Lost and Found: What to do when you lose your dog

It’s our worst nightmare, isn’t it? To lose a dog. To have Rosie or Harold disappear, I can’t breathe when that happens. Rarely is Harold out of my sight but it happens. With that mama’s boy, he’s usually close enough to return within minutes. Rosie though? Ah, she ran off once.

A cold November afternoon, we’d gone for a walk in the nearby mountains. Up to the crest and looking over to the Jemez in the far distance, we scrambled through the cactus and rocks. Incredible. Worth puffing and panting. With the sun dropping towards the Sandias and the temperature following along for a ride, I headed back downhill. A whistle and followed by a jangle of dog tags, I didn’t worry. It was only when we were within a half a mile of the truck that I noticed it was only Harold coming along. Rosie? Nowhere to be seen or heard. Rosie! I screamed, yelled, cajoled, clapped hands, and threatened to leave her. Nothing worked. The sun was low in the clouds. It was cold, did I mention that? Suddenly my bravado failed. I stormed uphill, along the trail, calling her name more and more desperately. Nothing. Back down to the truck with Harold within reach, I found I’d left the phone back at home. Shit. Now what? I couldn’t call my friends or neighbors to help search. Shit. What to do? Harold sat in the front seat. I started the engine and waited as sometimes that helps get her attention. Nope. Nothing. It was getting colder. Panicked, I threw my coat under a juniper near the truck with a bowl of water and a toy of hers. Then I drove home and got the phone. A stressed call to Mo and Katie. They met me back at the mountain driveway. I set off uphill, Katie went sideways and Mo held the fort.

Nothing. I strode back down to the truck to see Rosie running towards us with half a rabbit in her mouth. “Be happy to see her,” reminded Mo, “don’t be angry.”

Rosie. Rosie. Rosie. You little bugger. “Hi, honey, did you have fun?” Wag. Wag. Seethe. Breathe.

Last week, on FB a friend posted, “Javier is missing! Please look out for him.” My poor friends had just adopted this foundling from a rescue, he’d only been with them for a week, less. Javier, a small pittie-mix with white fur and black patches and the most adorable underbite. He’d run off one afternoon. Into the hills behind town, where the coyotes live. And yes, the sun was setting and it’s a cold February afternoon. Shit. I drove down to see my friends, to offer help and suggestions. On the way, I’d walked the ridge line with Harold and Rosie, calling Javier, and searching the mesa for a little white blob in the distance. Nothing. No luck.

Back at their home, we sat on the porch and talked. She was terrified, feeling guilty, and lost. I start throwing out ideas, all those suggestions I’ve known from working at a shelter and helping local rescues over the last years. I described how the adrenalin takes the dog fast and uncontrolled until they just can’t maintain that level of panic. The dog will then stop, catch its breath and hide until the adrenalin leaves the system. From what I understand, the pup will then backtrack, using its own scented trail and return to the last place he’d been. The car? The crash? The home or yard you’d been visiting? Scent is key, he’ll backtrack. What do we do with that information though? Does it really help?

Yes, and here are some ideas.

  • Leave a blanket or coat of yours at the place you last saw your dog. It will give him a grounding point, something familiar in a scary situation.
  • Hide the blanket under a tree, within some shrubs perhaps? Make it a safe haven.
  • If you can, leave your own vehicle there, again, it’s a point of reference.
  • Talk to the neighborhood near where you last saw him. Give them your number and ask them to keep an eye on your blanket but don’t react, just call, if the pup shows up.
  • Leave a bowl of water and food if you can.
  • Call your friends, let them help. We want to, we will. It’s not an imposition. Honest.
  • Use social media, and again, tell your community, give them photos and phone numbers, however private a person you are – it doesn’t matter! Reach out.
  • Are you close to home? Close enough to walk back and forth a few times to create a scented trail home? Do it.
  • If you are, then you can also do this. It’s weird but it works. You know how I keep mentioning scent? Well, go home and fill a bucket with your dog’s poop. Then create a trail home with a scattering of dried up poop. Yep, it works. It’ll make you laugh too…
  • Leave the gate to your yard propped open, a blanket and bowl of food and another of water outside, just incase you finally do fall asleep.

All talked out with my heartbroken friends, I headed home. It was a full moon, an evening of coyotes yipping across town, and I knew that my friends wouldn’t be able to sleep well. We’d done what we could. We waited.

I made coffee at home in the morning and then checked my phone. Javier was home. He’d eaten all the food on the porch, and let himself into the studio. He was tired, safe, and in one piece with paws full of cacti spines.

Javier was home.


5 thoughts on “Lost and Found: What to do when you lose your dog

  1. It is TERRIFYING. The worst part, with my boy, is that he’s not afraid of anything; I’m pretty sure he’d walk right up to a coyote & say hi! Who’re you?

    The one time he was lost overnight (AAAAAAAAAAAAA) he came home safe the next morning, pretending like everything was Just Fine Mom Why Do You Smell Like You Didn’t Sleep, with a faceful of cactus spines. When I picked him up, though, I could smell the fear scent on him. I don’t know what he tangled with (well, other than prickly pear) but for once, he was actually afraid.

    …which hasn’t stopped him from figuring out how to open one of the window screens to do it again. Fortunately that time was morning & I found him within half an hour.



  2. Beautifully written as usual. So many of us have had similar experiences and you covered all the emotions. I too was part of the neighborhood of people worried about Javier and so glad you were there to help comfort a friend. Thanks also for the sage advise for all us for the next time it happens with another loved animal friend


  3. Hi Sarah! It’s Susan from Expo West. I hope this message finds you and your sweet pups and cat doing well. I’m sure you are super busy getting ready for the move. I have a few photos of Land Rovers from the Expo if you need them.

    Liked by 1 person

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