The morning of Easter Sunday, two days before my trip to the Netherlands, Velvet and the last of the puppies leave. As I bake and cook my contributions for our family dinner in Virginia and Steve prepares to take Sugar and Sweet Pea to meet their temporary foster, Bethany, Velvet’s new foster, arrives to pick her up. Velvet will be Bethany’s second foster, she and her husband Matt previously cared for a puppy for Homeward Trails. Bethany and I have emailed for several days; she so loving, caring and patient, just what Velvet needs to continue advancing. As we load Velvet into the crate in Bethany’s car, I explain that she’s a “flight risk” and suggest using two leashes on her, one for her collar and another to loop around her neck. Bethany wonders if a halter would be a good idea and I remember I’d set one aside for her that morning. I suggest that she and Matt carry the crate into the house since Velvet just has the collar and leash on her. I thank Bethany profusely, look at Velvet in the crate one last time, and off they go. After I go inside, I notice Steve has placed the loop leash on the kitchen table; after taking it off Velvet, we’d forgotten to give it to Bethany. I wonder if she has a second leash at home.
Steve takes the two pups to meet their temporary foster and Boo Boo’s adopters arrive at 11am to fill out the paperwork and take him home. Relieved to have our foster responsibilities lifted, we head for Virginia and have a wonderful day with our family. This is the first time in almost two months we’ve not had to worry about getting home within a handful of hours. Later that evening I text Bethany to ask how things are going. I don’t hear back.
Tuesday morning, the day I’m leaving for my trip, Miranda emails me to say Velvet escaped from Bethany. She hates telling me before my vacation but needs to alert the HTAR listserve to get help and doesn’t want me reading the news second hand. My heart goes into my stomach. I think about how after almost two months Velvet still runs away when my daughter Amanda approaches her and wonder how anyone will be able to catch her. Poor Velvet, lost and scared, with only strangers around. My eyes start to burn. I shove my thoughts and feelings down. I can’t do anything for Velvet right now. I think of Bethany; how terrible she must be feeling. I send her a quick email – don’t beat yourself up, you aren’t the first foster to lose a dog, I had a foster dog escape on me once too. Then I finish packing and leave for the airport.
Before my flight leaves, I see Miranda’s note:
HI Team! Velvet got away from her fosters in Leesburg and we need to spread the word to help get looking for her!
We have a professional tracker on it but spreading the word, especially to any and everyone in the Leesburg area, will help us get reported sightings.
Flyer is attached if anyone can help spread the word or help look for her I’d really appreciate it!!
While on my trip, I check my email hoping to read that Velvet has been found but receive no notes about her. On Sunday, April 30, I return. I email Miranda asking for news. I receive an “away message” so it’s Wednesday night before I hear from her.
Hey there! Yes she’s still missing but she makes an appearance in the woods behind the foster’s house every night around 9pm so they know she’s sticking close. We have a trap set up but she’s too smart to get in it unfortunately.
The good news is they see her everynight! We are optimistic she will eventually get hungry enough to go into the trap!
I wonder if she’d come to me? I’m happy to go out there.
That would be amazing! Would love that!
Hey, so Velvet has been moving around a little bit as of this week. I haven’t seen her in the back field for several days now, but she was seen twice yesterday in the backyard of a neighbor around 10:30pm.
How was your dog with Velvet when she was with you guys, do you think your dog would act as a familiar friend, or a “magnet dog”.
The tracker specifically told us not to “call her” because she will just run and try to find new hiding. But having your dog might do the trick. Maybe just hearing your voice talking could lure her in.
I know 10 is late and you live far away but are you interested in coming out late? From like 9-11 tonight?
Let me know!
I answer yes and Bethany emails with more info:
You know I’m thinking, just because she usually comes out late doesn’t mean she might not come out earlier if she hears you. I don’t know… I’m really hoping and praying this works! It’s been a long 3 weeks! I am going to be here all night so come whenever! 🙂
I talked to the professional dog tracker and got a bunch of tips for what to do with you and your scent. Having your pup come made the dog tracker lady most excited. She said magnet dogs really help. She also said to have us lay flat on the ground and let your dog sniff around and leave scent trails to the trap.
It’s rather chilly out, dress for high grass and tick prevention!
Also if you have some towels or old clothes anything that has your scent on it that you could bring for us to leave in the trap in case we don’t catch her tonight that would be wonderful.
Shoot me a text when you are leaving to let me know your ETA.
Thank you so much for doing this, see you tonight!
From the laundry I grab the inner most layer of clothing I wore while cycling in the Netherlands – the shirt that had been next to my skin for seven days – and from the pantry Beggin strips, the treats we’d fed Velvet. Around 7:30pm Thursday evening Steve and I load the dogs into the car and leave for Leesburg, about a 55 minute drive. Wendy stands with her front paws on the console between the front seats, Little Dog presses up next to her, pants and shivers. As we get on the Dulles Toll Road it begins to rain. I remember how warm and sunny it was just a few days ago and kick myself for not emailing Bethany on Sunday when I emailed Miranda.
We get to Bethany’s house around 8:30pm. We hug then take the dogs out back. The field behind her home is huge, several acres, backed by woods. It’s nearly dark when we begin our search. As we walk the path that runs through the field and into the woods, I call out for Velvet, using familiar words and phrases. Bethany leads us through the dark and rain to the trap in the woods, then scatters pieces of the treats in and around it. Every evening since her escape, Bethany’s been scattering rotisserie chicken for Velvet around the trap and walking through the fields and woods searching for her. Her entire neighborhood knows of Velvet’s escape; people update Bethany when and where they’ve seen her. One of Velvet’s puppies’ adopters help with the search, walking their puppy, hoping Velvet will smell her scent and be drawn to it.
Easter Sunday, twenty minutes after she got home with Velvet, Bethany realized Velvet hadn’t had a chance to relieve herself. And while she remembered our conversation about the risk of Velvet escaping, she thought Velvet would be fine with just her leash and collar for a quick trip outside. It was only a moment after Bethany took her out that Velvet, startled by a noise, slipped out of her collar and took off.
Bethany resets the trap and we continue our search. The field thins away and now the woods and path back right up to people’s yards. As we near the house of the neighbor who recently saw Velvet, I continue my chatter, saying Velvet’s name, Wendy’s name, calling out “Puppy Puppies,” whistling, anything that might catch Velvet’s attention. It’s cold and the dogs are drenched; I’m feeling discouraged. I see the headlights of cars on the road ahead, the path and woods are ending. If she is close enough to hear me, wouldn’t she have come by now?
Then I hear barking. Behind us on the path I see a dark shape. Bethany calls out for us to lie down. I talk to the dark shape and it starts whining. Is it Velvet? I ask Bethany. Yes. Velvet runs across the path and disappears into the woods. Now suddenly she’s on the other side of the path. She continues to whine and bark, running back and forth through the woods, appearing and disappearing on the path. She’s about 20-25 feet from me. I toss treats toward her but the movement of my arm startles her. We let Wendy off her leash and toss more treats. Velvet runs over to Wendy, excited, but when Wendy walks back to me Velvet won’t follow her. I tuck my cycling shirt into Wendy’s collar and it slips out onto the ground near Velvet. Velvet grabs it with her teeth and carries it off into the woods. Bethany and Steve move farther away, hoping Velvet will approach me if I’m alone. But Velvet keeps the same distance.
The rain is pelting my face. My jeans are completely wet now. Gravel is poking me. Velvet continues to circle but refuses to come any closer. I wonder how long we’ve been lying on the ground. We seem to have Bethany reminds me we need to be patient, that this may take a while.
I look at the back of the houses and think about how Velvet used to sit by our sliding glass door and wait for us to let her in. I wonder if Bethany’s neighbor’s patio might remind Velvet of ours. Perhaps if we sit where she can see us better – light streaming from the house – she’ll approach us.
As we walk toward the house, Velvet follows. Steve, Bethany, the dogs and I go to patio under the deck, happy to be out of the rain. Velvet sits under a tree nearby. I suggest to Bethany that she go inside, maybe Velvet will come closer if only Steve, the dogs and I are there. We toss treats toward Velvet and while she eats them she still keeps her distance. Leaving Steve and the dogs on the patio, I walk over to the staircase leading up to the deck and sit down on the bottom step. I call out to Velvet. A moment later she’s just five feet from me. I put out my hand and Velvet comes forward to sniff it. I reach out and pet her as she looks calmly into my eyes. As I gently gather a handful of fur and skin, I slip the loop leash over her head and around her neck then pull it tight. I call out to Steve. I have her.
Steve picks Velvet up and carries her inside. This very kind neighbor lets us all – three dirty wet people and three dirty wet dogs – into her house and makes us tea. Wendy and Little Dog wander around the kitchen, chewing on the household bones. As she sits in the family dog’s playpen, Velvet makes eye contact with Bethany and the neighbor and lets them both pet her. I give Bethany a big hug. The weight of her embrace conveys some of heartache she’s endured over the last eighteen days. I’m so relieved her ordeal is over. I ask if she wants to keep Velvet or if she’d like me to take her. She hesitates to respond. I can tell she’s conflicted. I say we’ll take Velvet for now and then after she’s spayed Bethany can take her then if she decides she wants to.
I look at my watch, it’s 10:30. We were outside for nearly two hours. We load everyone into the car and drive home. Tired and wet yet somehow content. Back home Velvet wags her tail – before this she only wagged her tail for her puppies. I stay up until after 1am picking ticks off her – I lose count after thirty. Velvet seems to enjoy the attention and sleeps through the last half hour of the picking. I find small lumps all over her, probably from ticks, and a handful abrasions and open sores. But nothing looks infected or serious. She’s thin but not terribly so. Bethany’s chicken kept her nourished and gave her a reason to remain in the area. I’m so grateful for Bethany’s diligence, patience and hard work in recovering Velvet.
Velvet likes to keep track of me. She whines if I leave the room, then jumps a gate to follow me. If I stay put long enough though, she’ll find herself a bone and make herself comfortable on one of the couches or chairs. The first time I tried to let her out back, she stood there a moment and whined. Did she worry that she’d never find her way back to us again or did she wish that big field and woods could be behind our house too?