Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Our dog Speed was mentally ill. I won’t go into how we got him or how he left us, another time perhaps, but this story is about why it was hard to see him go.

Right away we could tell Speed had problems. In the house with just the two of us and the cats, Speed was a docile sensitive companion. But stress him and he would turn to stone. He would freeze in whatever position he happened to be in and then he would start to shake. Apply a little comfort and he’d melt back to himself. His stress limit grew over time but it always had a distinct threshold. I learned later that some Brittanys have a hereditary nervous disorder. Speed had it.

About three weeks after we got him, we had a nice snow. It was enough that DC was shut down and my wife had the day off. I went to my office. After I had cleared the walk and steps and got coffee, my wife called and announced that she and Speed were going to cross country ski into town, about 4 miles, and that I would buy her lunch and give them a ride home. There was a festive vibe going in town; my bride and dog ought to be in the middle of it. Or so I thought... 

I got back from court and I started looking for my wife. It wasn’t long before coming over the hill on the side walk was a small cloud of snow that was punctuated with sticks and skis and a rope. I could see 2 blocks away that the dog wasn’t the only one stressed. We didn’t have lunch, I just took them home.

A few days later, on Saturday, the first snow was still the big happening in town. I went in to work and took Speed. I figured it would be a good quiet time to introduce him to the rhythms and smells of the office. I beamed when he went to the rug, turned around a couple of times and laid down. At lunch, I was invited down to the cafe. I took Speed out to my pickup and tied his short leash to my truck. When I got back from lunch, he was gone.

I started looking for him right away. I tracked him to the park a few blocks away but too many children had made snow angels and too many dogs had made tracks. After a couple of hours, I called my wife. We started driving the downtown area and the surrounding neighborhoods. As it turned dark it began to sleet. We were in for an ice storm. We went home.

We’d had the dog three weeks and lost him. About 9:00 when wind started blowing, I got up and went to the truck to go look some more. My wife got in without saying a word. We drove and drove and pulled a few people out of the ditch. By 11:00, it was getting treacherous. If I kept driving, sooner or later I’d wreck. We started home. Speed didn’t know where to go. He had only been ours for a few weeks. He had grown up in a kennel deep in the woods and was never socialized. He was afraid of everyone except my wife and I. He got car sick every time he was in a car. There were a few thousand homes in the area and he didn't have a map. I knew he was out there in the blowing ice dragging a leash.

The highway looped around town and formed a barrier between my office and home. It had few access points and was guarded by a varmit fence. I couldn’t get the image of Speed’s collar or leash hung in that fence out of my mind. I hadn’t driven the by-pass because I didn’t want to find him there. But on that cold slick night we drove north of town and got on the 4 lane. I drove slow and we used our weak flashlights to illuminate the shoulders, fence, and median. We were about the only ones out for the whole loop. I don’t know if we were sad we didn’t find him or glad he wasn’t on the road.

When I got home, I turned the TV on for noise and sat in the dark. I wanted the late movie to drown out the wind but it didn’t. The glow in the room was depressing and the click on the glass door was annoying. I needed to get up and stop whatever was slapping the door in the wind, but I didn’t. And then the slapping stopped and I heard a whimper. I jumped up and there was Speed out on the deck scratching on the door. I yelled for my wife as I slid the door back on the sticking slides. And this frozen dog -- with icicles hanging in all directions, eyes glaring, dragging a leash that had frozen into the shape and size of a club -- came home and into our hearts. I don’t believe in miracles but Speed finding his way home was close.