Chapter Four-No collar disappearances-the worst kind
Over the subsequent years there were several close calls in which John and Karen almost lost Chloe for good. Each time it was a happenchance occurrence in which her collar was not on and there was either a storm or a loud noise. For instance, one “no- collar” occasion happened on a July 4, a thunder-like episode in which she happened to be outside when the local fireworks show started.
Each disappearance had a similar chain of events and often began with Karen’s ritual of going outside to feed the cats, saying good morning to all of the animals, and making an accounting of each. Karen did this religiously each morning. The two cats spent most of their time outside, but came in occasionally. The two dachshunds spent most of their time outside as well, came in often during the day, but slept in the garage. Chloe was in and out, but for the most part sleept inside on a couch at the end of the bed in the couple’s bedroom. Chloe prefered to sleep inside. If she happened to sleep outside, she knew how to paw at the front door and open it. She however never learned or took the time to learn shutting the front door. (This made sense to her. She was only concerned about getting in the house. It wasn’t that she was lazy or not smart enough.) So, if it thundered in the night, and by chance the front door was locked and she was outside, then off she’d go. If the collar happened to be off, well, the search efforts began anew in the morning when Karen discovered Chloe was unaccounted for.
The way they figured it, Chloe first checked all the doors at her house to see if she could get in and if that failed, made her rounds of the two neighbors previously mentioned. If that did not work, off to Ingles she’d go. If the couple knew she was missing early on, Chloe could be found wandering around at the Ingles parking lot. Often they arrived at Ingles to find her playing with an employee of Ingles. If too much time elapsed or Ingles was closed, she continued on her journey. The couple never understood why Chloe would leave like that or what exactly did she have in mind. They wondered if she knew exactly what she was doing and where she was going. “She’s complex,” came to mind when it was determined she was gone yet again. Concern, mixed with anger directed at Chloe and at themselves, then ensued.
On each occurrence of Chloe’s “gone missing” a series of events came into play. The couple checked the house, garage, above the garage, and the immediate surrounding areas in the neighborhood. The next step was to call the most common homes she’d frequent in the neighborhood and check her expected route to Ingles. This would result in successfully finding Chloe in the majority of cases.
If still missing after the initial protocol, the next step involved quizzing the employees of Ingles, or calling the Humane Society to see if they had a “golden” looking dog with a black spot on her tongue. Placing lost dog signs with her picture in and around Ingles followed. A verifying trip to the Humane Society to be sure that the description they gave of Chloe matched the one the volunteer wrote down. Walking through the maze of cages at the Humane Society is something that was done often over the years, sometimes with results, more commonly not. The people who took the time to help Chloe became attached to her and thus did not call the pound to pick her up even if that was their initial intention. It would be obvious to any helpful stranger that she was special and had been loved very much by someone. It became quickly apparent to them that she was a “keeper.”
On one of the more interesting occasions Chloe had been missing for three days. A neighbor of the family was getting gas at a Citgo station adjacent to the Ingles shopping center and saw a dog in the back of a car next to his that looked like Chloe.
The phone rang and Karen picked up.
“Karen, this is David. Do ya’ll have Chloe?” Everyone in the neighborhood knew of Chloe’s penchant to roam.
“As a matter of fact, no, she ran off three days ago and we can’t find her,” she answered.
“I think I just saw her at the Citgo station near Ingles. She was in the back seat of a car that was getting gas. She was sitting with two little kids. I told the lady that I thought the dog was yours and got her number. I told her you’d be calling.”
David related the lady’s phone number to Karen, and she called to give the identifying features of Chloe. Once the identity was confirmed to the satisfaction of the person, directions were reluctantly given about where to come get her. As usual Chloe had adapted seamlessly to the new family and when Karen and John arrived she was rocking in a swing with children on the porch, as if she were a Cabbage Patch Doll and playing the role of the perfect pet she was. Chloe’s eyes glanced over at Karen as she got out of the car and began to walk toward her. Chloe’s expression intimated the now familiar question,” Why are you here?”
“This is one sweet dog. We sure are going miss Sandy. That’s what the children named her.”
“Where did you find her?” Karen asked.
Karen knew better than to ask that question and John wished she hadn’t. In all the other times in which Chloe got lost, the person who found her always had the same answer. The response, whether meant purposefully or as a Freudian slip, served as a stinging commentary as to the quality of the owners of such a wonderful and loving dog. Each time the sarcastic nature of the response was duly noted, particularly by John.
“We found her cold, hungry, and wet roaming around the parking lot of Ingles one morning. We took her home, gave her a bath and fed her. She adores attention and being loved on.”
“Whatever. Spare me,” John thought. “Just give me my dog back and leave off the commentary.” In the car they would have the same old worn out conversation with the Chloe-miester.
“Chlompie, you are going to have to stop doing this. One day we are not going to be lucky enough to find you. Let’s get you home to see Oscar and Tootsie you silly dog, they’ve missed you. We love you Co Co, we love you so much. We need to take you to Miss Brenda for a haircut. Don’t you do this to us again, you hear?”
On another occasion with a similar scenario Chloe by happenchance did not have on her collar, a storm was brewing and she couldn’t get in the house because the front door was locked, so she went to Ingles. No one had seen hide nor hair of her. The day after Chloe went missing this particular time was a Thursday. John remembered the day because he and Karen always started to really worry on day three as most pounds will put unclaimed dogs to sleep after that period of time. John and Karen called the Hall County Humane Society and asked if a “golden” type dog has been found. John described Chloe as looking like a golden retriever, with a black spot on her tongue, a bushy tail, and shorter in statue than a golden would be.
“She’s a golden chow, everything about her is like a golden but pudgier.”
“Let me look through the roster here. No, none of the dogs we have fit that description.”
“Has anyone called in and said they have found a dog that looks like my dog?”
“Let me look at the call-in sheet. Nope, nothing here.”
“Would there be any benefit to my coming down there myself and looking around. I mean is there a chance that my dog is there, but she might not be described correctly on your roster?”
“Sir, I don’t see what benefit that would serve. You are welcome to come down and look around if you want to,” he replied condescendingly.
“May I give you my name and number so that you can call me if anybody reports or brings in a dog like mine?”
The volunteer takes John’s name down and dutifully stated that he will call him if any calls come in that fit Chloe’s description. Friday passed and there was no sign of Chloe.
It’s a sad time when you’ve lost a dog and a night passes. You worry if they are safe or cold. You beat yourself up because you begin to ask yourself how in the world you let this happen again. You vow to never again allow your silly dog to be without a collar.
“I am going to give all her baths with her collar on in the future. Why did I take it off in the first place? I also will not lock the front door ever again. Why haven’t we done that dog-chip thing where they implant something to help you find a lost dog? Never again, never again am I going to allow this to happen to us or Chloe,” John told Karen.
At first glance, Chloe looked like a well behaved thoroughbred who loved strangers. So, when someone picked her up, they thought they had found something “valuable.” This trait in addition to her other qualities prompted her finders to instantly entertain the prospect of keeping her. This in large part complicated the problem of losing Chloe if she did not have her collar.
“Someone must love this dog. I can tell by how she trusts people. This dog has never been mistreated,” John and Karen imagined the “finder” saying when they had Chloe in the car and then subsequently in their home.
The bad thing about Chloe’s being so good was that the people who were tempted to keep her were less likely to take her to the pound. They preferred to just call, thus hampering the recovery efforts of John and Karen.
Anyway, it had been three days, it was a Saturday and no news about Chloe. Karen and John had called the pound about ten times. John makes rounds at the hospital that day and was about to come home, but for some reason decided to go to the pound and look around for himself. It seemed odd to him when he got there. He had a sense of fear and anxiety, feeling nauseated and experiencing intense butterflies. It almost felt like scenes he’d seen in movies where someone goes to the morgue to identify the body of a loved one. He began to beat himself up yet again, thinking that this will be the time they won’t be getting Chloe back.
“I am John McHugh. I have lost my dog. May I look around to see if she is here?”
“What does she look like?”
John described Chloe and added things like, “She has a patch of frilly hair just behind her neck and a big bump on her back like a mole or something. She is very sweet.”
The attendant looks through his roster of dogs and finds no match.
“I don’t see one that looks like that.”
“May I look around anyway?”
“Sure. Knock yourself out.”
“How insensitive,” John thought. “Knock yourself out? I am dying here and my heart is about to explode. I don’t want to see all the dogs in there either waiting to be found, given away or living by a thread on death row.”
The guy tells John there are two areas inside. The first area houses the new-founds, which are desirable, and your marquee thoroughbred appearing dogs. The second area houses those who have been here for over three days, not as desirable looking and close to facing euthanasia. (No, I am not referring to the children in China.)
John is directed to a side door behind the desk and enters the aisles of cages that hold the dogs. The characteristic pound smell hit him as the door opened. It is at once a familiar dog smell mixed with an antiseptic-type odor. “An institutional smell,” John said to himself. He thought, “Please let her be here,” remembering vividly all the times he had been to the pound before without results.
Around the aisles he went and it was a sad sight. As he walked, he passed row after row of cute dogs in their little cages, and he noted that the cages were all clean and each had fresh water. His sense was that the Humane Society appeared to be doing a conscientious job in terms of cleanliness and attending to the basic needs of the animals. If Chloe were there she was being cared for. All the dogs just sat there and waited contentedly for fate to determine their future. “Ignorance is indeed bliss,” he thought. After viewing about fifty dogs, he came around the corner on the last aisle and saw a golden appearing dog with abbreviated facial features comfortably sitting in her cage perfectly content with her situation, surroundings and new abode.
“Lo Lo, is that you?”
She characteristically wagged her bushy tail and her demeanor was as if John had disturbed her on some unknown mission. John couldn’t believe he had found her and stood in front of the cage for some time marveling in the moment. He began to think about what must have transpired for Chloe over the last few days and her journey to be where she was now. She had left her home, roamed around somewhere probably for hours, picked up by either the pound or a caring individual who took the time to save her and get her to safety. He did not think to inquire as to the details of her recovery; probably because subconsciously he did not want to ponder the thought that she had been alone without her family or the circuitous route she had taken to end up as a common unclaimed dog at the pound. The vision of all of that to John was an indictment against him for having been an irresponsible steward of Chloe. It was a place in his mind he did not want to go.
When John told the attendant that he had found his dog, he was told that there were some fees that needed to be settled. He was surprised at how much it was, but was very grateful to be paying it. “Quite the racket they got going on here,” he thought to himself. They finally give Chloe to him after what felt like hours of “processing.” He walked her out to his Toyota truck and called home on his cell phone.
“Karen, this is John.” Then he couldn’t talk. He was absolutely overcome with emotion.
“John, are you there? Is everything okay? Are you all right?”
“I…found…Chloe. I am coming home with her and will be there in about fifteen minutes.” “Damn,” he thought to himself. He hated it when he couldn’t talk because of the fear of crying. It was a trait traced back to his grandfather on his mother’s side and an un-male attribute he detested. It embarrassed him.
This particular chapter in a lose-Chloe and then a find-Chloe recovery episode represented one of the few times in which John or Karen personally went to the pound and actually found her there. They decided that trusting descriptions over phone was a flawed technique to find a dog, particularly Chloe. The thought of losing Chloe when she was at the pound all along and not their having made the obligatory rounds there was a tragic scenario for them to ponder. Of course, because dogs can’t’ talk, they would have never known what had happened to the Chompster.
A year or so later, Chloe was gone again. There were no phone calls reporting a dog that fit Chloe’s description, no sighting in the neighborhood, nothing at Ingles, no reports at the pound. Because of past experiences with the pound, John personally went down there to “walk the aisles,” and still no Chloe. John purposefully and ad nauseum gave a very accurate description of her to include that her hair was becoming a mosaic of different hues of yellow, and that some of her hair, particularly on her back in random splotches, was very stiff, almost like bristles. She had these large bumps under her skin in several places that John and Karen believed to be Mastoid tumors, but held off taking her to have them removed. They were soft and movable and in John’s mind meant that they were an eyesore, but not cancer. For the purposes of this discussion, they did make for an additional way to identify her.
This episode of Chloe’s disappearance was a bit different than the rest. This time there was not an issue with a mistaken identity at the pound, we covered that. The emphasis for this search and recovery mission was based on finding out about reports to the Humane Society of a dog being found, but not turned in to the pound. This represented another category of people who found a dog and how they handled it. What John and Karen learned over time was that if the person who found Chloe was a “dog person,” she quickly became a part of their family, but they had the decency to report her to the pound. Their plan then would be to keep Chloe, but their conscious was clear in that they had made the effort to report her. This was the case on two other occasions in which Chloe just hung out with a family until John and Karen determined her whereabouts. An example of one such occasion was when she ended up with the guy who owned a pizza place near Ingles.
“She loves sitting on our couch and watching T.V. with us and our children love sleeping with her,” he said when they arrived to pick Chloe up. The faces of his children betrayed their disappointment at Chloe’s owners arrival and her subsequent departure.
Once a family found Chloe, they were reluctant to let her go. She became so quickly a part of a family that they would want to make her their pet. It was a tough situation for this type of family, torn between not wanting to let her go, but at the same time wanting to do the right thing by reporting her to the Humane Society. Why would they not just pick her up and then either call to have her taken to the pound or take her there themselves? The reason was they wanted to keep her. In a round about way they hoped that they would fail in their efforts and hence just keep Chloe. If you knew Cholonesome, you’d understand.
The reason why a person would want to keep a good older dog that they had found and obviously was loved by another family is because this type of dog is hard to come by. If you have ever had a puppy with all the chewing, accidents in the house, concerns about being hit in the street or being unsafe with children, you realize the magnitude of finding a dog like Chloe. So here comes along Chloe, a member of the family minute one and right off the bat, calm, house trained, car wise, and can hold her bladder on a trip to the beach forever…it was a no brainer.
Part of Chloe’s charm was the fact that despite how old she had become, she continued to have a puppy face. Everyone, particularly the people who picked her up, thought she was a puppy mature beyond her years.
“What a cute puppy. How old is she?” they asked John and Karen time and time again at “pick-up.” She was fourteen for goodness sakes! Looking like a puppy despite being almost 100 in dog years was part of her “shtick.” Chloe knew what she was doing.
Back to this particular Chloe lost and then Chloe found story. John visited or called the pound daily for over a week which resulted in getting two phone numbers representing someone who had called in a description of a dog that matched Chloe, but had “elected” not to bring her in. Pictures of Chloe, her description given to the manager at Ingles and to some of employees there yielded no leads. No calls or sightings of her in the area around Ingles were forthcoming. John decided to call one of the numbers.
“Hello, this John McHugh. I have lost a dog that fits the description that you called in to the Humane Society. May I come by and see if you have my dog? Her name is Chloe.”
“What’s she look like?” is the reply somewhat curt and indignantly.
John described her to the best of his abilities as his heart raced hoping and anticipating the lady will say that everything matches up and that he can come on over and get his dog.
“Well, I’m looking at her now playing with my kids, and she don’t fit that description.”
“Can I come by and just verify? I have had her for twelve years. May I ask where you live?”
“No. I don’t think that’s necessary. This one ain’t her. I can tell you that.”
“May I please come by and be sure ma’am? This has happened to me before where someone thought they did not have her but they did. She has been our dog for twelve years. It is important to my family that we find her.”
“No. This ain’t her. Goodbye.”
Now, John began to think that Chloe has landed in a home where she is so loved and easy that her qualities have overcome the conscience of the people to do the right thing. They didn’t want or intend for her to be found. They have just happened upon the perfect dog, unless of course it thunders and for some reason the collar is off, then they will be in the same fix.
“They better sure as hell take care of her is all I have to say,” John thought angrily to himself as the dial tone resonated in his ear.
Of course throughout all of this every time John or Karen drove on Thompson Bridge Road they had visions of seeing a yellowish looking dog on the side of the road having been hit and left there to die. The thought of this killed them and the two cringed everyday while using that busy thoroughfare for fear that they might see that visage. A life so cherished, but then so disrespected in death, alone and unclaimed at the edge of an uncaring and indifferent thoroughfare. The thought of it was horrible to envision.
John called the second number.
“Hi, I am John McHugh. The Humane Society tells me you found a dog that fits the description of one I’ve lost. Would it be possible for me to come by and see if she is ours?”
At this point John had the realization of something very odd. He had been checking the register of incoming calls to the pound daily and this number came in after about ten days. Why the delay? Had Chloe been out and about by herself in the elements for over a week? Did this family at first plan to keep her and then had second thoughts about what was the right thing to do? He wondered if someone picked her up thinking she is a thoroughbred and once in the car and then several miles away determine she was not, then let her out at the nearest gas station. Gas stations he thought must be the most common drop off point for this type of dog picker-uppers. Over the years John and Karen had found Chloe several times at convenience stores over ten miles from their home and believed this was the most likely explanation of her being found so far away from home. This was a more likely scenario than that she walked the entire distance. The thought of Chloe walking alongside back roads in the cold and alone because of their negligence was a painful one for John and Karen.
The person on the phone from the get-go was much more pleasant and educated in her demeanor than the other person he had called earlier.
“Sure. Can you describe her please? We found her so cold and wet. She was very weak and hungry.” (John didn’t want to buy that. He thought, “Here we go again. I am sorry, but why do these dog-finders always feel like they have to throw in that guilt stuff at me. I don’t know if it’s to make an owner feel guilty for being a bad caretaker of their pet, or to justify their having picked up a dog, keeping it and not taking it to the pound.”)
Ignoring the probable manufactured and inflated sob story about how Chloe was found, John described Chloe to the lady’s satisfaction and she agrees to let him come by to verify his ownership.
“Where do you live?” he asked.
“In the subdivision just beyond McEver Road on Dawsonville Highway.”
“Dawsonville Highway? Ma’am that is about fifteen miles from here. Where did you find her?”
“At the convenience store near our home,” and the voice then adds yet again, but now with a whiney pathetic tone, “She was so weak and lonely. We felt obliged to bring her home. As you come into the subdivision we are the fifth house on the right, it’s grey. We will be in the front yard planting some shrubs.”
John asks himself, “Did I just ask that? I knew better than to subject myself to this again.”
As John drove there he began to hope he would find Chloe, but more than that he wondered, “How in the world did she get all the way over there? She must have been picked up, carried a distance, let off and then found.” He reasoned that someone picked her up because she looked like a golden retriever puppy and finding she was neither, let her out at the nearest convenience store. He pulled into the subdivision, again his heart pounded as he surveyed the fifth house on the right. He scanned carefully the street, yard and garage. He saw the couple working in front of their house, but he didn’t see a dog milling about that looked like Chloe. He parked, got out of his car, and a very attractive couple approached.
“I am John McHugh. I called about my dog.”
“Hi, John,” the lady said, and then introduced herself and her husband.
All the while John continued to look around for Chloe. “Is this or is this not where Chloe ended up,” he thought. He sees nothing.
“John, can you further describe your dog to us please?”
“What is this?” John began to think. “Why do all these people who find dogs feel they then have to become their protectorate from the very people trying to get their dog back? Chloe why do you do this to me? Who in the hell do they think they are? Then it dawned on him. “There must be folks out there who get the names of lost dogs from the pound and then go about to check out these dogs to claim them for their own. Maybe it is a common scheme and an easy yet inexpensive way to get lost thoroughbred dogs. He had never thought about this scenario before, but if people will steal power cords to a boat dock for the copper, they’d try to get a good dog and then sell it. John patiently decided to play along. These seemed to be very decent people who wanted to make sure that the owner and the dog matched. It was now clear and apparent; they had Chloe and they too had fallen under Chlomsome’s spell.
“She has a black spot on her tongue. Her name is Chloe. She has a bushy tail. It is cut that way on purpose. We sometimes call her “Le Plume” because of how it looks. She has features like a golden retriever, but if you look at her closer she has too short a nose and her ears are way too small. Her nose and ears don’t fit her head exactly the right way. My wife thinks it’s the chow in her.”
The lady responds, “Anything else. Any other description which you feel will definitively identify her?”
John now thought, “What is it going to take to prove to these people that this dog is mine? Being forced to jump through so many hoops to prove this is Chloe must mean they have her. Strangers love her and she loves them. Time and time again she had adopted a new family and the family immediately fell in love with her. I may have to pry her away from these people.”
He realized, “They don’t want to let her go without a fight.”
He got it. He knew what these people were going through better than they knew themselves.
John then said, “She has a rash around her neck where the collar has rubbed off her hair. It is splotchy and slightly reddened.” And then in a defensive moment added, “That is why her collar identifying her was not on when she ran away, we were letting it heal.”
The lady calls to her husband and said dejectedly, “Honey, this is the owner. Go get Bear.”
That the lady called Chloe “Bear” no longer surprised John. He knew exactly what had happened. They had fallen in love with her and had given Chloe “their” name. He had seen this phenomenon before. It was okay and he expected this considering it had been about ten days in which this couple had been exposed to Chlonely.
John’s heart was no longer beating fast. After this telling interrogation there was no doubt he had found Chloe. It was only a matter of time now. Out of the shadows of their garage ambled a dog, with a bit of limp, light in color, but shorter than a golden. Before coming over to John, she veered to the right to some shrubs and went to the bathroom (a marking my spot type maneuver more than really having to go), scooted dirt in Chloe’s characteristic fashion alternating a front paw with the opposite back paw spraying dirt and grass, and then casually sniffing a neighbor’s dog that was near the property line marked by shrubs. Showing off, she rolled over, wriggled to scratch her back and in the process made a “Chloe angle” in the compressed grass, and then righted herself. As an after thought she recognized John’s white van and slowly waddled over to him. It made John feel great to see her and he could not believe he’d found her again, forgiving the snub of her belated approach and their reunion. It was clear the couple had taken very good care of Chloe, had loved her, and were “dog people.” Chloe looked great.
“Combo, we’ve missed you. How are you doing girl? Let’s go home you big old Chlomps?”
John opened up the passenger side of the van and without hesitation or fanfare Chloe hopped up in the seat as if she were a person, as usual.
John looked at the couple and said, “Thanks so much for taking such good care of her. We are very grateful to you.”
“She is a wonderful dog. We will miss sleeping with her at night. She is so well behaved and kind. Our daughter is visiting next week from Denver and we had planned to give Bear, I mean Chloe, to her to take back if we did not find the owner. We are glad we put you two back together.”
“I can’t wait to call my wife and family. They won’t believe it. This is amazing. I would like to do something for you.”
In unison the couple said, “That won’t be necessary.”
“Have ya’ll ever eaten at our Country Club in Gainesville?”
“No we are actually new to the area.”
“My wife and I would like ya’ll to be our guest there one night. You’ll enjoy the view of the lake and hopefully a nice meal. If you will give me your names, I can tell a friend of mine who works there to expect you. This would be the least my family could do for you in return for your kindness. Chloe insists,” John said as Chloe looked on approvingly from the front seat of the van.
John did not expect them to take him up on their offer, but they did. About three weeks later he received a thank-you note from the couple telling John and Karen how much they enjoyed their evening out. The note ended with, “I hope Chloe is doing well. Tell her we said hello and thanks for dinner.”