Baxter’s not so excellent adventure

I lost the dog.

So an alternate title for this post could be Matt’s and Julia’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

We’d had an amazing week last week. He’d been to lots of new places, had lots of new experiences and been a shining star in all of them. The Canine Good Citizenship test was seeming much more attainable than I originally thought.

Saturday, he’d walked off leash with us, back over the fields out to the woods. I snapped the leash onto him when we headed into the forest, but once we were done with our hike, I let him walk freely back to the house. He trotted around and sniffed, but followed us home with no problem.

Buoyed by his stellar behaviour, on Sunday morning I grabbed the leash but decided not to put it on him for our morning walk. He waited at the front door until he had permission to come out. He took two steps down the driveway but turned around and followed me when I headed in the opposite direction. He ran past me and part way down the lane to the back field, but changed direction when I called him and he saw that I was going across the other field. He ran into the field, but quickly settled into his usual trot, looking back over his shoulder every so often to see that I was still there.

As we neared the end of the field, I called, “Baxter, wait.” And he stood still like he usually does and waited until I caught up to him. I said, “Good boy!” and he headed off trotting again. At the corner, we came to a junction where three fields meet. He waited for me to find out what field we were going to, and then he trotted off on his tour of the perimeter.

I was ecstatic. He was the best behaved dog ever. This was exactly what I envisioned when I thought about getting a dog. I was so happy that he was able to range freely and sniff as he wanted.

At the bottom of the field, there’s a marshy spot and the perimeter does a bit of a jig-and-jog. Baxter, who was trotting ahead, disappeared around the corner, hidden by the tall grass. I had a moment of, “I wonder what my dog is doing. I hope he doesn’t find a trail to follow and take off when I can’t see him.”

I came around the corner, and he was standing there, looking over his shoulder waiting for me to catch up.

We continued on, making our way around the second and third sides of the field. There were lots of areas where I could see that a deer or a turkey or some other animal had walked through the long grass between the fields. Baxter sniffed most of these trails but kept up his patrol, sticking to the mowed area inside the field.

Then, at the last corner, he didn’t. I had made the turn and was walking along. He stopped to sniff. Our routine had been that I’d keep walking, he’d sniff his fill and then come trotting along passed me. This time, he followed his nose into the long grass, trailing whatever delicious scent had captured his attention.

I called him, but as soon as I realized he wasn’t going to come, I headed after him. He was in my sight… and then he wasn’t. There was a fence. I had a minute to puzzle over how he’d got through, but I couldn’t find a gap, so I quickly climbed it (tall wire fence + short woman wearing shorts = not a good combination).

Bruises on my legs

On the other side of the fence, I plunged into the woods behind our closest neighbour’s house and found nothing.

No sight of a sleek red-brown dog. No jingle of his tags. No paw prints in the mud. It had been maybe 10 seconds, and he had disappeared.

I circled through the woods calling his name in my happiest voice. I headed up to the neighbour’s house thinking he might have returned to civilization. Nothing. I headed back through the woods and discovered an open field where a turkey was having his breakfast. Given how placidly he was munching until I barged in, I concluded Baxter hadn’t come that way.

I thought I must have misread Baxter’s direction and maybe he headed north instead of east or south. I cut back over to our front field. No sign. The dogs across the road were barking. Maybe he ended up over there. No. Just people looking at a calf and dogs ticked off that they weren’t getting the same attention.

I went home, trying to figure out what I’d say to Matt.

“I don’t have him. He went into the woods. I couldn’t find him. I don’t know where he is.”

“Are you joking?”

“No, I mean it.”

With speed rivaling any fireman, Matt pulled on his boots, grabbed a leash and headed out.

I changed into long pants and grabbed my car keys. My plan was to drive down the road and if I didn’t see Baxter hike into the woods and work my way back to Matt. We did that, and when we met up we were both still dogless.

Matt came up with a new plan. I would head back to the house in case Baxter came back on his own. Matt would keep looking.

I drove home, scanning the trees alongside the road for any sign of Baxter. Back at the farm, I headed out across the fields again, retracing our steps from the morning and calling his name. I found the end of the fence line where he must have gotten through, heard a few barks that I thought might be him (although he’s a very quiet dog, so they were likely just wishful thinking on my part) and that was it.

I headed home, hoping that a furry fellow would be curled up on the front stoop as he likes to do. No such luck.

Deciding that it was best to stay outside, I went to work pulling weeds on the turnaround. I kept calling his name and scanning the fields, hoping that I’d see him happily trotting along. Ralph came out to offer her comfort. She doesn’t like Baxter, but she still likes me, so she saved her happy dance for the privacy of the barn and gave me cuddles and purrs.

I pulled weeds and kept repeating my mantra, “Matt will find him. Matt will find him.” I envisioned Matt and Baxter walking together, Baxter safely on a leash. I castigated myself for my arrogance in walking him off leash when I know he’s lazy about coming when I call him. I envisioned telling my family, friends, coworkers and you guys that he was gone. I wrote mental blog posts. I pulled weeds.

After two and a half hours, I looked down the driveway and saw Matt and Baxter, walking along just as I had envisioned them (reenactment below).

Matt and Baxter walking home

I ran down the driveway, threw myself into Matt’s arm (the other one was busy holding the leash) and burst into tears.

My husband is the most stubborn person I’ve ever met. Many times, this annoys me. However, when you need someone to walk around for hours and hours searching for your lost dog and not give up until he finds him, Matt’s stubbornness is his best quality.

If this story had gone a different way, this post would have been a picture of an empty collar that we bought over the weekend for Baxter’s birthday. I was going through the adoption paperwork the other week, and I found a note that Baxter’s birth date is September 5. We decided that we really should replace his dirty and faded foster collar with something that could measure up to his own handsomeness. We hadn’t put it on him when he headed out on Sunday, and while I was searching one of my thoughts was, “If somebody finds him, I hope that awful collar doesn’t make them think he’s not cared for and loved.”

Happily, this post can still be a birthday post… albeit in a very roundabout way. Here is Baxter, safe at home and handsome in his new collar.

Baxter in his new leather collar

Happy birthday, fellow. The second part of your birthday present is a flexi-leash to be used only on field walks. The third part will definitely be those training classes I was planning on.

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12 thoughts on “Baxter’s not so excellent adventure

  1. Happy birthday, handsome boy. What a scare he gave you. Glad it turned out well.
    Arnica will help that nasty bruise.
    Margaret

  2. Many dog parents, including me, have lived through a similar scare. Glad to hear the happy ending. Sometimes, our four-legged-friends can’t ignore the impulse to explore.

  3. Poor Julia. That is really scary for you. Good for Matt.

    With you being a wonderful story teller ( here is the old “teach” coming out) what a wonderful children’s story to write sometime, from Baxter’s point of view.

    Lots of love and Happy Birthday Baxter,

    Auntie Anne

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