One sunny evening, a few days before the Fourth of July, Jared and I were hanging in the scrubby backyard of a friend, eating hotdogs and watching a band play a Bee Gees cover.
There were a few dogs at the party, some of them standing timidly between the legs of their owners, some casually cruising for scraps among the guests.
"Aw, I wish my dog was here," I said to the girl beside me. "Though, I guess he might be kind of freaked out by the random fireworks." In the distance, we could hear faint explosions. People were practicing for the 4th. I sipped my drink and thought of Loki, home alone with the windows open for the breeze.
As magical and unique as we like to believe he is, our dog is pretty standard-issue. Ferocious when it comes to squirrels and bees, (and annoyingly friendly to skunks and raccoons,) he is utterly terrified of fireworks. You'd think that being born in a barn in the middle of an Iowa blizzard and then spending the first 3 years of his life enduring its spectacular summer thunderstorms would have toughened him up a little, but alas, he's a trembling, crying, leash-pulling baby when it comes to explosion sounds. The worst part is, we are no help to him. He doesn't want to be held, or pet, or spoken to in a soothing manner, he just wants to RUN. I used to jokingly wonder, as the sky cracked open above us, where he would actually go if he got his wish.
With Loki safe at home, we stayed a few more hours at the party, first watching the sunset from on top of the roof, then moving to the front porch to eat an entire bag of "Touch of Lime" tortilla chips.
We drove back around 10:30pm, parked our car and walked up to our house. We glanced up toward our living room window as we approached, expecting to be greeted by two fluffy white ears, but the window was empty. "I guess he's asleep?" I said to Jared as we walked up our steps.
Upon opening the door, instead of the usual skittering of nails, crying and tail-wagging, we were met with a strange silence. Jared frowned, "Loki?" Silence. I looked at Jared, confused. Very carefully we began walking through the apartment, opening all closet doors, expecting any moment for him to come bounding toward us. "Loki?"
Then I noticed a slight flutter of the curtain that covers the sliding glass door in the office, then the breeze picked up and it blew into the room, revealing a slightly open door, and an enormous, dog-sized rip in the screen. My heart caught.
We stared silently at the ripped screen for a moment, the curtain innocently waving, unable to fully understand what had happened, and then we ran outside. The screen door leads to a fenced courtyard shared by four apartments, but in a panic he could jump that fence. He had. We dashed to the car and began driving through the neighborhood, up and down the winding streets, our heads through the open windows, calling his name. But he was nowhere to be found.
In a daze we made it back to the house and set out an action plan for the morning. We tried to sleep, but found we couldn't. He hadn't been wearing his collar. He had never been missing before, and our darling neighborhood now seemed cruel, full of terrible strangers. I thought of the men who came in vans in the night to pull on car door handles and root through the garbage. I thought of the freeway, so near. I thought of the cars that raced through the narrow streets. We were no longer in Iowa City, where a lost dog could bound happily from one yard to the next until friendly neighbors gave him biscuits and walked him home. We were in this huge scary place. Who knows what they do to lost dogs here? My mind was on a loop. I couldn't shake the image of him, scared and alone, running endlessly, dodging cars and coyotes. It was too much to bear.
The morning was a fog. Jared called the shelters from work and I made a million flyers. As they printed I put an ad on Craigslist and on some LA blogs. Then I set off with my cell phone, a staple gun and a roll of duct tape, following a few paths we liked to walk together, sticking my flyers to every telephone pole and utility box I could find. I carried a dull, cold feeling in my chest. It felt surreal to be walking these paths without Loki beside me, and I couldn't quite bring myself to understand that he might really be gone.
When I exhausted my stack of flyers I walked back home to print more. I frantically checked Craigslist and the blogs and my email, then set off in my car. My plan was to hit the local coffee shop, then the library, then the dog park. I parked at a meter a block away, stuck a flyer to a telephone pole, looked at the picture of Loki's happy, trusting face, and then, I looked up toward the coffee shop to see that same, real-life face looking back at me.
I had been looking at his face all day, and for for a split second, what I was seeing didn't fully register. Was that really even him?
The dog was being walked by a girl about my age, and from a distance, there was a chance it was a different samoyed, hers, and so as I charged toward them I actually worried about scaring her, and I took out my stack of flyers and sort of waved them in the air as I ran and began babbling incoherently about I'm sorry I don't mean to be weird but is that your dog because if not I think it's my dog and see here are the flyers I made cause we lost him last night and I've been going around trying to find him and- the girl's eyes got huge, Loki was crying and wagging and jumping up on the end of the leash. I grabbed his fluffy face in my hands, tears in my eyes. "I can't believe it!" the girl said. "I'm here with my husband, he's inside hanging Found flyers in the coffee shop at this very moment!"
It was a doggy miracle. They were our neighbors two hills over, they lived along one of our walking paths. He had run into their yard the night before and they had taken him in, given him water and cared for him. I hugged her. I was overwhelmed. They walked with me to my car and told me how he kept staring out the windows and whimpering all night, presumably looking for us.
(In my flustered state I didn't even buy them a cup of coffee or get their full names or anything. I felt awful about this later and I actually tried to find them on Facebook by typing in "Maggie," which was the girl's name, but did you know there are a lot of Maggies living in Los Angeles?)
I drove Loki home and he ran up the stairs to our house. I gave him a slice of turkey and a dog treat, and we played tug of war with his toy skunk for a while until he fell asleep next to me on the floor.
He was exhausted. As he slept, he twitched his little feet and yipped loudly, and I couldn't help but wonder if he was dreaming about his wild adventure. I petted and hugged him, waking him up gently. He opened one sleepy eye and looked at me, lifted his head slightly, looked around the room, and then, with a flump, fell back into sleep.
Welcome home, good boy.