One morning, four weeks ago, I lost my mother’s dog. We were walking down a farm track, and when I got to the car found I had just one dog, her brother. Meg has a long-standing habit of just disappearing without warning. One minute she is there and the next she is just gone. She seems to suffer from panic attacks. At the best of times she is timid, terrified of people even. If she can find her way home she will. In the past she has travelled up to six miles, crossed main roads and held up traffic. Avoiding people, she prefers to stick to the countryside and the most anyone is likely to see is the retreating form of a little black collie with a white tail. But on this particular morning we were far from home.
I called but the wind was strong. Being near a farm I hoped she would be seen by someone out in the fields and spoke to everyone I met. When I came back later, someone thought they had seen her at the top of the lane where the farm borders open countryside. But a further search that evening proved fruitless.
The following morning I resumed the search. We were now very worried, she has never disappeared for more than twelve hours. I drove down lanes behind the farm and the next village. No one had seen her. I was searching for a needle in a haystack. I dutifully put up notices in both villages, phoned dog wardens in two counties, phoned the local vet and sent round an e-mail of Meg’s photo. Nothing. Not even a sighting. Over the next few days we still hoped. My mother came home. She was very nice about it and didn’t blame me, but we could all see how upset she was.
Losing a dog is just awful. It’s the terrible sense of not knowing what has happened. They still exist, somewhere, alive or dead. But they are not missing persons. Once they are gone, they are gone. No amount of concern or worrying will help.
I made up stories to comfort the children. She is a highly resourceful, intelligent dog. I told them that she would be living a very different kind of life now, wild in the woods, or that she might have found a kind old lady who would leave food out for her. They didn’t go for that one: ‘Meg doesn’t like people, she won’t go near them’ said my daughter.
‘And if she is living in the woods, what will she eat?’ they asked. I couldn’t think of an answer to that one. Meg was a little overweight and hardly likely to catch a rabbit. I imagined her getting thinner and thinner, weakened by parasites, her coat matted, her eyes hollow, trailing across the countryside, exhausted, forever seeking her home.
After three weeks, we all knew she was not coming back. Yet every day we were reminded of her absence by the fact that we still had one dog, her brother. At my mother’s house he would leap out of the car in anticipation. Then, seeing no sister waiting at the gate, his tail would drop. I flashed back to the day we brought them home as puppies and my stomach lurched.
And then, a miracle. A phone call from a lady called Jean, living by a golf course three miles from where Meg had disappeared. Early that morning she had met a fellow dog-walker whose two spaniels had plunged into a thicket, emerging on the tail of a small black dog. It ran away, but the owner went into the thicket himself and found the dog had made a nest among the bracken. He told Jean he thought the dog was living rough, and went on his way. Jean phoned the only vet to whom I had reported Meg missing, the nearest one to her disappearance.
Rushing to the scene, I thought the next bit would be easy. But my hopes fell when I heard that the sighting was two hours ago. I walked around whistling and calling for the next half an hour but the place was besieged with golfers and Meg appeared to have moved on.
Later Jean called again and said that other people she had spoken to had also seen her in the area. I went back the next day, whistling and calling but still no sign of Meg. If she was round there she would surely hear my long range whistle, maybe she was ranging a much wider area and could not hear. My best chance was to come early in the morning when all was quiet and there were no other humans in earshot scare her off.
Spurred on by the hope of all the sightings, I set off in the dark next morning. Walking past the thicket where the man had seen her and making a wide half mile circle all around that part of the golf course. Nothing. Still calling, I was heading back towards the car near a place where Jean had seen her. I glanced between the trees but saw nothing. Suddenly there was a rustle and the sound of thundering paws on woodland floor. A little black ball was hurtling towards me so fast that I could not actually focus on it. Meg. She couldn’t believe it either, she rushed towards her brother and then rushed back, rolling on her back and squirming at my feet. She was a lot thinner, but her skin still rippled over her rib cage like a dog in perfect condition.
As we headed towards the car, she constantly looked over her shoulder. And sitting under my desk at work she whimpered periodically. It must have been strange for her too. Living wild for three weeks, foraging for food, running from people, feeling hungry. Then one day hearing us and then suddenly seeing us once more, and finally breaking cover when we came into view. Welcome home Meg. And a huge thank you to all who helped us find her.