We have been sitting in Greg’s Jeep since noon for the “Stakeout”. The windows fogging up from quietly talking without the benefit of defrost, the car turned off. Greg has many stories to tell, stories of loss in the last few months. It’s a tough gig to participate in the rapid response team. So many lost dogs do not survive to return home. As I listen to Greg I sense that he really wants, needs, a success story right now. Our chatter turns idle as time passes and we wait. I check the time stamps from the trail cam pics of Samuel over the past weeks, 4:20 pm, 2:07 pm, 3:30 pm, 3:33 pm. As the minutes click by Greg says, “so it’s nearly GO time”. For a brief moment we discuss “Plan B” in case we don’t see Samuel today, then we focus back on Plan A – the right now.
We wipe the condensation from the windows and are consumed in the stillness and quiet of our own thoughts. We don’t know which direction he’ll come from so we look one way and then the other, left then right, back and forth and then again. At 2:58 Mike quietly says, “I see him”.
I’m looking right, into the woods. I see nothing. “11:00” Mike says. The moment I hear the words, “I see him” the adrenaline course is so instantaneous and strong and I can’t even remember where “11:00” is. I still can’t see him. And then I do. This, this is what I have waited 70 long days for. This is what I’ve prayed for, bargained for, driven around endless hours in the dark for, this moment, this sight. He’s coming from the left, slowly, a few steps, stop, a few steps stop, a glance at the house, a few more steps. He pauses and looks right at where we are parked. Greg and I instinctively slump lower in our seats as if he could see us. In the aftermath I realize how funny this is. In the moment I didn’t even realize it was happening.
Little by little Samuel moves closer, closer still and he starts to trot. He takes a long drink from the water bowl just outside the trap. Then he follows the trail of chicken leading into the enclosure. I try to film it but the adrenaline is so powerful, my hand is shaking and I struggle to control my breathing. I’m breathing so fast but it still feels like I can’t get enough oxygen, my heart is beating out of my chest.
Greg looks through his binoculars, we watch and wait, afraid to move a muscle as Samuel slowly follows the trail of chicken and moves into the trap. He stops in the middle eating a small pile of food and then moves further in to the food bowl. Greg says, “NOW”, my cue to unplug the device running current to the magnet that is holding the door up. I pull the cord, the door slams shut.
It happened so fast, but I still see it in my head in slow motion. Time stood still for the briefest of moments then a flurry of motion ensues as we mobilize. Mike opens the door and I am running down the path as fast as I can. I am so afraid he will find a way out and my fear propels me faster than I thought I could move. I am in the lead, I fall as the deep snow pack gives way, pull myself up, run and fall again. It’s like running in quicksand but I don’t care, I am so desperate after 70 long days to finally get to him. I am terrified he will get out and be lost again. It felt like it took forever to get to him. Run, run, stumble, run, fall, run… I do not take my eyes off him for an instant.
Finally I am there, next to the trap, next to Samuel. He is pacing and barking. He is so nervous. I softly say his name and speak quietly to him. Words tumble out and later I’m not sure what they were. I pull bacon out of the bag in my pocket and offer it to him. He barks once, sniffs it and takes it so gently. He is barking and his bark is deep and sounds so confused, worried. He is pacing to the bowl that still contains his pre-empted meal to the trap door and back to me for more bacon. Woof! Woof! I ache for him. I know he does not understand.
Greg and Mike arrive at the enclosure with the large crate we brought from home. Mike takes the camera and snaps some photos to document this momentous occasion. Greg feeds Samuel some chicken through the wire. “He’s beautiful” he says. Yes, he is. We all catch our breath for just a moment. For a moment we laugh and smile, we are giddy. Greg says to Mike, “I thought you were joking when you said you saw him, I was going to make you stand outside for that!” We laugh some more and the rush of elation feels so great after the long days of desperation.
We quickly move to the next big challenge – how to get Samuel from the trap to the crate…and then to get the crate up the snow covered path and hill to the car. Greg unlatches the gate and slowly crawls inside the enclosure. He sits with his back to Samuel offering chicken. Mike and I position the crate at the trap door opening and maneuver the doors so the crate opening is exactly in the trap door entrance. Mike braces himself on the other side of the crate so it cannot slide out of place. Greg slowly shimmies toward the back of the trap and Samuel moves away from him and walks halfway into the crate. None of us dares to breathe. Samuel takes a step and then another, one step, two steps…completely inside. I push the crate door closed, Greg latches it tight. I text Kristene, “Got him!!!!!” my hand shaking so hard I had to retype it more than once. I look. It’s 3:07 pm. It’s just nine minutes from the first sighting of Samuel until now – Samuel safe in the crate. Nine crazy minutes. Longest nine minutes of my life. Ever.
I turn from gathering our supplies and see Greg and Mike enthusiastically high five. Greg says, “see why I love doing this?” Yes, this moment is miraculous.
The hardest part is now getting the crate with Samuel in it back up the path. We carry it, we slide it, we take a break while Mike and Greg switch vehicles to move mine as close as possible. From the moment the crate door closed Samuel has lain calmly facing backwards. I wonder if he is relieved. Does he know he is safe now, that he does not have to fend for himself any longer? I keep looking in at him, not believing it’s true and this is really happening. I’m still in shock.
We finally, glory be to God, get the crate off the path and into my car. Greg comes and asks if he can say goodbye to Samuel. He puts his hand flat against the kennel door and said something that sounded like, “bye buddy, you stay home now”. Yes, Samuel, you stay home now.
I tell Greg we want to help him dismantle the trap and haul it out but he says, “no, just get him where he needs to go” and walks towards his Jeep. I take a few steps, “wait”, he turns and I hug him and thank him for everything. Greg doesn’t know us at all, he never met Samuel, and yet here he was, lending his miracle trap, his time and expertise and because he’s here we have Samuel now, in a crate, in my car. I promise to send the photos we took and to keep him posted and find it important to remind him his Lunchables are still on the roof of his Jeep. He laughs, having forgotten them completely. Mike and I get in my truck and drive off.
It feels surreal. I don’t think I really believed I would see Samuel today, much less have him back. I spent so long driving around hoping just to catch a glimpse of him, never seeing him, and now, here he is, in my car, alive, safe.
After seeing him at Kristene and Joe’s, I think Samuel is really going to be OK.