The Luckiest Dogs in Indiana
Or, the needfulness of a microchip for your best friend.
When I saw the email about a desperate owner looking for his lost dog, I figured it was probably just another sad case that, like so many others, could never have a happy ending. So many dogs that go missing are never heard of again—a loving owner’s worst nightmare. But this owner’s email was from my university, so I looked it up in the directory-- it belonged to a county extension agent who lived about 45 min south. A few phone calls later, I reached Jim. He began to explain a story he had obviously told to a lot of people already, with apparently little success, about how he'd been searching everywhere for his mom's dog Spot, who had disappeared from her car on a trip into town about a month ago.
I listened to his quiet but anxious voice for a while and finally interrupted to ask why Spot hadn't had a collar on. He explained that he'd had to go in to work early that day and hadn't taken time to put the collar on, and Mom had allowed Spot to come with her for a quick run into town to pick up some meds.
Did he have a picture of Spot? “I'm forwarding it to you now,” he told me over the phone. While the huge file of the poster that he had been circulating was downloading, Jim began to describe Spot, named for the two spots on his nose. Yep, the BC I was fostering had two distinctive spots on his nose, not the typical BC freckles. But I didn't want to offer false hope, since the voice on the phone told me that, over the last month, he'd gone to see maybe 50 dogs that callers had offered as possible Spots: he'd checked out every dog, but it was always the wrong breed or the wrong gender; none was the family’s beloved Spot, and over time hope had grown dim. Weariness and discouragement were evident in Jim’s voice. When the huge picture file finally downloaded onto my screen, it was immediately clear: the foster dog I had taken in 10 days ago, at the request of an overcrowded shelter, was his Spot. “He's here beside me,” I said. Hope glimmered. “When can I come to see him?” I told him I’d be home until 3. “I'm on my way,” he said.
Alfie, as this foster dog had been dubbed, was stretched out on the family room rug, breathing shallowly. At least he’d eaten this morning: over the last 10 days he had taken no more than a bite or two of food each day, and some days nothing at all. The evening before, my persistence in trying to find something that would pique his appetite had been rewarded, and he'd nibbled some shredded chicken breast and a few pieces of cheese. But he had lost several pounds over the last week and a half, and I knew we couldn't go on this way too much longer. He was growing noticeably thinner and weaker by the day. “Spot,” I murmured, “is that your name?” He lifted his head-- was he responding to a familiar sound?
When Jim arrived, Alfie had moved under my desk and was snoozing there. Jim came into my tiny office and called softly to the sleeping dog, “Hey Spottie.” The little dog lifted and turned his head toward the man: first, disbelief, and then a wash of joy. “Can it possibly be you, after so long? Where have you been?” Alfie/Spot struggled to his feet and surged, rather than walked, toward Jim. Relief, gratitude, and joy filled every corner of the small room. How had we three arrived here, at the same time, in this same small spot on a huge planet: Jim, Spot, and me?
Twelve years ago, Jim and his dad had been visiting Jim's sister in Louisiana. One afternoon, one of her neighbors had gestured toward his yard, toward a lonely black and white pup in a box. It was the last pup in a litter that the man had found abandoned in a park and brought home with him. All the other pups had found homes, except this last one that they called Panda, because he looked like those bears from China. He was a little BC/retriever mix, vulnerable and alone. “I'll probably have to drown him,” the neighbor commented, “since nobody wants him.” Maybe part of the reason nobody had chosen him was that the little pup only had half a tail. The man who found the pups said the pup’s tail had frozen off in a weird cold snap. All the other pups in the litter had grown long gracious tails that looked like black labs’ tails, but Spot’s tail just stopped abruptly in a little crook. Years later, when he was a grown dog, his tail would be neither long nor short, just half-a-tail. It wagged in joy all the time, though.
Jim and his dad soon had the 7-week-old pup in their truck, on his way back home to Indiana. Spot took up his place as Jim's dad's main companion, and Jim's mom took to spoiling the little wiggler. He grew to love the all the things she cooked for him, especially chicken, but he really loved KFC chicken. He didn't care much for french fries, except in a pinch, but he loved fried chicken. It was kind of strange, b/c one his best friends on the farm was a little bantam rooster named Pee-Pee, that had become a family pet. That rooster kind of mothered the little fuzzball pup, and even when Spot had grown to be several times that old rooster’s size, he was always respectful to him, ‘til the day the old rooster died.
When Spot was about 10, he acquired a foster brother that Jim brought home from an overcrowded local shelter, a BC/basset mix that a local dog hoarder had kept confined in a cage just long enough for his basset body. Spot wasn't too sure about this new kid, and he growled at him to let him know he'd better not ever get the idea to come too close to Spot's food bowl. Bruce the BC/bassett respected his elder, but he also figured out quickly that he could sneak back to finish up the scraps that Spot inevitably left in his dish. Spot knew it, but he didn't mind: Mom would always make something special for her pup.
After Jim's dad passed on, Spot and Jim's mom grew even closer. Spot had a special blankey that she had knitted for him, spread out on the corner of the couch, and he liked to rest there while they watched TV together. He was happy curled up on a pillow next to Mom’s head at night, and she liked having him close to her.
One day, Mom and Spot hopped into the car for a ride into town. Spot was hopeful they might stop by KFC on the way home, for a snack. He waited in the car while Mom ran into the drugstore for just a minute. While he waited, he noticed some noisy teenagers coming toward the car. He watched the kids approach the car, and then to his surprise, they opened the door! Spot leaped up to protect Mom’s car. He moved toward the kids, as threateningly as he could, hoping they’d back away, and followed them, barking, as they ran off down the street. Eventually they turned a corner and disappeared. He’d done his job.
But then Spot couldn’t remember where the car was, and he couldn’t locate Mom, couldn’t get her scent anywhere. He was uneasy, as he'd never been in town by himself before, without a leash firmly attaching him to one of his family. He had roamed the family’s huge farm freely, but here in town he couldn’t recognize any sights or smells. As the hours went by, he grew more and more confused and bewildered.
The next few days in Spot's life can only be guessed at. While his family frantically searched for him, Spot wandered, and he eventually somehow wound up miles away, in the next county. Maybe someone had seen the apparently lost dog and picked him up, thinking to take him home as a pet? Maybe he had wandered aimlessly in ever-increasing arcs that led him further and further away? We’ll never know, but eventually the exhausted and confused little dog found himself entangled in an old wire fence, unable to pull free.
A farmer’s wife noticed a black and white dog struggling out in the field, and called the Animal Control Officer to come and get him. He was taken to the local animal shelter, which kept him for the required 5 days and then sent out a desperate plea to Border Collie Rescue—if the rescue couldn’t take him, he’d have to be put down, for the shelter had no more room for stray dogs. A rescue representative went to pick him up as soon as possible and he was brought to me to foster. Within days of his arrival he was neutered and given routine vaccinations. But in the shelter he had picked up a nasty respiratory infection that left him congested and weak following surgery. In his loneliness and confusion, the little dog who became known as Alfie couldn’t, or wouldn’t eat.
Meanwhile, his desperate owner Jim was circulating posters everywhere he could think of, and had one printed in the local newspaper. Many people called to tell him they thought they had seen Spot. He took time off from work and drove for miles in expanding circles, and he followed up on every report of a small black and white dog. One day, driving around, he noticed a dog that looked like Spot, curled up next to a front porch, napping in the sun. Jim had just entered the yard, talking in soothing tones to the dog, when the irate owner ran from the house, castigating him for trying to steal the dog her grandchildren so loved.
Finally, a neighbor of the lady who had called Animal Control about the dog struggling in the wire fence happened to notice Jim’s ad in the newspaper, and phoned Jim. Jim contacted the shelter where Spot had been taken, only to learn that Rescue had responded to their plea for help. But the shelter staff misidentified the rescue group that had taken Spot in, and the group Jim was put in touch with kept telling him they had never seen the dog he described to them. It seemed to be a deadly vicious circle-- Spot had disappeared again, and this time no one could track down where he had gone.
But rescuers communicate with each other, and Spot’s story began to circulate on the rescue e-lists: a missing dog in Indiana had been taken into rescue, had anyone heard of this case? Messages were passed from group to group, from Indiana to California and back to Wisconsin. Finally the connection was completed, and Spot and his owner, only 45 minutes apart from each other all along, were finally reunited.
There’s a lesson to be learned from this story. The whole awful long month for Spot and his family could have been forestalled, because the shelter that had rescued Spot from the wire fence had scanned him immediately for an identifying microchip. Alas, Spot had never been implanted with the chip that could have told the shelter who his human family were.
Never again, little Spot! Your family has gotten you chipped and made sure this will never, ever happen to you again.
Mom is very happy to have her Spottie back. Every morning, when Jim, Spot and Bruce come in from their walk, Mom cooks up a special egg and chicken meal for her beloved pups, the luckiest dogs in Indiana.