A blog about my life with dogs.......

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pup-Pup! Where are you?!?!

Yes, one of Comets' several names is pup-pup. He also goes by Comie, Com-Com, Puppy Boy and Com-ers. It's a wonder he knows his name at all! I've been working on recall with Comet since he was 12 weeks old. At 18 weeks I started taking him to my grandparents 10 acre property, together we would forge the snow. Me, trudging in my boots and snow pants, him happily leaping the snow and running circles around me or sniffing at tracks of bird feet. If he ventured too far off I would get his attention, and then make a silly commotion and run in the opposite direction from him as if I just found the most awesome thing ever. When Comet would begin to bound towards me I would say "Come!" in a happy voice and when he arrived to me we would have a party. I would give him a treat, or a few and pull out a super duper special toy like a raccoon tail on a rope, then I would keep running so he could chase it, then let him chew for a minute,then we would move on. When we arrived at the wooded area of the property I would wait until he became distracted from me and I would hide behind a bush or a big tree. Young pups, would rather follow you around then wonder alone and he would quickly begin searching for me When he found me again we would party. After the first time I did this it became very difficult to get far enough away from him to hide at all! He kept his eye on me all the time, and though very curious about everything, chose me over distractions. That was then.

This is now.
About 10 days ago Comet and I were on a hike and he took off. It was all my fault. After nearly 2 years of working on his recall, hiking together, car rides, training classes, trips to and from doggy day care, camping trips together, playing fetch, the list goes on,... I was itching to hike with him no leash attached.

About a month ago I had contact with an old foster dogs' family, everything was going great with them. Camping, hiking, running, all with no leash?!?! Amazing! Wonderful! Wait, why can't I do that!?!?!?
I do my best to hike with my dogs 3-6 times a week. I love it, the fresh air, sunshine and solitude help me feel free and released from the grind of cleaning my house and working my job. Unfortunately my chronic back pain (at age 27!)has begun to put in a vote in all my physical activities. Regular hiking with leashed dogs has been a rough go lately. A lot of the time the dogs are so great, they walk near my side and about 85% of the time I find myself holding the leash loosely with just two fingers. But when Comet gets excited to sniff a tree that was freshly peed on and speeds up in that direction even if the pressure is minimal enough I can still hold the leash with two fingers it sends a zap of pain down my back. I have ended many hikes in tears this year. 2 monthes ago I limited myself to hiking with only 1 dog at time instead of 2, only walk 1 at a time around the neighborhood or on the nature trail(some days I cheat, when I'm feeling good).

Sigh. I'm okay.

10 days ago I was hiking with one dog. Comet. It was a beautiful day. The fall leaves were turning, and the weather was cool but good. The park was empty, what luck! Comet and I claimed the trails as our own and climbed the hills instead of taking the flat paths. The whole hike in I just kept thinking about how much work I have put into his recall. No one else in the park. He tugged against the leash a little to sniff at a bush his nose couldn't reach. I cringed. Pain. I was holding the leash with only one finger. I knelt down on the grassy path and looked up at slope of the hill and back at Comet. I looked at my phone for the time.

"Well, I've got an extra hour to find you if you take off." I said and looked at my handsome fluff ball. I pulled out a bacon treat from my pocket and broke it into 4 pieces. We hit the trail hard. Comet galloped up the hill full speed and circled around at the top and stood looking back at me. We were both panting. I smacked my hands against the grassy ground and called him to me, he ran right into me. We happily hiked along together  for another mile, him running ahead then circling back to me. I reinforced his recall by giving him treats randomly when we came back to me, other times petting him and releasing him, or playing chase. We were the only two beings in the universe! Both our mouths wide open taking in the air as we took the long way up the next hill. I made lots of noise when calling Comet back to me, hoping to keep any wildlife from tempting him. We took the hill. As I moved into the hook in the trail I called Comet back to me and I could see he had taken off further this time. His tail confidently in the air and his nose to the ground, he didn't look up at me. But he turned back in my direction and I exhaled. I squatted to pee behind a bush and clicked my tongue to him as I stood again. Comet was bounding up the hill to me as I heard a rustle to my left. 3 deer determined to get away from both of us stood 10 feet from me and 40 from Comet. I called to Comet. No such luck.
This is how my dog forgot that I existed.
If you are ever in a situation attempting to retrieve a dog, chasing the dog is NOT the right thing to do. Four legs are faster than 2. If you are looking for your lost dog and you see him across a grassy meadow, or whatever the scene may be, kneel down and call to him, lay flat on the ground so he might come investigate you or call to him and run away hoping he will chase you.
There I was, on the highest hill in the park overlooking forest and prairie. Alone. In the distance I could hear brush crackle and leaves whoosh under set of four fast moving feet, until that faded away. I checked the time. I still had my hour. If I spend the entire hour looking for him I will still make it back in time to finish things at home and make it to work on time. I convince myself there is no reason to get upset and hike around to the fence. I think maybe he jumped the fence chasing the deer. Several NO TRESPASSING and PRIVATE PROPERTY signs are nailed to trees. The barb wire fence is old and bent. This fence couldn't stop a blind cow from crossing it. I walk the fence line and see a deer stand in a tree. I call and call.
"Comet! Come here boy!"
"Com, Com! Come on Comers!"
"Pup pup! Where are you?" I click my tongue and scan the forest. Then take a moment to listen. Leaves everywhere. If he were anywhere near here I would here him rustling the leaves.
I move to the open prairie where the sound of his moments would be silent in the soft dry grass.Out in the open prairie the wind is blowing the sound of my voice away. The clock is ticking. I hike fast. Scan the prairie and the forest edge. I call and call, then I listen. Hike fast. Cover ground. I scan the pasture next to the park where 4 horses are swooshing their tails. Grazing.
I'm talking to myself now, trying to keep my spirits up. My hours almost up.
"At least he's not chasing horses!" I gasp and circle the trail and climb the hill again. I call and call. My hour is up. I have to go to work soon. Overnight shift. Work 27 hours in two days with a 3 hour break. Craig takes care of the boys (dogs, I call my pack "the boys") while I'm gone. I have to find him. Now.
I head down the hill picking up speed as I go. Brainstorm. I just read an article in BARK about how to find a lost dog. That was more geared to city dwellers, I think, as I imagine the photos of people in rain parkas holding large signs at busy intersections. The signs had photos of a chihuahua and said "missing dog" in bright red letters.There are no busy intersections near the top of Wicciup Hill. For that I am thankful.

I took the long trail back to the parking lot and look over the pastures again. When I got to the main entrance I went to the information desk. No one was there. I used my phone to post a picture of Comet on Facebook with the caption "missing dog, last seen Wicciup Hill Park PLEASE HELP!". On the information desk at the park are maps of the hiking trails and park I grabbed a marker from the desk and put an X where comet was last seen and wrote on the back of each map
70lbs, UTD shots
Please help!

I put my name and phone number on the bottom and left one on the information desk. By now 3 cars were in the parking lot and each one got a flier. I called my mom as I jumped in my car and drove to the farms bordering the park. My mom was unable to help, so she sent my sister who came to the park with her dog to look. I put a flier in the mail box of a house I was sure Comet was NOT at then, but could be later while on my way to the bordering farms.
Almost 2 hours.
Pulled in to the first farm and 2 well kept blue merle Australian Shepards barked at me from there kennels attached to the house. I was relieved I was on dog loving property. When an older man in overalls answered the door I couldn't even get a sentence out .It hit me that my dog was really lost. He looked at me skeptically and said "WHAT?". I stammered that I lost my dog, could I please leave my phone number in case he saw him. The man grunted and turned away, but came back with a pad and paper and I wrote down my number and thanked him. As I walked away he hollered...
"Go ahead and take your car down this path here to my hay field. You might find him there. Wont hurt the hay any. It's already been cut."
I called out a thank you and drove past the horse pasture to the hay field. My phone rang and one of the most dog loving-est women I know was on the other line asking what she could do to help. It was a friend, the manager of my local Camp Bow Wow offering to make fliers and do what ever else she could. I was so thankful I couldn't even express it.
I drove out of the hay field with no dog.
The next bordering property had NO TRESPASSING signs and a few signs that said WARNING LIVE FIRE. My heart pounded. I put fliers in all the mailboxes until the dead end.
My time was almost out.

I drove back to the park and hiked in again. This time I dropped bits of kibble on the trail. Hey, it worked for Hansel and Gretel, right? No, but it couldn't hurt. I dropped the kibble along my route thinking that this was a really silly thing to do, but doing it anyway. I was now going to be late for work, but I had to circle the trail one more time.

Last year, in January , a very similar event happened on a hike with Comet. It was -15  degrees with windchill but I had the gear and Comet had the coat so we hiked. Long story short he got lost and I trudged through the snow for 3 hours looking for him. By the end, tear-sicles on my face, my frozen feet gave up just as I passed the spot I last saw him. When I did, I turned hearing some sound in the snow and my fuzzy puppy boy came bounding out of the wood to me. I had to work on a hunch, that this scenario could happen again. And this time I would lean my lesson. I swear!

I climbed the trails but no sight of him. Dropping kibble, I look and call. I look and call. I give in. I have to leave. Pull myself together. I hear a rustle in the bushes. I call and look. Comet bounds out of the bushes to me and I go down on my knees. I grab his collar and put my wet face on his wet matted neck of fur. I smell him. I'm glad he is here. He stinks, and he's covered with burs. Later I will find he is crawling with deer ticks. He is mud paw to belly. I hug him anyway and tell him he is a good boy. He is a terrible naughty boy and he stinks. But he came running to me, so he is good. He is safe. I am relieved. We hike fast out of the park and I have trouble updating my Facebook status to say that Comet is found. I call people to say he's okay.

They say the first few hours your dog is missing are the most critical hours to spread the word. Dogs move fast. Immediately after loosing your dog is the only time you may have any solid lead on where he has recently been. Thankfully I found him myself and didn't have to walk away from that park with out my dog. Thinking ahead of time about what you would do if you lost your dog will help you be prepared if the worst happens. I am so thankful that so many great people know my dog(and me!) and cared enough to help when we really needed it. Now I've got to make sure we don't need help again!

It is so important for your dog to wear a collar and ID tag at all times.
Micro-chipping your pet will defend you from someone else claiming your dog if he is lost.
Work on Recall with your dog regularly! And always, always reward your dog when he comes back to you. Your dog will not associate you petting him and rejoicing in his return with his chasing deer, (woof!that was like 3 hours ago) but he will associate you petting him, partying etc with him moving his body to you when you wanted him to (this time).
Remember to act fast and be diligent.
Comet in the car on the ride home after being found.
 The mud and ticks required a bath.
The burs matted his fur badly and he required not only a serious brushing but also a hair cut.

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