“Sport‘s gone,” I said.
“What?! What do you mean he’s gone?” she said, startled awake.
“He’s gone,” I said, trying to catch my breath and stop my tears. “The fence in the yard was open, and he went out. He’s gone.”
“No,” she said. “He’s not gone. No, he’s not.”
“Yes, he is,” I said. “I’ve already been looking for blocks around for like 20 minutes, calling his name.” I thought she was still half asleep and misunderstanding me.
“No, we can still find him,” she said. “He’s not gone.” I was wrong. She was just determined.
“Keep looking,” she said, jetting out of bed to begin putting on her long johns. “Keep looking. We’re going to find him.”
“OK,” I said. “I’ll go. When you’re dressed, call me on my cell phone and then we’ll get in the car.” It was a degree outside and there was no way we could keep searching on foot for very long.
I ran down the front stairs, armed — as I had been before — with my flash light and Sport’s leash. The street lights were still lit. The days are short now in Chicago, and it’s still dark when I roll out of bed each morning to let Sport and Bob out in the back yard.
When Bob needs to go, he starts whining — loudly and insistently. This is annoying, but I’d rather he be loud about having to go than quiet about shitting on the living room rug. So every morning — not quite exactly like clockwork but close enough — he stands over me in bed, whining and barking once at a time to wake me up. It could be as early as 5:30 or on some mornings as late as quarter to 7. He’s my alarm dog, and I’ve been better at waking up on a regular schedule in the few months since we adopted him than I have been my entire life.
On this morning nearly two weeks ago, Bob woke me up about at about 5:55 a.m. I didn’t delay. I pulled on my sweats and my slippers and ran down the frigid back stairway to let the dogs out. Bob’s usually quick, but Sport is very deliberate. Not being dressed warmly enough to endure the 1-degree weather and not wanting to wait in the frigid indoor stairway, I went back upstairs to our very warm bed.
About 10 minutes later I woke up and went downstairs to retrieve the dogs and give them breakfast.
“Bob, come!” I yelled from the doorway. He instantly came running from around the corner and into the stairway.
“Sporto, come!” I yelled. I didn’t hear his collar jingling or any sign of him. “Sport! Come!”
This was unusual. Sport doesn’t like the cold weather. It’s much more common for me to open the door and have him rush in, eager to be fed and get cozy without delay.
“Sport — COME!!” I yelled angrily. I was freezing and irritated.
I walked out into the yard in my slippers, thinking he might have found something in the yard that he just couldn’t leave behind. I turned the corner of the house that leads to the rest of the yard to see that the fence door that leads to the street was wide, wide, wide open.
My heart sank.
I walked as quickly as I could in my slippers, careful not to slip on the snow and ice. I hoped against hope that he’d be right beyond the gate, sniffing at some grass. But no.
I looked this way and that, wishing I had eagle eyes.
“Sport!” I yelled, worried I’d wake the neighbors. “Sporto boy, come!”
I saw my breath hang in the air and quickly disappear.
I raced back upstairs with Bob and fed him so he wouldn’t make a fuss. I put on my sneakers — no time to lace up my winter boots, for sure — and my coat, gloves and hat. I ran to the balcony and with my eagle eyes spotted … nothing.
I looked in the alleys, calling his name and hoping for once that he would have his nose buried in a pile of garbage. I ran one block in every direction, shining my flash light and calling his name. I was sure he was hidden in some bush that wasn’t penetrable by light.
“This is my fault,” I thought.
When our first snow came a couple of days earlier, I shoveled the sidewalk. No good deed goes unpunished. I had taken the boys out into the yard and opened the fence door — usually latched and locked by two other mechanisms — to get to the front of the house to shovel. I closed that door and latched it shut but it can only be locked from the inside. I must have forgotten.
That latch can be flimsy. With all the snow on the ground I may not have shut it firmly. Bob — nearing 60 pounds now — could have easily pushed it open. That dog with no alibi, the one animal control probably found wandering the streets, didn’t run. Amazingly, he came when I called.
I ran back home, knowing I’d need to search using the car, knowing I’d have to wake up Karen to let her know and to have her help. I turned the corner onto our block hoping Sport would be standing there right in front. I’d scoop him up in my arms, run up the stairs and wake Karen with a tale of my heroism. No such luck.
“Karen,” I said. “Wake up, Karen. Sport’s gone.”
I raced down the front stairs again, hoping I could spare Karen any further agony, but prepared for disappointment. I’d have to call in sick for work. Did I have a deadline that day? I couldn’t recall then, and I don’t recall now.
I opened the door. I braced for the cold. And there he was. Sport sat on the sidewalk, two feet from the steps to our house.
“Sport!” I yelled with glee. He looked right at me, wagging his tail. “Come!” I said firmly, worried I might have to chase him down. He trundled his chubby beagle body stuck on little dachshund legs up a couple of steps as I ran down and — yes — scooped him up.
“Oh, Sporto!” My breath hung in the air for a moment, then disappeared.
I rang the doorbell and when I opened the door I let Sport out of my arms to climb the stairs and yelled, “I found somebody! Can you guess who it is?”
Karen had a pretty good idea who it was. I collapsed on the floor with relief. It was 6:26 a.m., according to the digital clock on the oven.
The morning light started to seep in through the living room windows. Karen sat in her favorite chair for a morning smoke. Sport sat next to her, still shivering from the 1-degree weather and wagging his tail. Bob barked.
And I told Karen the entire tale. And now, finally, I’ve just told you.