There’s never a good time to lose your dog, but my dog chose the 11th hour of a 16-hour workday during the hellish heat wave that hit near the climax of the state budget impasse.
I was at a committee hearing for a bill I’d been watching for more than two years when my son called, panic in his voice.
“Mom, Rosie got out.”
He’d been in his bedroom, headphones on, and missed hearing the doorbell the first time it rang. So by the time he got downstairs, the dog had shifted into turbodrive. When my son opened the door, Rosie darted out, and Evan made the understandable mistake of chasing after her.
“I think she went looking for you, because you’ve been working so late,” he said.
Guilt rolls off me, but I was in a pickle. Should I stay at the Capitol and do my job? Or should I go look for my Rosie? Call-waiting beeped in with the answer.
“Are you missing a dog?”
Rosie wears a collar that has my phone number woven into it in a one-inch font, which the caller was able to read from a distance. I connected her with Evan and told myself that together, they’d find Rosie.
But after searching Washington Park, they gave up when darkness fell. I felt helpless, trapped in the budget hearing, and started blasting snapshots of Rosie out via social media.
Hours later, I got a call from the handler of a certain senator who is not my biggest fan: “Is that you driving around Washington Park honking your horn and yelling Rosie?” he asked. “I just passed you. I’m out here trying to find her too.”
If I could’ve bottled up that moment, it would’ve become the elixir I lived on for the next two weeks: Me making an utter fool of myself; unexpected allies volunteering their help; and the stark realization that it’s hard to find a dog.
Neighbors porch-sat, hoping to catch Rosie heading home. My friend Mary printed flyers and left them on doorsteps. Neon posters, featuring full-color pics of Rosie, mysteriously appeared on telephone poles all over town. People posted possible sightings on Facebook. That shar-pei in the fenced yard near Ash? Was with his rightful owner. That dog headed into the woods behind Grant Middle School? Turned out to be a deer.
The vague reports – “crossing Ninth Street at Cook” and “running down Walnut near North Grand” – eventually proved true. But “eventually” can be a really long time.
Along with tips came advice: Leave her bed outside the front door so if she comes home, she’ll stay instead of wandering away. Search near dumpsters; she’ll be looking for food. Take another dog with you to search, because nothing attracts a dog like another dog. Start searching by 5 a.m., because she’ll be on the prowl at first light. Consult a pet psychic. And of course, “Have you checked with the pound?”
I did all these things, multiple times. But every day without Rosie made me sadder. It felt eerie coming home to a house with no scratching sound urging me to turn the key faster to unlock the door. It felt unnatural eating dinner without eyes staring at my salad. It seemed plain wrong to open a bag of chips and not have her sprint into the kitchen expecting a treat.
A small army kept me sane. My boyfriend, a retired cop, went on “stakeouts” with me at all hours of the day and night. Friends brought their dogs to walk through parks with me. My brother, who lives 600 miles away, crawled into the brush along a creek bed where someone saw something they thought might be Rosie.
Most incredible: The woman who showed up on Day Four, at Grant Middle School, while I was searching along the woods. She introduced herself as Karli, and mentioned that her group, Lost Pets of Sangamon County, had created those neon posters I’d seen around town. Karli set up a motion-detector camera that proved the animal at GMS was actually a fawn.
On Day Nine, another motion-activated camera caught a blonde pup wearing a pink collar, trotting past the back steps of a house near North Grand. It was unmistakably Rosie.
We moved our search operations to the North End. Each morning I’d choose an alley and park there from 5 until time to go to work. I met several wonderful residents, including one man who got teary-eyed just imagining how he might feel if his beloved dog went missing for 13 days. While he was blinking away that moisture, my phone rang.
“Are you missing… let’s see here… Rosie?”
She had wandered into the backyard of a guy named Dennis.
“She’s happy. I’m feeding her treats,” he said. “But I leave for work in 20 minutes.”
I raced from North Grand southeast to Ninth and Cook. I lost count of the neon Rosie posters I passed along the way. One was half a block from Dennis’s house. He had never seen it.
He’d also never seen a Facebook post or a flyer. He was j
ust a guy who happened to be outside, having a smoke and coffee before heading to work at Menard’s.
Dennis will forever be my hero. But so will Karli, and the senator’s handler, and the lady at Washington Park, and the guy who got all teary-eyed. I never knew how many nice people live in Springfield until Rosie led me to them.
Dusty Rhodes is a former Illinois Times staff writer, currently working for WUIS. Rosie now wears a GPS tracker.