By Margot Russell
A few weeks ago my 3-year-old poodle Buddy went missing.
We were away for the weekend in upstate New York and my husband and I were out picking apples with Buddy in the backyard.
When our dog has left your presence, it doesn't take long to know it. A sort of unnatural calm envelops you, like a black hole has moved in.
"Where's Buddy?" I asked for the 10,000th time in his short life.
We called his name, but he didn't run back at the speed of sound as he usually does.
We looked for him for what seemed like a long time. I was imagining the missing posters we'd be tacking up on street lights: "Have you seen our dog? He's awfully hard to forget."
My husband calls our dog "Bruno" because he's too embarrassed to yell "Buddy" in public. So Buddy answers to two names which speaks well of his intelligence. I've often suggested that we rename him something we can both agree on. (I think the name "Troubles" would suit him.)
To make a long story short, we finally found Buddy at the local VFW.
He'd probably wandered over there because he smelled chicken wings or maybe he knew that the nice men who served our country would also serve him treats.
I imagined he hung out at the back door until someone let him in. I imagine him pulling up a bar stool and watching the football game on TV. One thing is for sure: He wasn't in any hurry to come home.
He was served treats and petted on his head. Then the good men at the VFW called the local police department who promptly dispatched an officer because it's a small town. The policeman tied him up with a shoe string and was just about to put him in the squad car when my husband walked by.
"Are you looking for this dog?" the officer with a missing shoelace asked.
"It depends," my husband said. "What did he do?"
When they returned home, I got to thinking about a story I read a few years ago about a dog named Tony who found his owners even though they'd moved to a new town 200 miles away - a place the dog had never been before.
The Doolen family of Aurora, Ill., had moved to Lansing, Mich., and had given their dog Tony to some willing friends. The dog disappeared, and five weeks later found his original family walking on a downtown street in Lansing. The incredulous first owners took him home and apologized profusely for giving him away in the first place.
And there was another dog that was very attached to a boy in his house who'd gone away to college. The dog walked several hundred miles to find him in his dorm.
And in 2002, a cat named Skittles disappeared while vacationing with his owners in Wisconsin. The cat reappeared back at the family's Minnesota home 140 days and 350 miles later.
It appears obvious that some dogs have some sort of biologic homing device like pigeons, but there's just so much we still don't understand about dogs. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a professor of animal behavior, argued in an article for PetPlace.com that dogs and cats do have some mental mapping abilities. It makes sense that a lost dog is a dead dog, and it would serve their evolution for them to develop a Mapquest-like survival value.
The dogs that were best at it-finding their way home-would have the best chance of survival, and they'd live long enough to pass along those genes.
I think Buddy has proven he does just fine on his journeys; the only difference between him and those other pets is that he isn't frantic to come home. He simply finds a good bar and hones his way in.
And along with the water and the chicken wings he'd had, Buddy (or Bruno) was treated to a new electric fence.