So...true to form, i have been on hiatus for much longer than planned. Mostly due to my typicaly insane spring schedule. But i realized there was a HUGE story thst i neglected to record...so here goes.
On the first day of my Christmas break I ended up in the hospital with what turned out to be a bum gall bladder. After a few days recuperating at home, my mom came to take me and my three dogs to my hometown of Los Alamos, NM for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, while I continued to sloth around recovering from surgery, my mom and a friend took the dogs out walking. Understand, this is not what a typical urban dog owner (and certainly not a non-dog owner) would consider an afternoon walk. My mom, her friend and a pack of 7 dogs loaded into the car and took a ride into the mountains to hike the ski hill.
About 4 months earlier I had adopted my third dog. "Griffin" came from a neglective and abusive household, and trusted no one but me. Soon after I got him he had gone hiking with my mom and decided he was more comfortable returning to the car. He circled the car, keeping his distance from everyone until I came to pick him up so the rest of the crew could proceed with the hike. Because of this experience we had decided that it would be best to walk him on the leash this time, just in case he still wasn't comfortable enough to walk without me.
They arrived at the ski hill and before my mom had a chance to put the leash on, Griffin had joined the pack and started walking. Assuming that he had decided the group was trustworthy, the hike continued as planned, sans leash. About 15 minutes into the walk, Griffin decided the pack was to be trusted no more, and he took off. Because of Griffin's history, they decided the hike was officially over and project "catch dog" was on. Griffin started by playing hard to get and ran around in near proximity of the search for awhile. At some point, he decided he was no longer interested in playing...now he just wanted to get away.
After a while longer of calling, whistling and looking, they decided it was time to call in the familiar voice. Little did we know, that would do no good. My dad and I drove the 20 minutes up to the ski hill, never once anticipating what the next minutes, hours and days would hold. We came together as a family at the base of the ski hill and began the search. We called, we listened, we looked, and we called some more. About 4 hours into our search, Griffin was spotted in the parking lot of the ski hill. I headed that direction only to see him dash away again.
At this point I was trying to determine what could possibly be going through his head. Had I not given him more affection, love and even food over the past months than he had ever received? Had we not built a bond that could only be understood by other dog lovers? Had he not found himself a comfortable home with me? I could not understand why he was running away from the familiar.
Another 3 hours passed and our search party had evolved into a 3 point attack. My mom was 1/4 mile up the road in her car, my dad was a 1/4 mile down the road in his, and I was on foot in the middle. The sun had set about an hour earlier, and there had been no further sign of Griffin. About this time, what I consider to be a fairly keen sense of my surroundings led me to believe that I was being watched, if not stalked, by a mountain cat. I would be skeptical of that possibility if I were you too...but when it's happening, you KNOW it. Let's just say that it sounded like Lucy, my house cat, had been hooked up to surround sound and was picking a fight.
I decided it was time to get out of the middle of the dark road and into a vehicle or some other enclosed vessel! I called my mom and asked her to come get me, but then couldn't decide what was next. I realized that I was now in the middle of a dilemma that I would wish on no one. I had to decide, and worse act on the fact, that it was time to leave my dog, who was my responsibility, to fend for himself against the bitter cold and wild life of the mountains. I was going home to a meal and a warm bed, all the while knowing that I had made the decision to call off the search for the night. That is a feeling I will not soon forget.
I spent the 20 minute ride back down the mountain sobbing like a toddler. I skipped the meal and went straight to bed to cry some more. It was the first of what would be a string of restless nights.
On Christmas morning we all loaded back into the vehicle and returned to the ski hill. It was a cold foggy morning and visibility was minimal. We led out on foot and began the calling, whistling and searching again. I don't remember how long we stayed out that day, but I do remember the feeling of despair and hopelessness. If he had been lucky enough to make it through the night, surely he would be looking for someone to return to. With no sightings or any evidence of his presence, we left the mountain empty handed again.
The next few days would prove to be the proverbial emotional rollercoaster. Just when I would start to resolve that I would probably never see Griffin again, an internal berating would begin and I would be guilt ridden for "giving up" on him. At one point we received a call about a dog barking at the ski hill. The caller was sure that there were no other dogs up there and that it must be him. We dropped everything to return to the mountains only to come home without him again. We returned to the hill almost every day that week. Increasing the level of concern and decreasing the level of hope were the "big" cat tracks we saw every time we went looking.
Exhausted and heart-broken, I began wishing for news...even bad news. The not knowing was unbearable. Eventually it was time to return to Albuquerque, and I would have to move on. Before doing so, we sent out a bulletin to the shelter, vets and animal lovers throughout the town. I made a poster and put a lost dog ad in the paper. I left a sweatshirt with my scent on it to be taken back to the spot where we had last seen him. I was determined to do everything in my power so that I could never look back and say, "if only I had...".
On New Year's Eve, as I was getting ready to go out for the evening, I got a call from my mom. "I saw Griffin today, but he won't come to me. You have to come up if we're going to get him." Unbeknownst to me, my parents had responded to multiple sightings and returned to the mountains on multiple occasions since I had left. My dad will soon be undergoing shoulder surgery as a result of a tumble he took while trying to get his truck out of a ditch during one of these trips. The weather was treacherous and the chances were slim, but they continued to drop everything to try to bring Griffin home.
Needless to say, I made the drive back to Los Alamos that night and we planned to go out first thing in the morning. You would have thought we were preparing for a week long camping trip on Mount Everest...we had food, water, blankets, and enough winter clothing to keep a small army warm. We awoke early on New Year's Day, ate breakfast and drove back up the mountain again. I couldn't help spending the entire drive trying to dash my own hopes to avoid the pending disappointment of Griffin not coming home AGAIN.
We decided it was time for a different method of attack. Rather than driving around or walking around, I "hugged a tree". I went to the location where we had left my sweatshirt and a pack of lil' smokies...and where my mom had seen him the day before. Encouraged by the missing smokies, I took a couple blankets and donned my dad's hunting gear. I then sat in the snow, literally, for 30 minutes calling him over and over again. I don't know if it was intuition, or pure despair that made me decide to stop calling for him. Instead, I began to fervently pray that Griffin would realize that I was here and ready to take him home safe and sound.
After about 10 minutes of silence, I looked up to see Griffin's head look out over the ridge of the ravine; tentatively, but curious. My first thought was, he hasn't come to me when I called, why would he come to me now. (I still wish i knew why the calling did more damage than good) As soon as we made eye contact it was apparent that he DID know who I was, and he DID love and trust me. He came bounding through the three foot deep snow, climbed into my lap, and cried like I have never heard a dog cry before. He was kissing me and cuddling me and the look of relief in his eyes was unmistakable. I will be able to replay that scene in my mind until the day i die. It was truly cinematic.
We spent a couple weeks dealing with some minor complications from his escapades, but he is back to normal and happier than ever now. I still can't believe that he survived for 8 days and 7 nights in the freezing temperatures, surrounded by hungry mountain lions. I wish I knew what cave, den, tree trunk, etc., he found to keep warm. I have had day dreams about him making friends with the mountain cats, but I'm pretty sure that's due to watching too many Disney movies :-)
Although he ultimately came to me, I am eternally thafnkful to all of the individuals, families and organizations who didn't give up on finding him. It is true that animal lovers are kindred spirits, but the sense of community that I saw during and after my saga is one that rivals those I've witnessed during true disasters. Knwing that there was an entire support system who understood that in those moments, this WAS my true distaster, was a comfort that I can not possibly put into words.
So...fast forward 5 months...life is awesome! I think Griffin's little escapade made him realize that we humans aren't a bad thing to have around!