Heidi is my Bernese Mountain Dog. Actually, my third – but my first rescue Berner. She is somewhat of a special needs girl because she suffers from chronic Dry Eye Syndrome, which is very rare in Berners. It’s starting to slowly blind her.
Then just this past fall she developed a curious lump on her side, which I had examined immediately. The diagnosis: mast cell cancer. While undergoing a complete cancer work-up, we discovered something even worse. Cancer had started in her lungs, and the doctor ended up removing two of her lung lobes and treating her with eight sessions of chemotherapy.
Heidi came through it all just fine. Here she is in a video I made to celebrate her progress, half-way through the chemo. This is what I really love about dogs!
I have a confession to make. It was an accident, but in the midst of all of this, I neglected Heidi.
I let her outside for a couple of minutes during a late lunchtime, and didn’t secure the gate. I figured it was no big deal. After all, she really never goes too far from me because she’s partially blind.
But, she disappeared.
Barely half an hour later, I came out to call her. No Heidi.
I walked around the side of the house searching the area where my acre of property met my neighbor’s half-acre. I fought down the urge to consider that she’d go beyond that invisible dividing line…
…because on the other side of that half-acre was one of the most ruthless commuting streets in all of town.
I stood there alone for a few seconds, trying to second-guess her movements. All that came to me was the steadily rising tempo of the after-school buses and early commuter cars as they whipped along.
And then, IT came. The TERROR, that my Heidi – a partially blind and frightened, loose dog – might bolt out into the traffic. Or worse.
When a quick, preliminary search of my neighbor’s yard revealed nothing, I threw myself into full search mode. Fortunately, I had a very recent picture of her after her surgery and I quickly photoshopped that into a flier with my name, address and phone number to take around to the adjacent houses and streets (since our neighbors rarely know us anymore).
Traveling several blocks of houses down from mine in every direction – even dodging the relentless propulsion of speeding cars to skitter across the commuter road, in case Heidi had somehow made it – I stuffed fliers into mailboxes and grilled anyone who happened to be walking by. I didn’t have much time. Dusk was lurking at the horizon, and I knew I had to find her soon.
Battling the rising panic to keep a clear head, I guessed Heidi probably was hunkered down somewhere for an afternoon nap – like she always did. That would mean she’d be hidden somewhere now, but up and about looking for dinner soon.
I went home and waited. The terror that had turned to panic had now seasoned into self-recrimination. But that wasn’t going to help anything.
As calmly as I could, I sat in my living room monitoring the fading light of a mid-winter’s evening. And when the light was just right, I gathered up Heidi’s dog dish to use its familiar clang to summon her. It usually never fails.
Finishing up my first sweep, I just stood alone in my driveway. What direction next?
Then, my cell phone rang. It was a lady named Ruth. She said she lived in the house for sale on the other side of the commuter road, maybe six houses down….
She was just walking her German Shepherd when she saw Heidi appear in the middle of the road, confused and frightened. Already, a young man in a yellow jeep had stopped traffic going southbound – and Ruth with her dog challenged the northbound traffic to a halt.
She grabbed Heidi by the collar, and led both dogs down her long driveway away from danger, stopping only to grab her mail. Once in the house, Ruth hustled Heidi into her dog’s crate – with a cookie bribe. There, in her mail, was my flier. She called.
I came running! Ruth answered the door and immediately took me to Heidi. I was overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude…gratitude that there was another “dog mom” who happened to be out just then…SHE KNEW WHAT TO DO AND JUST DID IT.
I could rely on the love of another dog mom to save my dog’s life.
A few days later, after I had calmed down, I wrapped up one of my new Silver Love Paw Necklaces and trudged through the headwinds of a nor’easter to slip it into Ruth’s mailbox. She called me soon after to thank me, and we’ve exchanged a couple of resources helpful only to dog moms.
I’m so sorry she’s leaving the neighborhood…