Sunday, March 01, 2015

#FINDSUGARNYC

The past two weeks I've been consumed by two different lost dog stories--consumed to the point of
The latest poster for #FindSugarNYC
sitting alone and crying as I scoured the Internet for news of Freckles, lost in New Orleans, or Sugar in New York.  This might seem unsurprising: I'm a dog guy, after all.  But after a while one can become numb to all of the dogs in distressing situations.  Our social media feeds are filled with people passing posts along like hot potatoes, as if sharing is caring, when in reality, sometimes, it is not.  This isn't to say I don't care about all the other lost dogs and homeless dogs, just that they don't necessarily make me sit down and cry.

So why Freckles and Sugar?  First, let me fill you in. Freckles was visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras with her owner when she got spooked and bolted from his side.  He didn't leave town without her and spent ten days looking for her every day, distributing fliers and eventually hiring a lost dog expert.  The search ended when someone found her strolling through the neighborhood, took her to their local groomers, and discovered that she was the dog everyone had been looking for.  Freckle's owner told me, while he was on the hunt, that she didn't trust people and would never come to stranger.  This worried me, because he also seemed like the type of person who wasn't necessarily cut out for asking for help from strangers.  My stomach sank (cliche, yes, but true) thinking of their handicap in being reunited.  But they were!

Freckles, lost but found in New Orleans.

Yet just a few days before Freckles was found, I learned of another dog that was missing, this one in my old neighborhood in NYC.  Sugar was a playmate of a dog that I know up there, so I learned of her story pretty quickly, in spite of the distance between New Orleans and New York. And because her story is so awful, and as yet unresolved, it has also gained the kind of national attention that few lost dogs get: stories in the New York Post, rewards offered by NBA players, etc.  Sugar's owner left her with a trusted dog walker and had to cut her business trip short when neighbors alerted her to the fact that the walker had had some kind breakdown, had broken into her apartment looking for the missing dog, and was subsequently hospitalized in the mental ward of Bellevue.  Sugar's leash and vest were found in the dog walker's apartment, but there's been no trace of the dog.  People say things like "this is every dog owner's nightmare," but the truth is, no dog owner has nightmares like this. This is completely unimaginable.



Confession: Last winter, on Christmas Eve 2013, I lost a dog.  She disappeared out of my yard,
through a hole that I knew was there.  And even though I recognized that she was gone very quickly, when I stepped into the street there was no trace of her.  To make matters worse, she wasn't even really MY dog.  She was a foster dog, property of the Louisiana SPCA.  My job, as a volunteer, was the find her a new home.  Instead, I'd lost her.  At first, her disappearance was so speedy and complete, I was hopeful: someone had her, I was sure.  But as days and weeks passed, so did my chances of recovering her and the same fact that had once given me hope made me think that our chances were slim: someone had her.  We had begun a hunt on foot that night, then drove around the Lower Ninth Ward in the dark, finding other dogs, but not her.  The holidays made group efforts difficult to coordinate, but after a few days of looking on my own (I'd cancelled all holiday plans, certain that if I even stepped into a friend's house for dinner, I might miss the one moment she was going to come home), we had a group of people meet and distribute fliers.  And this brought on the most exhausting period: the sightings, most of which lead me to dogs that were not remotely similar to Maple.  I think part of this was the promise of a reward, but also it was driven by strangers hoping that maybe, just maybe, they had seen this missing dog.

Eventually, everyone else went back to their lives.  And I tried to get on with mine, but I also began to realize that if we never found her, for the rest of my life I would continue to pull my car to the side of the road at random intervals and roll down the window to shout: "Maple!"

I was so used to false leads that when the real deal came in via a text message, I didn't believe it was true.  "I know where your dog is," a stranger said.  We sent texts back and forth.  I asked for a photo, and then, after a pause long enough to worry me that I'd scared him off, there she was: a blurry image of Maple tethered in a yard.  Even then, I thought my mind could be playing tricks on me.  As a test I posted the photo on my Facebook way, and within minutes I got another text, this time from the SPCA: "Is that a photo of Maple you just posted?"

Maple and I sat in the car for a while to
catch our breath before going inside. 
The guy who contacted me said that his friend had bought her for $50.  I offered $100 for her return. He said that was great, because he could give his friend the money he had paid and keep $50 for himself.  But I also wondered if he might be saying it was a friend who had her in the same way that we all, when we are young, attribute something stupid we've done to a friend, when really we were the ones.  "I don't like pit bulls," he told me.  "But I have dogs, and I know how it would feel if one of mine was missing." He told me it would take a day to get the dog from his friend.  It was dark out.  It was January.  I wanted her home now, and I asked if he might possibly be able to get her immediately. Less than an hour later, I was meeting him at a designated gas station, and he was opening the back of truck, where Maple was securely tied in the back. It was true, I realized: he was afraid of pit bulls. But I also thought his story didn't quite make sense.  It didn't matter.  Maple was home.  She and I were kissing before I even had her out of his car.  Then, after I thanked him, he began to leave.  "Wait," I said.  "You forgot this." I held my hand out with the reward money.  He paused.  "It's a reward for doing the right thing," I said, and he took it.


I hope for the same thing to happen for Sugar and her owner.  Soon.