Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Missing Dog Report

I've just gone through 17 of the worst hours of my life.

While watering the plants and lawn out front yesterday evening, I had both dogs with me. Hoover rolled in a clump of moss while Lincoln feasted on the first fallen apple of the season—unripe but he's never been a picky eater. I continued watering at the side of the house while glancing over at the neighbor's yard where my dogs like to wander. No wandering this time. Or so I thought. After soaking the daisies for no more than ten minutes, I hauled the hose back to the front and both dogs were gone.

I called and Hoover came back quickly but not Lincoln. As Hoover had emerged from behind the house across the street—his first foray there, to my knowledge—I checked there for the other one. There was only a narrow tract of land, followed by a drop-off and a ravine with extensive undergrowth. Lincoln has weak legs and stumbles frequently. Could he have fallen down there?

I called his name and got no response. (But then again, Lincoln's hearing has faded dramatically in recent months.) I zipped back to the street, ran up the hill and scanned the other yards. No Lincoln. I slid down the ravine, wrestled the rampant blackberry bushes with all their unwelcoming thorns. No Lincoln.

I climbed back up and ran along a hiking trail at the end of my street. Startled a few songbirds, but my search was fruitless. I ran back to the house and took off in the car, searching throughout the neighborhood. Nothing.

My dog with weak legs, bad hearing AND poor vision had vanished. How could he get so far from home in so short a time? This is a dog that stops to sniff EVERYTHING. "Hurry" means zilch to him. If he were granted a Wild Card entry into a snail race, I'd give Eduard the Escargot the edge. I tried to stay calm. Which bush had he crawled under and lost his bearings? Whose doorstep was he standing outside of, confused again as he'd gotten that one time a few months back on an evening walk?

People always say, "Relax" at a time when only zombies and heavily tranquilized individuals could reasonably be expected to follow the directive. It's no different when the advice comes from within. It was 7:30 p.m. and time was of the essence. My neighborhood is surrounded by wooded areas. I hear coyotes howling nightly from somewhere in the forest each night and a sign warns hikers of a bear sighting at the entry to the closest trail. Cougars are also reported a few times a year. Along the nearby shoreline are a busy ferry terminal and a two-lane highway—not heavily used but the logging trucks and always-speeding mill workers in pickup trucks cannot break quickly for a darting animal. Relaxing was impossible with so many dangerous possibilities.

I combed ravines, hiked plenty of trails and walked through a sewage drain desperately searching for Lincoln. I stopped evening walkers. No sign of my twelve-year-old schnauzer. By 10 p.m., it was too dark to continue foraging in the forest. I drove ridiculous distances, repeatedly covering every paved and dirt roadway within a 10-kilometer radius until 1 a.m....just in case. Then, I peppered the neighborhood with Missing Dog signs.

As Hoover obliviously snored louder than ever on the bed, I stood by the wide open window, eyes fixated on the driveway hoping for Lincoln to saunter to the door while my ears listened for a faint bark or a yelp that never came.

Nothing made sense. With all Lincoln's challenges, he is simply not an escape artist. (Besides, he has severe separation anxiety and insists on remaining near me.) With nothing to do but worry until the first light of day, I faced the reality that Lincoln had fallen prey to wildlife. If not right away, what chance did he have of surviving the night? He'd stumble in a rocky area or get stopped by a fallen tree, lie down and wait. Terribly gruesome visions flashed through my mind whenever I'd close my eyes. There he'd be, his puppy dog eyes gazing up, his head continuing with that Parkinson's-like shake as a coyote tracked his scent.

By 5 a.m. I renewed the search, first in the car, covering the roads before the shift change at the mill. Then I crawled back in the ravine, back to the trails, back to the meandering creeks. I searched not only for a frightened, shivering schnauzer, but also for tufts of light grey fur, the remains of an easy hunt.

When it opened, I stopped at the vet in town. The ladies there knew the local protocol—who to call, which kennel took in stray dogs. One of them also knew which animal could make off with a small pet without triggering so much as a yelp in alarm. Cougars, I was told, go for the head of their prey. There would be no opportunity for Lincoln to react. (I'd also read how the animal stalked stealthily, waiting for the perfect moment to attack.) As awful as the thought was, it seemed the most plausible explanation for Lincoln's disappearance. The hunter would identify Lincoln as the weaker of the pair of doggy treats. It could lie in wait until I drifted to the side of the house. The ravine would have been the getaway, with Hoover looking on in bewilderment.

But there were always the What If thoughts. What if Lincoln hadn't fallen prey? What if he'd fallen in a ravine, stumbled away disoriented and was waiting desperately to be found? What if he was wandering aimlessly, wondering why nothing looked familiar? (What would he even see in a new environment with his limited vision? The blurs would be completely foreign.)

A neighbour out for a morning walk with her dog reminded me about her previous pet, a collie, being killed by a bear years ago in her front yard. (On the other side of me, a fellow had his schnauzer killed by a bear in his yard as well.)

I was to blame. I had become too complacent. I'd failed to protect my needy dog.

Despair mounted, but all I could do was keep searching. I now understand the agony of not knowing. I know how difficult it is to wait helplessly in the dark as a search must be halted. The night had been tortuous and, as I desperately trekked wooded pathways, I stopped every ten seconds to call out, "LINCOLN" and to listen for the rustling from my beloved pet, responding to my voice. The whole thing was a needle in a haystack. So much ground to cover. So little chance Lincoln would hear me. (Only hours before he vanished, he'd stood four feet away from me and hopped in the wrong direction when I called his name. Could my calls take him even farther away?)

Finally, at 11:30 a.m., after not hearing back from the SPCA and various kennels, I called back. Once again, I only got a recording from the SPCA. When I left another message, I couldn't recite my phone number. Lack of sleep and the stress of the situation stripped me of even rote memory. At the first kennel, the attendant told me someone had called saying she'd found an old schnauzer sitting in the middle of the highway at 9:30 last night and had taken him home. I broke down. I could let go of all the worst-case scenarios.

It took another hour--busy signals, answering machines, alternate phone numbers--for us to connect. During the wait, I was too restless to stay put. I drove into town and withdrew money from the ATM for a reward. Lincoln had been saved. I made sure I was generous. When I pulled up to the woman's van at a gas station in town, I spotted a small fox-like dog in the front seat. No one would mistake that dog for a schnauzer, would they? She walked me around to the side door, opened it and there he was, resting comfortably in the seat, not looking the least bit distressed. I broke down again as I held him in my arms and felt his little body convulse with happiness. In retrospect, the thank you was too brief. I was in no state to speak.

Lincoln is back home to my great relief. (Even Hoover showed a trace of excitement to see the bossy old guy again.) I keep looking at him, petting him. It's real. He is here. He still shakes my stinky socks in his mouth. He still drinks sloppily from the water dish. He still slides across the laminate floor. I have more time with him. It's the same, but different. I never want to walk in the woods again. Not these woods. The images I envisioned there are too haunting. We'll stick to the beaches...and the fenced in back yard.

For now, it's nap time. Suddenly the visions are better when I close my eyes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


When I adopted my first schnauzer, Lincoln, from the SPCA almost eleven years ago, they told me he had severe separation anxiety. So severe he could NEVER be left alone. No wonder he'd been bounced from shelter to shelter over the course of three weeks before I refused to be scared off. (He had other issues as well: depression—which vanished after a few days with me—,obsessive-compulsive disorder and a neurological issue that made his legs weak, with the front legs curving outward, and gave him Parkinson's-like shakes to the head and upper body.) My friends claim I'm drawn to neediness. Based on my months of volunteering at the SPCA, Lincoln was as needy as they got.

After three years with just him, I thought a companion might alleviate what remained of the separation anxiety. But, with all his issues, I wanted to be sure the new schnauzer pup would not rule the roost, potentially eradicating all the progress I'd made with Lincoln. Thus, when I went to check out a litter, I brought Lincoln in the house with me to see how he'd interact with the puppies. Only two remained available for adoption, both males. One of them was lively and assertive. It was clear this bold pooch would dominate poor Lincoln in no time. The other pup was submissive, sweet and gentle. He seemed the perfect companion. And so I adopted Hoover.

If anything, Hoover must be good for Lincoln's self-esteem. While survival of the fittest may apply in most contexts in the animal world, it does not apply in my household. Lincoln rules. I suppose I'm glad of that. But as I watch them interact, it perplexes me how completely this is the case. Lincoln isn't just the alpha; he's ALPHA—all caps, bold and underlined.

The latest example occurred five minutes ago. I took a shower upon returning home from the gym. When I went to find the dogs, Lincoln was lying inside by the open sliding glass door that leads onto the deck. Hoover was on the deck, looking to come in, but not daring to do so since ALPHA Lincoln denied access. Hoover saw me and wagged his tail. He wanted to come to me, but still wouldn't dare slip by the elder dog. Let me be clear on this. There is nothing Lincoln can possibly do to harm Hoover. Even if Lincoln wanted to chase Hoover as the younger pooch scooched by, it would be too little too late. Lincoln's legs have gotten even weaker with age and it takes great effort to stand from a supine position—especially on my laminate floor. It is not a challenge for Hoover get around him. Yet, based on a doggy sign language that eludes me, Hoover dared not pass. I had to hold Lincoln in place before Hoover would come inside.

The classic example of ALPHA Lincoln occurs every night when it's time for bed. I lift Lincoln onto the bed. (He's NEVER been able to jump on a chair or the bed.) Hoover stands at the doorway to the bedroom and won't enter despite a look on his face that tells me he desperately wants to join me. I call him, but Hoover won't place even a paw on the bedroom floor. As soon as I cover Lincoln's eyes, Hoover runs in and jumps up. Every night, the same routine. And once on the bed, Hoover insists on lying on the opposite side of Lincoln. I have to be between them.

Almost thirteen now, Lincoln's health has declined significantly in recent months. It has no bearing on his alpha status. He is forever ALPHA.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Schnauzers in the Schnow

It snows about three times a year where we live. That makes each occurrence incredibly exciting for the boys (and me).

Over the past week, we have had the greatest snowfall of the four winters we have been on the Sunshine Coast. Lincoln and Hoover have found it a little confusing. They can't seem to get to a tree, bush or sign to piddle on. Now that there are snowbanks, they are leaving yellow markings aplenty.

Hoover is having fun sticking his snout in the snow and tossing the mix in the air. It comes as no surprise that he also finds the snow tasty. (See previously posted Iceman entry.) Lincoln tries to keep within the areas patted down by tire tracks; however, when I call him, he gets too excited and runs in my direction, forgetting to follow the path. Typically, he gets stuck in a mound of snow and awaits my rescue. Clearly, he is not closely related to the alpine St. Bernard!

The adventures take a turn for the worse once we return indoors. With snow clumps clinging to their paws, the dogs are uncomfortable and icy drippings litter the hallway. I used to take a blow dryer to their legs, but a soak in the bathtub is so much quicker. Hoover hates the ordeal, but Lincoln seems oblivious.

Of course, if I edge towards the front door, the excitement begins anew. Simple fun, simply blissful.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Iceman Cometh

Apologies to Eugene O'Neill, but the title came to mind immediately.

My dogs have some odd favorite treats. One such delicacy is ice. It started with the younger one, Hoover. One day while using the icemaker component of my fridge to cool a drink, I pulled the glass away too quickly and several ice fragments fell to the floor. In no time, Hoover was at my feet, crunching the pieces until all were consumed.

As an experiment, I repeated this process the next time I filled my glass. Hoover came running and again devoured the fallen treasures. My Pavlovian dog quickly learned to dash to the kitchen every time I used the icemaker. As a matter of course, I always let a generous amount of ice spill and watched in amusement as Hoover methodically went about the cleanup, always selecting the largest pieces to munch on first.

For years, Lincoln remained disinterested in this routine. It was a strange bonding activity between Hoover and me. However, a couple of months ago, the older dog began to show curiosity in what the fuss was all about. As Hoover would spring into action, Lincoln would saunter over, watch the frantic consumption and sniff the icy shards. In time, I presume most likely as a means of asserting his dominance, Lincoln began licking cubes and then eating a few as well. The larger pieces would often stick to Lincoln's beard and he'd struggle to shake them free before trying again to eat them. Hoover would often cower in the background and I would have slide several cubes his way.

Hoover now takes the largest cube he can find and carries it to the living room carpet where he can eat it without feeling threatened by Lincoln's presence. Today I let some ice spill and Hoover did his regular run for the reward. Lincoln was resting on a chair and, as he cannot jump down on his own, began barking frantically as soon as the icemaker made its first crushing sounds. He continued to bark and jump about the seat until I let him down. Lincoln then raced to the treat site, sliding gooney bird-style into the treasure trove.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Carnivore, Herbivore?

Each of my schnauzers has a distinct personality. Hoover, in the middle photo, is my snake chaser. This is one of his favourite bushes to sniff out the slithering creatures. I just hope he doesn't try to eat one. At the moment, he seems too timid for that. He is as startled as they are when their paths cross. Thank goodness for that!

Lincoln, on the other hand, has added apples to his Treat Menu. Usually I have to worry about him running off and chasing a car or a toddler when he is in the front yard. With the apples ripe and falling from the tree, he is now content to sniff out the fruit and feast away. Three days ago, he discovered the ripened blackberries in the bushes out back. I'll try to get a photo. It seems my vegetarian ways are rubbing off on at least one of the dogs.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Yet Another Dog Blog?!

Yep. We love our dogs, don't we? I have other blogs up and running and hadn't planned on a dog blog until this evening. My older schnauzer, Lincoln, decided to eat his dinner a little differently. (If you eat the same food day in, day out, I suppose eventually you figure out a way to add some zing to the process.) Take a look at the picture.

Lincoln is a funny eater as it is. He loves to stick his snout in his dish and stir up the kibbles, flipping them out of the container into piles on the floor. (The piles remind me of The Blair Witch Project. But not in a creepy way.) I was in my home office and I could hear him moving kibble. When I popped in, he had tipped the dish sideways and plopped a toy on top. I'd say the toy was his garnish, wouldn't you? Chef Lincoln. Who knew?!

Bon appetit!