The start to 2016 couldn’t have been more dramatic at my brother’s house in Georgia. On New Year’s Eve, he and my sister-in-law went to a show to celebrate their birthdays, which both take place on Dec. 31. They left their Australian Shepherd, Rambler, in charge of the homestead while they were away. For much of the evening, things went well. Rambler roamed around the yard, chased a few butterflies and ordered a sausage pizza from Papa John’s. But then the new year happened, and the neighbors started shooting fireworks.
Canines and bottle rockets do not mix. Assuming the house was under siege, Rambler followed the protocol of his guard-dog training and fled the scene. When the family came home, he was gone. It wasn’t the first time the old boy had run away. After all, his name was “Rambler,” and on a few occasions he had wandered off down the street, or to the lake, or deep into the woods. Once, he hitchhiked to Atlanta for a Braves game — but he always came back the same day. This time, though, something was different.
My brother and his family scouted the neighborhood for two days, and no Rambler. No one had seen the dog, and my sister-in-law was starting to get nervous. Of everyone in the family, she is closest to Rambler. He sleeps by her bedside, takes long walks around the lake with her and sometimes the two of them play a round of Scrabble. So she led the dog-hunt. Since these days he does more waddling than walking, we knew he could not have gotten far.
Every now and then, Rambler would go from house to house in the neighborhood to see what was for dinner. That was no big deal — sometimes I do the same — but none of the people nearby had spotted him in the last two days. However, rumor had it that a man in a truck had been driving around asking if anyone was missing a dog. Unfortunately, no one remembered his name, or what the dog looked like, or what kind of truck he was driving. On New Years Day, powers of observation among Georgians are not at their best.
When my sister-in-law had exhausted all her resources, my 20-year-old nephew Jimmy took over the case. Armed with only one clue, he bypassed the traditional pet-searching methods and went straight to the Internet. He did an online search for “guys with trucks” within a five-mile radius of his house. That narrowed things down to only 97 percent of the local population. Even Rambler owned his own Ford pickup. But amazingly, Jimmy managed to track the guy down.
Yes, he had found an Australian Shepherd matching Rambler’s description the previous day. But since no one had claimed him, the man had taken Rambler to the pound. Now the game was afoot, and the family began a race against time. My sister-in-law headed straight to the city animal shelter, armed with a bolt cutter, just in case. There had not been time to bake a sawblade into a layer cake. Her worst fears were confirmed when she got there, only to find the pound closed. It was Saturday, and a holiday weekend at that.
The determined woman called for Rambler, and from deep within the compound, he responded. He may even have barked a verse of “Swing Low.” Immediately, my sister-in-law started to case the joint, looking for weak links in the fencing. That’s when the police officer turned on his flashlight and said, “Can I help you, ma’am?”
The hour was desperate. Without missing a beat, she said that she had to get her dog out because Rambler had been two days without his medicine. She did not, by the way, clarify that she was referring to his multivitamins from PetSmart. But just between you and me, a fellow can get pretty droopy after two days without his Flintstones Chewables. So the officer made a phone call, and Rambler walked free. The bolt cutter, on the other hand, was confiscated.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Generally our family does not tangle with the police this early in the new year. In 2015 we made it all the way to August. Incidentally, later that same day, my nephew used his Internet savvy to track down yet another missing Australian Shepherd. When the grateful owner gave him $100, Jimmy asked his mother about the reward for finding Rambler. After some intense negotiation, I believe he settled for a grilled cheese sandwich. Meanwhile, Rambler has signed a deal for a Netflix documentary about his time in the joint.