This has been a very difficult week here.
If you want to read a more fun post, go here and stop reading this one right now and do not ever come back to it. (If I could pretend this never happened, that would be my choice, FYI. I try to give you good advice.)
I started out here keeping Coco in the goat yard. We spoiled her at Stringtown Rising, and she was often on the porch. She has always had a hard time eating when she’s with the goats or sheep. She just won’t fight them for her food. Eventually, I started letting her go back and forth between the barn yard and the house so she could eat. I had come to the conclusion that I had to put her back in the barn yard full-time. I put her in the barn yard Sunday night. And then I failed her. I spoiled her one time too many. She was practically climbing the fence trying to get back to the porch. I let her out during the afternoon on Monday and had just fed the dogs their dinner that evening. I was sitting out on the porch with the dogs, thinking about how I needed to put Coco back in the barn yard, wondering if I was going to have to get a piece of meat to entice her back because she’s no dummy. What happened next happened so fast, but I have relived it a thousand times. I heard a car coming on the road. Coco bounded to her feet–and disappeared down the bank, Casper running after her. I heard the sound of the hit. The car stopped. I ran to the road, but she was already gone. I could hear both dogs barking wildly from the direction of the pastures. The man who hit her told me he saw her race back up the bank. I called them, and Casper came running back.
Morgan, in the kitchen fixing her plate for dinner, heard the commotion and was outside by then. We got spotlights and flashlights and took off for the upper pastures in a panic. The man who had hit her, one of the few people who live past our farm, went home and got a spotlight and called another neighbor. Four of us were all over this farm in the dark for hours and couldn’t find her. And there was no peep from her, either. No sound. It was devastating. I didn’t realize Morgan had put on shorts after school until she came back to the house. She was scratched all over her legs and sobbing. We were exhausted, but I don’t think either of us slept.
Tuesday morning, as soon as it was light, I was back in the pastures, searching. Morgan stayed home from school and searched her little heart out from morning to night. At one point, she was on the road-side of the upper pastures and heard men across the pastures somewhere on the hillside, heard someone say, “that’s a big dog” and she called to them, but they didn’t hear her. She thought she heard the sound of four-wheelers start up and then they were gone. I was back at the house at that point, and she came home to tell me. We headed up to the hillside, toward the ridge. There are all kinds of four-wheelers tracks all over the place, criss-crossing up the hillside. I didn’t see or hear any four-wheelers go up or come down anywhere on this side of the ridge, though. If there were four-wheelers, they came from the other side.
Morgan found a blood trail on the hillside, and we started following drops of blood all over the place. Coco traveled around quite a bit. They were drops, not like she was dragging herself, and they were still fresh. Eventually we went two directions and I lost the trail and came back down to the house. Morgan had her cell phone and I called her to check on her. She had picked up the trail again going up to the ridge and she went way up there to the top of the ridge and lost the trail again at the ridge. By this time, it was late again and we were exhausted. Morgan didn’t want to stop looking. She called me again an hour later, sobbing, and said, “I can’t find her.” She’d gotten lost for a little while and had just figured out where she was again. I told her to come home.
She went back to school on Wednesday and I searched on my own. I wanted to go over the ridge, but I didn’t want to get lost myself. We’re so new here, I don’t know the lay of the land or what’s on the other side–or how to get there. By the end of the day Wednesday, I’d studied the satellite imagery on Google Maps and I’d made it around to the other side of the ridge by car at least. I made flyers and put them in every mailbox up and down the road that is across and down from the ridge on the other side. (Because this is West Virginia, it’s a horseshoe trip by car of about 10 miles around to the road that is on the other side of the ridge.) I stopped and talked to people. (There’s a lovely old lady with a huge cattle farm on the other side.) I put a flyer in the window of the only store over there. I called vets and animals shelters. I put flyers in mailboxes up and down our road, too.
Since then, I’ve searched all over this farm again and been to Stringtown Rising, in case she went back there, and today I finally figured out how to get over the ridge and I walked and walked and walked.
I can’t find her.
All we know is that at the time she ran up the bank from the road, she was on her feet. The man was going too fast for this road, but it’s not like he plowed her down. This is a one-lane road, not the interstate. She was hurt enough to be bleeding, but not hurt enough to keep her from running hard and far in what had to have been a terrible panic. We believe she was on the farm as late as Tuesday morning when Morgan heard a man say “that’s a big dog” and that she was alive. If she’d been laying in a heap, so visible they’d spotted her, we would have seen her for ourselves. They weren’t even looking for her. The only other possibility is that they took her, but if Coco was alive and traveling as we knew she was, she would not have gone willingly and there would have been some resulting commotion. Coco will not get in a vehicle without being practically lassoed. And I left flyers in all the mailboxes on the other side where anyone might have come up from–offering a reward.
Up toward the ridge had been the last place we searched on Tuesday because we thought if she ran from the road in a burst of adrenaline and collapsed quickly somewhere (thinking she might be seriously hurt because she wasn’t responding to us or coming home), we’d find her in the pasture area somewhere, and that we had just missed her in the dark the night before. The idea that she’d run so hard as to navigate the steep drop out of the pastures then up to the ridge seemed unlikely, but that is what she did–and more. We believe she was still moving in the opposite direction of home on Tuesday, and not responding to us in hearing distance, which is crushing.
The trees are bare, and with the way the trails criss-cross up the hill, you can look up, then look down, as you hike on different levels. It’s actually quite easy to see in the woods.
It wasn’t easy to find out how to get over the ridge, navigating tracks we don’t know and that are sometimes hard to find and put together, but once we started searching on the other side, the trails were even better. The trails on the other side are obviously in regular use. (The trails on this side are neglected.) I’m trespassing over there, but I don’t care.
I take Casper with me every time. If we come anywhere near Coco, I know he will know it before I do.
I stand in the bare trees, the ground covered with leaves, and call her name. Casper stands very still after I do this every time and we listen. He knows we’re looking for Coco. Other than when I take him walking with me, he sits on the porch, dejected. He abandoned his blanket and sleeps on Coco’s blanket. He is unlike Coco, a very submissive dog. He stays close to home, responds immediately when he’s called, never goes to the road or into the woods of his own volition.
I don’t think Coco’s on the other side of the ridge anymore. But I don’t know. And maybe she will come back that way.
I don’t know where she is. I believe she was okay. But she ran away from us. It is mind-bending.
I haven’t been able to post very much this week. I’ve been absorbed in this desperate grief, doing everything humanly possible to find her. I will try to get back to normal soon. I wasn’t even able to bring myself to write about it until now.
Morgan has already asked about a Great Pyr puppy. I haven’t given up on Coco. I know she left this farm alive and on her feet. If we get a puppy, it will be as a second Pyr, not a replacement. But I know how Morgan feels. I feel the same way. The entire event has been so traumatic for us with all the panic and searching and exhaustion. We are looking for a little comfort and joy, and we need a livestock guardian dog on the farm. In the meantime, I’ve decided I have a new exercise program. On the upside, the ridge is a beautiful walk with nice tracks, now that I know my way around. I don’t care if it makes me sound crazy.
I can’t stop looking for her.
UPDATE: See the happy ending here.