Sometimes in life we take certain things for granted. What happens when we stop paying proper attention to those things? What might we lose? I was reminded of that recently when our dog Maeby got out of our back yard.
Maeby, You’re Missing
“Maeby! Come on!” Emily, my wife, called to our beagle-cavalier mix that had been a member of our family for approximately nine years. After a few seconds of waiting, she closed the back door and sighed.
“Frustrating, isn’t it?” I said as I walked in the door with the kids, having just picked them up from the babysitter.
Emily shook her head, rather exasperated.
“How long has she been out?” I asked.
“About five minutes.”
I let out a light chuckle and opened the door, stepping out onto the deck.
Maeby always had a habit of staying out in our back yard much longer than the time it took to simply do her business. She liked to sniff the entire perimeter along the bottom of the fence that enclosed our property. More often than not, she would simply ignore you if you called her name and she wasn’t satisfied that she’d smelled everything she could smell.
This wasn’t a problem during the afternoon. But at night, when Emily and I wanted to get ready for bed, it was a little annoying. On this night, in particular, we’d both had long days and it was already quite late. We wanted her to hurry up, get inside, and let us get back to the business of getting ourselves and the kids tucked away.
As I walked across the deck, I turned on my iPhone’s flashlight and scanned the yard. “Maeby! Let’s go!” I wasn’t hearing or seeing anything, so I panned my light to the back corner. That’s where she liked to spend most of her time – sniffing where the aroma of three neighboring houses coalesced. Nothing there.
This wasn’t terribly odd. Usually if I stepped down off the deck and onto the ground she’d start coming toward me, knowing I meant serious business. So I stomped down the steps and peered around the corners of the deck. Nothing. No sounds. No indications that any small creatures were coming my way.
Was she under the deck? There had been plenty of times where she’d snuck between the spaces in the steps. She liked chasing much smaller animals like squirrels under there. But in squatting down to take a look, I found nothing there either.
Had I just not seen her in the yard? I climbed back up the steps onto the deck and panned the yard again.
That’s when I saw it —
— One of our gates had been opened.
Maeby had gotten out!
Maeby, We’ll Find You!
Emily and I immediately went into crisis mode. Maeby was chipped, but she didn’t have her collar on (it had a dog tag on it that specifically said what her name was and who to contact) because she had been to the dog groomer’s earlier in the day and the collar was in the process of getting washed. This meant there wasn’t anything to immediately suggest to a stranger that she belonged to someone.
I grabbed my flashlight and started looking around the nearby houses. But I wasn’t seeing nor hearing anything.
I briefly examined the gate. Someone had come earlier to give us a quote on mowing our back lawn and likely hadn’t latched it all the way. I noted upon closing it that it didn’t latch easily. In fact, if you didn’t really lean into it, it would crack open about an inch.
With Maeby’s nose, an inch was all it would take.
Thankfully, Emily’s mother was in town, so she took care of the kids while Emily and I got in her car and went around the neighborhood. After half an hour of driving all around our subdivision, we weren’t seeing any hint of Maeby. Emily was beside herself, worried that she was cold or hurt or worse — that someone had stolen her.
I suggested we split up, so she stayed in her car while I took mine. I stopped briefly to put up a couple “lost” posts on Nextdoor, (Em put one on Facebook) but continued driving until 1AM. By this point, I was under the impression that I was going to have to do some closer exploration of the neighborhood, so I parked the car, put on a thicker jacket and gloves, and set out.
Meanwhile, Emily was exhausted and could barely stay awake. She went upstairs to lay down in our bed, terrified at the thought of never seeing Maeby again.
I walked all the interweaving dirt paths of our neighborhood – between fences, trees yards and pools – making sure I stayed well within public boundaries and not straying onto someone else’s yard. By 2:30AM, I had walked the entire subdivision, poked my head between random fence posts, shined my flashlight into many a water hole and climbed through plenty of ditches.
Maeby wasn’t anywhere to be found.
But I didn’t want to stop. I had to find that dog. I could not bear to think what this was going to do to my wife. She loved Maeby; couldn’t live without her. What was I going to do if I came home empty-handed?
I knew exactly how she felt. Years ago, when I was twenty, my first cat had gone missing and he never returned. Even to this day I have random dreams where he either comes back or I find out what happened to him. More recently, my cat Setzer had gotten out of the house and had been missing for more than a week – but in the interim I had been heartsick wanting to know where she was, what she was doing, or if she was okay.
I absolutely refused to let Emily go through that.
As I tiredly slugged up our driveway with the intention to get a drink of water and set out again, my phone buzzed. Emily wanted me to come up and keep her company (I came to find out that she thought I had been downstairs – she didn’t know I had still been outside looking). So I replied that I’d be up and headed back over to the gate.
Maeby, This Is How The Story Ends?
Nine years ago, Maeby had been left at the veterinary clinic where Emily was then employed as a vet tech. Maeby’s owners had simply dropped her off in a kennel and disappeared. The folks at the clinic took her in, spayed her, cleaned her up and took care of a cherry eye that had been bothering her. But with no owners, and nowhere to call home, as soon as she was back to health she would be sent to a shelter.
Emily had refused to let that happen. She had spent much of the subsequent two weeks trying to convince me that we should adopt her. She once even brought me to the vet to meet her, and I refused to let Maeby win me over. After all, I wasn’t really much of a dog person. Neither was Emily, oddly enough.
Me: “If you bring her home I’m sleeping in the guest room.”
Emily: “So I can bring her home?”
I had every logical reason to suggest that we shouldn’t take Maeby in. Chief among them was that we were very busy people – I feared we wouldn’t be home enough to give her the proper attention a dog needed. Emily even admitted that I was right about virtually all of my arguments.
But it didn’t matter. At the end of the day, Emily and Maeby had formed a bond. And my wife couldn’t bear to wonder what had happened to Maeby for the rest of her life.
And I couldn’t bear to let her.
So I caved, and Maeby became a member of our family.
That had been nine years ago. I looked at the gate again and sighed. Nine years. And this was how Maeby’s story was going to end? With a cracked-open gate? After all the experiences we’d had, the things we’d been through, the lives we’d lived in that nine years… it ended with something as simple as a gate cracked open one inch?!
I unlatched the gate and opened it a bit so that if Maeby came back overnight, she could retrace her steps and, if nothing else, huddle by the back door until morning.
Then, feeling like I’d completely failed, I went upstairs, changed, got into bed, and held my wife until we both fell asleep.
Maeby, God Got Involved?
The next morning, I was taking a trip just outside our neighborhood into the more commercial areas of Hendersonville. My theory was that if Maeby had been out all night, Lord knows she might have taken a real sight-seeing tour. I was terrified that I might find her pushed off onto the side of the road or in a ditch (and I won’t lie, a small part of me was hoping for that only because then at least I’d know what had happened to her — it’s odd how your emotions play with you).
As I drove, I asked God if He would please bring Maeby safely home. Emily couldn’t go through this. I couldn’t fathom the hurt she was already in. This just couldn’t be the way Maeby’s story ended.
Satisfied that I’d said and asked all I could, I pulled into McDonald’s to pick up a couple iced coffees for what I was sure was going to be the start of a long day. As I handed the cashier my card, my phone rang. It was Emily.
“Someone found Maeby!”
I paid, picked up the coffees and hurried home to find out more, thanking God the whole way. Once in the house and sipping our caffeine cups, Emily explained that one of the folks on our street had found Maeby and currently had her, but she couldn’t reach the gentleman who had contacted her. One of our other neighbors across the street had explained where this person lived, (literally two doors down from us), so Emily had knocked on the door, but when no one came to answer she left a note and came back.
As she was finishing up her story, Emily’s phone rang. It was the gentleman in question. He told Emily that he was currently at church but as soon as that was done he’d be right over.
Roughly two calm, but anxious, hours later, there was a knock at our door. Emily let our neighbor in and, though he didn’t have Maeby with him, he explained that he had gotten up this morning, seen Emily’s Facebook post in the Hendersonville Lost And Found, and swore he heard God tell him he was going to see that dog today. Sure enough, as he had walked out to his car, there she was, sniffing the ground near his driveway. At first, he said, he couldn’t believe that this was actually the same dog. But when she started to walk away and he had called her name, she immediately turned around and came to him. He had checked her over to make sure she was okay, got her safely into his garage and then immediately contacted Emily via Facebook Messenger before heading out to church.
And now, here we were.
He invited my wife over to pick Maeby up, and Addie and I waited in our driveway. Minutes later, an overjoyed Emily came walking down the road, Maeby happily – and healthily – trotting on her leash next to her.
The story hadn’t ended, after all.
Maeby, I Wasn’t Paying Attention
Once everyone had moved indoors, I took a walk around back to the fence.
The gate was still cracked open, as I had left it the night before. I slowly closed it, making absolutely sure it latched. I resolved myself to get a lock for it soon – I didn’t want to go through this experience again. I didn’t want Emily to have to go through it again.
One cracked-open gate had nearly changed everything in our family. A gate that was supposed to protect the dogs – and us – from exactly this kind of thing; that allowed them a sort of freedom where they didn’t need a leash or an actual human to walk them three times a day, where they could run and jump and play. I had taken it for granted, assuming that it would always be closed.
When I stopped paying attention, that gate no longer protected – it endangered.
And all it took was an inch.