These thoughts about the meaning of “dog-ness” were swirling through my brain as I gazed at a glistening pile of canine feces. Glistening is important because it meant it was fresh, and I got excited when I saw it because it looked about Sydney-sized and -shaped. Some people will likely find this next part offensive and strange, but I don’t care; those people likely have never loved a dog. I touched it with my bare hand to see if it was still warm and broke it apart to check for evidence of Sydney’s hair. It was cold and there were some suspicious hairs, but nothing that clearly said, This is Sydney’s poop. It was something, though, and that was good enough for me.
With each day came Sydney sightings that ranged from mundane—“I saw her trotting down Lower Creek Road”— to proof of her resourcefulness—“She was seen opening trash bags”—to commentary that could describe no dog other than Sydney: “I saw her cross Route 366. She looked both ways before crossing and looked like she knew where she was headed.” A common theme in the sightings was the assessment that she was capable and fine, thank you very much. Meanwhile, I was rendered dysfunctional, perching in the woods yelling things like, “I’m eating your chicken, Sydney! It’s really good!” and “If you don’t come eat your ham, this is a lot of wasted pork!” Seems unfair, doesn’t it? I think so.
As Sydney was about to spend her fifth night away, and with no sightings for 24 hours, I received a phone call. “Hi, Katherine, this is Glenn Swan. I think I have your dog here. She is very happy on our dog bed, with my daughter brushing her …” The message went on, but I had already started to cry and put on my shoes. Glenn Swan, owner of Swan Cycles, is well known in the cycling community; he’s also a former employer of a close friend, and sold me my Fuji road bike in 2008.
I was greeted at the door by Glenn and his young daughter, who was wearing a pink tutu. Sydney was lounging on a pile of dog beds far nicer than the one she had at home, and while she did wag her tail briefly, she could otherwise barely be bothered to greet me. Hussy.
She looked fine; not thin, barely dirty, sporting no wounds or ailments that might have summoned some empathy from me. I asked her if she wanted to go home. She gave me a look that said, Um, hold on, let me think … I guess so, before slowly rising and following me to the door. I thanked Glenn and his family profusely and we walked outside. Glenn showed me the spot right near the door where she had been waiting to be let into his house. The whole time, I was thinking, Are you f—ing kidding me, Sydney?
As my friend Heather said, she could have at least had the decency to have a laceration or simple lameness. Even after I got her home, I still could not believe she was back. The mix of emotions, compounded by running on no sleep, spending five days in the same pair of meat-smoke-infused, brown Carhartt overalls, contemplating life without a dog, was intense. Do I kiss and cuddle her, or scream obscenities at her? It was a tough call.
One glass of red wine later, breaking my firm “no dogs in the bed” rule, I buried my face in Sydney’s dirty coat, speckled with vegetation and ticks, and breathed her in. It was the first time in five days that I was alone in my house without being lonely.
As I write this, Sydney is sleeping on her bed after a thorough brushing, tick-picking and bath. I wish I knew what she was thinking, but I suppose that is one of the mysteries of dogs. I breathe more deeply knowing that the air in my home is full of dog-ness once again, but I have no idea how we can love them so much. All I know is that I will probably love her more now that she is outfitted with a GPS device on her collar.