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Return of the hound

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Ollie looked me straight in the eyes and in that instant, I knew he was back. It was one of those imploring looks he gets when he wants to play tug of war with his pullie. I gave a soft growl. His tail started to wag. This is how the game starts. He must be feeling better.

For the better part of a week, he wasn’t interested in the pullie and, extraordinarily not really into food either. Carol knew how to interest him with bits of turkey, but forget the kibble and anything that was dog food. He was only interested in sleep.

None of the usual attractions worked. He ignored efforts to get him to play, go for a ride and, most troubling, paid no heed to incoming calls he’d customarily greet with howls when the caller ID announced who was on the line.

It was as if the four years since we adopted him were wiped clean. He had reverted to that lost dog, fearful of people and unsettled by his surroundings, although nothing had changed. His blanket was on the living room chair like it has always been. Upstairs the chair by the window, where he basks in the sun, was waiting for a sunny day. The water dishes – upstairs and downstairs – were where they have always been.

Had something clicked? Were those bonds we had thought so genuine and lasting been simply been transitory?

I thought it possible seeing what he had been through and, for that matter, what he put the family through. Had the trauma erased all that we had in common?

It was Ollie’s second great escape in upstate New York. We took him with us when we went to join my son Jack and his family for the final weekend in September. As he had done more than a year ago, Ollie got loose and instantly headed for the hills in pursuit of deer. There was no stopping him. He crossed a field, then a road and disappeared into the woods.

Jack and I gave chase, following a deer run that took us up a rocky washout choked with vines and shrubbery. We heard Ollie’s persistent howl. It was growing louder. Then there was the snapping of underbrush and three deer suddenly appeared. They looked as startled as we were. They abruptly altered course, passing within feet but clearly more concerned by Ollie than us.

This was our moment, or so we thought. It was seconds before Ollie appeared. He didn’t slow down, shooting by Jack who did his best to stop him.

We followed, crossing the road and trying to keep up with Ollie, who by now was running across the field. It was futile. The deer disappeared and soon Ollie was gone, too.

Jack and I waited and listened. We picked up his howl in the direction of a golf course about a half-mile away. Between the course and us were a cornfield and a stream swollen by recent rains flanked by more heavy woods. We set off, slogging through the saturated field, hopeful of another howl or even better finding that Ollie had given up the chase. Carol drove ahead to the golf course, stopping to alert a homeowner on the far side of the stream and giving him my number.

The trail went cold.

Grandkids, Lucy and Eddie, joined the posse.

While it hadn’t rung, I checked my phone and found a missed call from an unknown number. It was the homeowner Carol had asked to be on the lookout. Ollie had been in his yard about two hours earlier before disappearing into the woods again. The sighting gave us hope although the shadows were lengthening and I couldn’t suppress the thought we may not find him by nightfall. Jack, Lucy, Eddie and I headed back to the golf course. The manager provided us with a cart and we quickly patrolled the course where it gave way to the woods.

We split with Jack and Lucy entering the woods on a ridge while Eddie and I followed the stream.

From the woods we heard Lucy’s excited scream “we found him.”

Eddie and I cut back to the course driving the cart as close as we could get to where Jack was in the woods. He had Ollie but the dog wasn’t moving. He was wet, his legs mud covered and pathetically hunched over when he tried to walk. Fortunately, there were no cuts and nothing seemed broken. We carried him to the cart and dove him to the car.

He was extremely thirsty. He collapsed. He slept for most of three days, not so much as raising his head or flicking his tail when we called him. It was as if we had found another spotted coonhound that looked just like Ollie. He revived in stages. His interest in food returned. Carol was able to get him out for progressively longer walks.

But for some reason that connection that made him part of the family was gone. The Ollie personality was missing. There was no homecoming greeting or even attentive wait for us to finish dinner and let him lick the plates. He didn’t even roll on his back to have his stomach rubbed. He was detached.

Just as suddenly he returned. He was at the door, ready for Carol to take him for a walk. And then finally came that moment when on my arrival home, he appeared with a chewed section of rope – the pullie – and I knew our deer-chasing hound had come home.

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