“Have you seen Haley?”
My wife Randy asked me this about 3 weeks ago after some friends we had over that afternoon went home.
“No,” I said, barely glancing up from my laptop.
Haley is our 2-year-old yellow labrador retriever that we adopted in late June from the Freedom Tails program that was run by Harbor Association of Volunteers for Animals (HAVA) at the Stafford Creek Correctional Center.
She didn’t sound particularly concerned, so I didn’t give it much thought.
Randy returned a few minutes later and said with a tinge of panic in her voice, “Haley’s gone.”
This time I shut my laptop, gave her my full attention, and asked, “Are you sure?”
One thing I’ve learned in the 15+ years I’ve been with Randy is that she sometimes assumes the worst about a situation before knowing all the facts and can go from zero to panic mode in a matter of seconds.
That’s why I still wasn’t particularly concerned that she thought Haley was gone. I also couldn’t believe she had gotten out because she follows us everywhere and has shown no inclination to go anywhere on her own (except to sneak upstairs to eat the cat’s food).
I thought about telling Randy to look again but the terror in her voice convinced me that I should help her find Haley.
After checking all the doors and the gates to our front porch and back yard to be sure they were shut (they were), we did a room-to-room search of our house. As room after room yielded nothing, a tentacle of dread coiled down my spine and settled in my stomach as the terrifying thought that Haley could be gone set up camp in my head.
Randy wanted to start looking for her around the neighborhood immediately, but I wanted to search the house on more time. Surely we must have missed something.
Our second search around the house was much more thorough. We searched every nook and cranny in every room. We checked all the closets to make sure we didn’t accidentally shut her inside one. We searched the backyard carefully.
At this point I stopped trying to convince myself that Haley was somewhere in the house and switched into panic mode. Then a litany of terrifying thoughts began streaming through my head:
Randy briefly stopped this soundtrack of horrifying thoughts when she said we had to start looking for Haley. She drove around the neighborhood in her car while I searched our block on foot.
Unfortunately my search wasn’t particularly effective as I plodded zombie-like through the neighborhood, feeling completely numb and coming to grips realization that the dog we just adopted, the dog that we immediately fell in love with, the dog that never had a real home, was gone.
We had failed her.
That prompted me to push these negative thoughts aside and start calling for Haley. After a couple of minutes, I decided to call Randy to see how her search was going, but when I ran out of my house to look for Haley I forgot my phone. So I ran back home to get my phone, and while I was there, I searched the house again, hoping Haley would magically appear.
She didn’t, so I went back out in the neighborhood calling for Haley while trying to keep my raging flood of emotions in check. But after a few more minutes of calling for Haley I decided to go back home and wait for her there in case Haley made her way back. I also wanted to start planning what we should do in case we didn’t find Haley.
However, I locked my keys inside the house after I went back for my phone, so I couldn’t get in.
At this point my facade of calmness began to crack under the pressure of my roiling emotions, and I just started pounding on the doors and screaming Haley’s name with increasing desperation as my faint hope that she was somewhere inside the house began to fade. I thought I heard a faint bark inside, but I couldn’t figure out if it was just wishful thinking/hearing on my part.
Eventually I stopped banging on doors and yelling for Haley after realizing it accomplished nothing other than feeding my panic. Randy returned soon after that with the keys to the house and without Haley.
We decided to go inside and plan the next steps in our search for Haley. As we walked in, we both heard that faint bark again. At that moment, somehow, my memory dredged up that despite numerous searches throughout the house for Haley, we hadn’t checked the storage area in the basement where we keep tools, garden supplies, empty moving boxes, etc. It probably slipped our mind because we rarely go in there and the door is in a somewhat isolated area of the basement.
Upon this realization I sprinted down the stairs and flung open the door to the storage room, Haley casually sauntered out.
I’ve heard the phrase “dissolved into tears” before, but I’d never experienced it until I saw Haley walk out of that room and melted into a blubbering puddle while wrapping my arms around her. Randy joined me a few seconds later.
We must have looked like those people that are reunited with their dogs that were lost for years even though Haley had only been “lost” for about an hour.
Eventually we figured out that Haley, who follows us everywhere we go, slipped unnoticed inside the storage room while Randy was in there looking for something, and she unknowingly left Haley behind when she left the room and shut the door. And since she hardly ever barks, she just waited patiently for someone to let her out until she got frustrated and barked a couple of times.
After the tears stopped flowing and our adrenaline began to dissipate, we sank into our couch to watch some mind-numbing TV show before falling into bed, thoroughly exhausted and grateful as our sweet Haley slept soundly in her crate as if nothing happened.