She’d survived the Chinese dog meat trade and flew from China to Los Angeles where I’d picked her up. I agreed to foster the frightened little beagle girl and quickly fell in love with her adorable face and the way she wiggled her behind in a mixture of apprehension and happiness.
She was tentative around new people and jumped at all noises, but she made quick progress in trusting me. She had that resilient beagle spirit, that was easy to see. We called her “Poppy” and often “Poppy Popstar.”
And then, after only six weeks, when she visited a potential adopter, she was lost in a 1500-acre wilderness park during a thunderstorm.
I was devastated. But I was also determined to do everything in my power to rescue our little Poppy beagle. My boyfriend Chris and I, and the couple who’d been potential adopters, hiked the wilderness canyon until late into the night when the storm got so bad it wasn’t safe for any of us to be out. I fervently hoped my little girl had found shelter under a rock or a bush, just as she’d often gone under my bed or my desk to feel safe.
At sunrise we were up and back hiking the wilderness park. I called out to her at regular intervals, hoping she’d hear me and come running. “POPPY! POPPY POPSTAR! COME ON BABY GIRL!” After hours of searching we had to rest.
While the others made posters and hung them in the surrounding area, I posted on social media and then stood at the trailhead handing out flyers to joggers and hikers, all of whom looked at me like I was nuts. And maybe I was, but I was not giving up on this dog.
More volunteers joined us in the search. Soon, I got a tip on social media—the name and phone number of two pet recovery specialists, Babs and Mike.
I did not know there was such a thing, but once I called, I knew they were the experts and I’d do what they said. Unfortunately, I learned more devastating news. I had done everything wrong.
Babs patiently explained to me, “Poppy is frightened. To her everyone is a predator. All of these people out walking around are going to cause her to hide, or worse, bolt and run into a more dangerous predicament.”
She was right. Poppy would hide. As much as I thought I knew about dogs, my instincts had been wrong. Babs was clear, “We can’t go on your instincts, we have to think about this from the dog’s point of view.” Ah, yes. Think of things from another’s perspective. Always good advice Dogs were always teaching me life lessons.
At the direction of the experts, I called everyone back in from the wilderness. Instead of searching, we focused on posting flyers everywhere in the neighborhoods for three miles out.
Babs instructed me on the proper flyer as well: “Lost Dog,” in large letters, a photo of the dog from the side, since that is how most people would see her, one phone number, and “Do Not Chase” prominently displayed.
Again, against my instincts, she insisted we not put a reward. “It only brings out the bad actors. People will call with fake sightings on the off chance they’re right and can collect some easy money.
They will waste your time.” Instead, the goal was sightings. We wanted everyone to know this dog was missing and to call if they spotted her. That’s all we needed. “Kind people will do the right thing,” she said. Another good lesson to remember.
Dogs, like humans, develop patterns. If we had enough sightings we’d know where she was settling in and where we could, eventually, set a humane trap. As the pet recovery specialists kept reminding me, finding a lost dog is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
That was a hard lesson to learn. I wanted to find Poppy NOW! But I didn’t want her hurt or worse, so I followed the experts’ advice. Another life lesson brought to me courtesy of a dog—patience really is a virtue.
Babs and Mike assured me that dogs are very good at finding their way back. Poppy hadn’t gone missing from my home, and that was likely too far away for her to attempt to return. Odds were she might return to the spot she first went in to the wilderness park.
Thanks to a GPS tracker she was wearing when she disappeared, we knew where that spot was. After the battery died, all we know was that she’d gone well into the park.
So for four late nights and early dawns I sat in the park, not chasing her, not calling to her, just waiting until she was comfortable enough to show herself. I attempted to lure her with my scent—courtesy of my day-old smelly socks—and an open bag of rotisserie chicken.
“Give them a way to find their way back,” Babs said. Maybe another life lesson for me, as I thought about the past few years and the divisiveness I’d felt in this country and my own family. “Leave a door open or a trail back.” I believed the experts, and I believed Poppy would find her way back—I’d be there to help every step of the way.
After five and a half days, most of which were wet, rainy, thunderous days, we found our Poppy thanks to an entire community. Poppy had lost a pound of weight and no longer wore her collar with the GPS tracker attached. She had a tiny scratch on her mouth, and muddy paws.
But she was wagging her tail, yipping and arrroooo-ing at me, dancing her wigglebutt dance of joy. She had a newfound confidence from her big adventure. Chris joked that it was as though we’d sent her away to “Outward Hound.”
And of course, we adopted our little Poppy Popstar. You’re not surprised, are you? After she’d taught me so much, how could I not?
[Editor: The author’s new memoir POPPY IN THE WILD is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)