(post by liza)
Last night was the most emotionally and physically trying night of our married life. We had a near-tragedy, which was only adverted by intervention which was beyond our control. We both feel extremely lucky today, and very thankful.
Last night was Wicket’s 4th doggie class. Things had been going so well in his class that we really felt like Wicket was coming a long way with sitting, staying, and even the recall command. We were so proud of him, but the one area that we knew he needed work was in his comfort level with Tony. He still seemed distracted by me at Doggie class, and really wasn’t interested in listening to Tony during class. So, I had the *bright* idea that perhaps Wicket would do better at class if I dropped them off. If Wicket didn’t see me LEAVE the class, meaning I let Tony and Wicket out of the car and then I drove away for awhile, I thought that he would do better during the class because he would be less distracted and able to focus more. So, that’s what we did. We drove to the city like usual and at in the food court at Eden Prairie Center like we usually did. Then, we drove over to the Petco and pulled up in front of the store. Tony got out of the van with Wicket and I got the in driver’s seat. He went inside, and I drove over to the Target that was in the mall. I spent about twenty minutes at Target before I got back into the van to head back to the Petco.
I knew something was wrong the moment I parked the car and walked towards the door. Standing right inside the automatic sliding door was our dog trainer, Zack, and another woman who had a husky dog in the class. I smiled at them, and they just looked at me. Then, the lady said “Wicket ran away, and your husband ran after him.”
I thought my heart was going to stop, and then I immediately went into emergency mode. I knew a couple of things right off the bat. First of all, our dogs are runners. They come from the Northern breeds – the breeds who have running in their blood and who loved to do nothing BUT run. When we take them to (enclosed) dog parks, we always laugh at how they run so fast it appears that their feet are moving independently from their bodies. I also knew that Wicket is a very scared, VERY skittish dog, a result of being raised for the first 8 months of his life in a kennel situation with hardly any human contact, and very little contact with other dogs. A quick look around me told me something of the lay out of the area. If you’ve never been to Eden Prairie, you can think about any shopping/commercial district anywhere in the cities. The Petco is in a strip mall across a road from Eden Prairie Center. Surrounding the buildings are quite a few huge roads. 212 goes right past the area, and 494 is very close by. There are frontage roads, regular roads, and highways all within walking distance. Stores, hotels, restaurants, and also several heavily wooded areas – a couple of nature preserves. It was hands down, the worst possible area for a dog to get lost, especially a scared dog. We were more than 50 miles away from our home, in an area that he only knew going from the parking lot to the inside of the store.
I found out later that what had happened was that Tony had been in the aisle of the store with him, which is the way that all Petco dog training classes are conducted. He’d been working on the same commands that Wicket’s been doing (and doing well) for the last few weeks. Sitting, staying, etc. Tony was doing exactly what we always did. After he’d given the sit and stay commands, he dropped the leash to walk away a few feet – like we’d been doing for weeks with no problems. However, after he did this and said “stay”, Wicket got up instead and walked towards the end of the aisle. He left the aisle, and at that point he saw the big German Shepard that he just doesn’t like – the one that always scares him when we go to class. Tony said that he took one look at that other dog, and walked towards the exit. He was going to take a turn towards the cashier, but at that moment a customer came around the corner and spooked him, sending him directly towards the doors – which, at Petcos, open automatically when the sensor sees anything in front of them. The door opened, and Wicket ran out into the night. Tony said that a security guard tried to help him right away – as Wicket was wandering amongst the cars in the parking lot, but the security guard was another male voice that Wicket didn’t recognize, and he soon bolted from the parking lot and headed across one of the roads. Tony went after him – without a coat, or his phone, and he’d been gone for about ten minutes when I showed up at the Petco.
I really didn’t know what to do after they told me Wicket had run away – but they were able to point me in the direction that Tony had gone. I thought about taking the van ,but I realized that I didn’t know my way around the area very well, and crisscrossing roads would be very difficult. So, I went on foot in the direction that they had gone. I headed across the parking lot, through a ditch, and was about to cross a road when I caught a glimpse of Tony out of the corner of my eye – across another road, through a huge parking lot. He was waving at me, so I hurried to meet him. He said that he’d lost sight of Wicket around a few more corners and around the side of a hotel, and was coming back to find me. Together, we went in the direction he’d last seen him. He told me along the way that people had been stopping in their cars to tell him that they’d seen a dog running this way or that way, and also that at one point Wicket had stopped traffic by running out into the middle of a road and stopping. Tony tried to get close enough to him at that point, but he’d gotten scared again and taken off across the street once more.
We followed Tony’s back trail and came up on a parking garage. It was starting to snow heavily by this time, as it had been snowing lightly for about a half hour before that. I thought that maybe Wicket had sought shelter in the parking garage, so I told Tony to guard the entrance, and I would go on ahead to see if I could pick up a trail or see any sight of him. I just kept telling myself that we would find him, that there would be no way that we’d have to go home without him. I kept telling myself that there would be help, that we’d get the help we needed, and we’d find our dog. I did not allow myself to think of the possibility that we wouldn’t.
After I left Tony by the parking garage, I walked up a hill and was faced with a couple of choices. To my right was a path leading into some woods. Across the street were a bunch of residential houses and huge snow banks. I had no idea where the dog would have gone – or if he had even come in that direction. At any rate, I crossed the street towards the houses, thinking that maybe he wanted to find a house – our house – and be home again. After I crossed the street I realized there there were so many directions that he could have gone in, and I had no idea where he would be. I also had no idea where I was – I’d lost track of where 212 and 494 were – lost track of the Petco and the direction from which I’d come. So, I said out loud ” I need help. I don’t know where to go. I know that we’re going to find him, but I need help right now”. Then, I raised my voice and shouted Wicket’s name.
And he barked. I heard his sharp bark from across the street, back in the direction from which I’d come. He was off to the right, in the wooded area. Twice more I shouted his name and twice more he barked for me. I knew that I was at least on the right trail. I headed back across the road and shouted to Tony that I knew which direction to go in.
The next half hour or so is pretty much a blur. Sometimes we saw Wicket ahead of us – running along the side of streets, or on the top of hills in the woods. I kept seeing him way off in the distance, but by the time I ran through ditches and knee deep snow he was gone again so I could only keep following where I knew he’d gone. Tony was well behind me, thinking that if I came across him I’d be able to get him to come to me, but that Tony might spook him even more. At one point, I realized that we were entering a nature preserve, and walking along what looked like a bike or running trail. This is where I could see his tracks – doggie tracks with the distinct drag track of a leash in the snow. So I kept following those. At one point I got so exhausted and realized that I had been holding my purse against my side for the last 45 minutes, trudging through the snow in my sneakers, pants, and casual winter coat. I dropped my purse in the direct center of the path, knowing that my husband would pick it up as he came across it.
Wicket’s trail led us to the bottom of a valley in the nature preserve, in a place where there was a huge transformer, many trees, and lots of undergrowth. Then, it simply stopped. The trail stopped by a log in the snow, and we couldn’t find it, no matter how hard we looked.
We climbed up a steep embankment to get out of the nature preserve, and this was when I decided that we needed more help. I knew that we could no longer find him on our own, because the trail was missing and we had no idea where he could have gone. I noticed that while I’d been searching, the Petco had called my cell phone. I called them back to see if they had heard anything, and asked if there were numbers for animal control or the police that I could call. Since I was out there in the middle of nowhere, with no idea of where we were, and no way to write down numbers, the woman suggested that I call 911 for help.
Which I did. The first thing I did was apologize for calling 911. But, after I had explained the situation to the woman on the other end, she was extremely helpful and told me that if I could tell her a little bit about where I was she’d send a police officer and animal control to me. All I could tell her was that I was near the parking lot of a Costco – which is the same thing I’d told the cashier at Petco. The dispatcher told me she was sending someone. Meanwhile, the snow was coming down harder, and the wind was picking up. We were standing in a Costco parking lot, finally realizing how cold we were, and feeling very hopeless. I still refused to let myself believe that we’d have anything other than a happy ending, however. I felt that if I only believed hard enough that it would work out – it would.
About that time, Zack, our dog trainer, showed up in the parking lot of the Costco. We decided that he would take Tony back to the store to get the van, and I would wait for the police. They left, and eventually animal control showed up. I talked to both a deputy in an unmarked pick up, and an actual animal control officer in a truck. The latter put me in the passenger seat of his truck and told me that I shouldn’t worry – they almost always find lost dogs in the city. Tony called me at about that time, to ask me if I had the van keys in my pocket – which of course I did. So I told him to stay put, and the animal control officer would take me back to the store.
We decided to backtrack our trail though, on the way back, just to see if anything turned up. When we got close to the nature preserve, I saw that the deputy had pulled his truck into it and was wandering around, shining his flashlight. This made me feel very good, because I realized that we did now have help, and that we were no longer looking alone. The officer I was with continued to drive, and thought the same thing I did about the parking garage once we got to it. He was about to pull in to have a look when a car drove right up along side us and rolled down their windows. It was a man and a woman and she said “are you looking for a dog? We just chased one into the wooded area by the fire department”. The animal control officer thanked them and took off for that area. I still have no idea where it was – but when we pulled in his headlights shone up this huge embankment to a line of trees, and standing in the headlights, I saw Wicket.
I jumped out of the truck before it had stopped, and ran as fast as I could up the embankment. When I got to the top, he was nowhere in sight. But, I could see that there was a long line of trees that extended perpendicular to where I stood. On one side, my side, was an embankment that led back down to the fire department. The trees stretched for a few hundred yards in both directions, but behind the trees I could see a fence, which meant that Wicket would not have been able to escape in that direction. Good thing too, as 494 was beyond the fence.
I walked for a little ways towards the trees, calling for him softly. The officer had gone in the other direction ,and was going to circle back around to meet up with me. Suddenly, Wicket was there, standing right in front of me. He was about 10 feet away, looking at me, trying to figure out if I was who he thought I was. Instead of moving towards him, I dropped to my knees in the snow and called to him in my sweetest “mama” voice. he looked at me, started to grin his doggie grin, and ran right to me. I was able to catch his leash, but instead of taking any chances I scooped him up and carried him back to the truck.
He was covered in snow and ice from head to foot. One of the pads on his foot was cracked open and bleeding. Also, the growth on his foot that we are getting removed on Monday was opened a little bit and bleeding as well. But, other than that, he was perfectly fine. The officer drove me back to the Petco, where Tony was waiting for us.
We were out in the snow for about an hour and a half, and estimate that we chased him about three miles around the area, across roads, up and down embankments, and in deep snow. By the time we got home we were soaked from head to toe, and driving in a fierce blizzard. We are all very sore today. Tony and I have trouble walking up and down the steps. Wicket is taking lots of naps and not quite back to bounding around like usual. He is quite reserved and seems to simply want to sleep near me. His foot looks much better though, and he’s not limping at all.
We are counting our blessings today – that is for sure. We are so grateful for the fact that we were indeed, not alone. We had help, and we had faith, and it carried us through an extremely traumatic night. Anyone who knows us knows that these dogs are our babies – and we are so grateful that we were able to bring Wicket home, safe and sound.
We’re not quite sure if he’ll be going to doggie class again next week. I think he’s made his point perfectly clear as to how he feels about it….