Do you believe in miracles? When the odds seem firmly stacked against you and suddenly, your hopes and prayers are answered, to me that is a miracle. My family experienced just such a miracle three years ago and it involved our dog, Ruby.
Shy around strangers and especially fearful of other dogs, Ruby was rescued from the streets of Atlanta in 2003, and came to us through the ‘Dixie Dog‘ program. Nicknamed “Bubblegum” by my husband because she never leaves my side, I was clueless how attached I had become to my constant companion.
On the afternoon of Friday, January 7, 2011 Ruby and I went to my friend’s house for a walk in the woods near her home. As we had walked here before, I felt comfortable letting her run off-leash. Error #1. As we turned a bend in the trail, two men and two dogs came into view. I looked up to see Ruby turn tail and run. I called her, but I knew it was futile. The one time previously that we had met strangers while walking in the woods, we were half a mile from home and immediately she bolted, reaching home within minutes. I knew exactly how long it took her because as I made my way home, I heard her frantic barking once she gained the “safety” of our front porch. This time, I assumed she ran back to my car at my friend’s house. Error #2. When I returned, there was no Ruby and she didn’t come to my call. As our home is a mile or so away as the crow flies, I figured she’d headed for home. Error #3.
I drove home and set out on foot in the direction in which I anticipated I’d intercept her. As I hiked the heavily forested and hilly terrain, I soon realized I had underestimated the actual walking distance. It grew dark and snow began to fall. I didn’t need to be lost in the woods, too, so I headed for home. Grabbing a quick snack, I called my son for help and returned to my friend’s with headlamps and walked the trails again calling for Ruby. Exhausted from miles of walking, at 9 pm I had to concede defeat and returned home dejected and full of self-incrimination. A small house dog with a short coat that shivers after an hour’s walk, how could she survive the cold, dark woods where packs of coyotes roam? I felt I had let her down completely and it weighed heavily upon me. The errors in judgment, my failure to act quickly enough, hindsight is always 20/20.
Overnight while it snowed four inches, I slept little. The next morning I created a flyer to post around town. In the areas I expected she may have headed, my son and I hung flyers and spoke with homeowners. One kind man, having had a similar experience and who knew the trails better than we did, offered to help search with my husband. Unfortunately, they had no luck and the snow had obliterated any tracks she may have left.
My husband and son spent the weekend combing miles of ridges and valleys between where she was lost and our home with not a sign of her. Vacillating between fervent hope and tears of despair, I prepared myself for the worst. My greatest fear was that coyotes, which I heard in the hills around my home nearly every night, had attacked her. Without my Bubblegum at my side, my life suddenly felt so empty.
Several times a day I would blast “Calling God” by Jann Arden and sing along, envisioning angels guiding her home, imagined her trotting up the road and back to the safety of the front porch, right down to the “yip” she gives when she is ready to come inside. With each passing day, the chances of her return seemed less likely. A pampered pet in the wild, one so fearful she wouldn’t come to even the kindest of strangers, I imagined her suffering and cried often. In short, I was a basket case!
On Tuesday (day four), two separate people called in sightings near the Grammar School three miles away from us and four miles away from where she was lost. Our hopes soared. My husband, who had been leaving work early every day to spend the last hour of daylight searching for Ruby, left even earlier to join our son, his friend and me to look for her. We thoroughly scoured the area until dark, calling and calling, with no success. I reluctantly had to once again concede defeat. On top of the frustration of presumably having missed her by a few hours, was the fact that she was heading in the wrong direction, away from home not towards it.
That night a storm blanketed us with fourteen inches of snow. What were the chances of survival for a tired, hungry dog, unwilling to trust strangers, struggling to wade through chest-deep snow? We posted more flyers in this new area of town, climbing through hip-deep snowbanks and spoke with more homeowners shoveling themselves out from the storm.
On Thursday, the sixth day, it grew gravely cold with a sharp wind, the temperature dipping to –3 degrees, the windchill much colder. A shorthaired dog without food or shelter, the odds continued to mount against her. I stopped by our vet’s office in search of hope, but found little there. He said that water was the most essential element and that dogs could survive without food for short periods. Water we have in this town, brooks and swamps are everywhere, so at least she could find that easily. But after six days, he didn’t think there was much hope. I cried all the way home.
By the seventh day, the trauma of daily hope and despair was taking its toll upon me. I needed to create some closure and move on. I sang my prayer song one last time, sat in meditation, trusting God knew best and released her to the Universe. The sun set slowly, draining the light from the sky, and as I sat gazing out the window in surrender and finally with some peace, the miracle happened. Seven days and two hours after her disappearance, I heard a sound I thought I would never hear again. Her distinctive ‘yip’ came from our back deck. I flew to the door and there was my poor emaciated dog, hipbones protruding, shivering but alive! My intrepid, tough little street dog had found her own way home.
I cried for ten minutes straight and thanked God over and over for her safe return. After her first meal, she lay in front of the wood stove with a great sigh and was asleep before her head touched the floor. I was able to check her over completely and amazingly, found only one small thorn in her fur. Her pads were slightly swollen and her toenails were worn from her trek, but no frostbite. With four meals in as many hours, she looked like a famished orphan, all skinny with a bulging belly.
Naturally, she became stiff and sore, but our amazed vet pronounced her healthy. Fed several times daily, by the end of the first week home she had regained her original weight. It took her a long time to overcome her fear of walking in open fields, but resumed her role as sentry of the house and walking companion on the trails around home. She often turns tail and runs back to the house when she smells some animal that she fears as a threat but is invisible to my eyes. Our rule is she can be off-leash only close to the house, anywhere else that girl is attached to me physically as closely as she is emotionally.
There were many earth-angels who helped us search for Ruby, called in sightings, and kept us in their thoughts and prayers for her safe return. I do not doubt that they were a part of guiding her home. Like an old Hollywood movie, this story has a really happy ending.