the J. Hood Wright dog run, and somehow ended up in Highbridge Park, where she was killed by a pack of feral dogs. At least it's an ending. As scripted by Quentin Tarantino, or whoever wrote that "I Am Legend" movie.
But I wouldn't give you that kind of an ending. Not at this time of the year.
Here's how Eilis Cahill (who has appeared in several independently made films) rewarded the people who had helped her spread the word about Tenaby--and a handsome reward it was.
To everyone who took the time to help me find my dog,
I HAVE TENABY HOME!
This could not have happened without the kindness of all you strangers. You are each a hero to me. The tip that led me straight to him was from someone responding to a flyer.
Some of you called to report sightings, some called to advise us on where to look, where to post, and who to contact.
Some of you printed and posted flyers, taking your own time to help people and a pet you'd never met before.
I cannot thank any one of you enough. Please consider me, Eilis, someone who would love to do you a favor. I am a young actress, so I can't offer much of a financial award, but here are things I would like you to call me for if you're ever in a jam- or not! Free babysitting, pet-sitting, house-sitting, closet-organizing, party-prep or cleaning of your home, anything an able-bodied, computer-literate person with tons of childcare experience might be able to help you with. Email anytime.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Below is the story of how I found Tenaby, and a little info on how he's doing now.
THE DAY I FOUND MY DOG
Tuesday, December 11th
I was at the post-office when I received a voice message from Bea, a woman who said she had information on a 'possible Tenaby sighting' at the waterfront park near Trump Towers. What made my heart jump at the message was that the sighting had been that morning. Many people had called to say they'd seen him the previous week or the day he ran away.
In the message, Bea said she saw a very skinny stray black dog who seemed to be living under the overpass. She said she saw a girl feeding him, mentioning that she'd been bringing him food for a week.
I ran out of the building, jumped into a cab, and headed west. That ride seemed to take hours. I ended up cutting it short and jumping out because I was sure I could run there faster.
When I reached the area I called Bea, who told me to go to 68th St, and to walk down the stairway going to the promenade on the river. She said there was an area with large dirt piles and weeds near the steps, and this was where she'd seen him. I followed her directions. I reached the park, walked past the playground, down the steps, along the path, toward the water.
I still can't believe what happened next.
It is as simple as this. I called his name, and he came to me. It looked like he materialized from the tall grass. He ran to me, crying. I dropped to the ground, beside myself, and tried to hug him as he kept jumping on me and licking my face. We were both whimpering. I was stunned, and terrified that it was another dream and I would soon wake up and find that he was still lost.
The only thing that assured me it was real was how thin and dirty he was. My heart broke again when I put the leash on and saw how small his neck had become. Since I lost him it had snowed twice and rained even more. It was very painful to imagine where he had been during the harsh weather. We made it up the steps before we had to stop and pet and hug each other all over again.
It took ages to get home. We stopped by a pet store for two tons of food and a bath. Tenaby drank two bowls of water, one after the other, and then most of a third. I was thrilled to find that he still loves other dogs, without exception. I'd been afraid he would suffer traumatizing experiences and be different when we found him. He may have suffered, but he is still himself! His all-loving, happy self.
If I read this in a storybook or saw it in a movie, I would find it all too sugary sweet to believe, but here I am, at home with my beautiful, sweet, resilient, grateful and happy dog, I believe in miracles, I'm charged to the brim with respect and love for New York, where perfect strangers saved my dog's life. And by proxy, mine!
Thank you, New York City.
And a special thanks to Bea, whose incredible intuition, generosity and compassion for dogs orchestrated this miracle. Bea is a dog-walker, and I'm bringing Tenaby to meet her on Saturday. She said she saw him, knew she had seen a flyer and could maybe find his owner, and looked up at the sky saying "Please, give me this." She is thrilled, ecstatic and relieved, saying this great luck made her week. She seems to think she's the lucky one!
Bea IS the lucky one. She lived the fantasy. She can be out in subzero windchills, and she'll still feel warm inside. All winter long.
So if you've lost your dog, don't give up hope. But also, if you dream of someday reuniting a heartbroken fellow dog-lover with his or her best friend--it's not just a fantasy. It can happen for real. Keep the dream alive. And have a great holiday.