Rooki and I arrived on Whidbey Island, in the Puget Sound near Seattle, a few days ago. It is beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that Roo found it impossible to resist checking it out a little on her own.
Yesterday, she followed her nose and ran away.
She was all jazzed up about Whidbey from the first minute she jumped off the truck. The spot where we rented is as safe as it can be for dogs, and everyone in this six-house neighborhood lets their dogs run free and hang out together. There aren’t any roads nearby with more than 15 mph speed limits and the dogs have everything they could possibly want right here. On one side is the Puget Sound, on the other, 300 feet away, is a protected wetlands field filled with rabbits. Try protecting them from Roo sometime.
Roo’s first official act on Whidbey was, in fact, to finally get a rabbit. Just not in the way you might think.
Eagles routinely pluck the rabbits off the grass and then treat them to a brief aerial tour of the homes. They land one of the back yards and eviscerate the bunnies in fine seaside dining fashion, much as any of us might enjoy a nice plate of Clams Casino overlooking the Atlantic were we ever to visit Coney Island. When Roo arrived, she chased an eagle away and the spoils of her triumph were some of the juiciest parts of a rabbit. That's Bearface, Jr. for you - slurping down a nice fresh pile of rabbit guts courtesy of an eagle.
Like an Indian warrior who eats the heart of his fallen prey to take on its courage and spirit, eating those rabbit parts made Rooki think she was Queen of Whidbey Island, Mistress of All She Smelled. The problem, of course, is that power in the paws of a Roo is a dangerous thing.
Since then, she’s jumped off a cliff (sorry about the terrible video, but I had other things on my mind, like whether Roo could fly). The cliff she jumped off was at a place called the Hokey Kadodo, which means the Rooki Kahoo jumped off the Hokey Kadodo.
But worst of all, Roo went on the lam yesterday.
The Kahoo and I returned from grocery shopping around 6 PM. She had had her hike, it was hour twelve of the day for me and I had a ton of other work to do. While I unloaded the groceries, Roo noticed that there were a couple of bunnies out there just asking for it. A couple of the neighbors were standing around encouraging her, so at least her chasing them wasn’t going to annoy anyone but the rabbits.
I went inside to put things away, then went back out to check on Roo. She was trying to jam herself into a thorny thicket. I saw the rabbit hop away, but Roo thought she had it cornered and feeling the same way she does as soon as the sun sets and she enters the dark side of her nightly Cinderella transformation.
I went back inside to get her dinner together. Another couple of minutes. When I went outside - no Roo. I whistled for her, but no response. There were a couple of thickets, one at each end of the field, that she is determined to eat the inhabitants of. I checked them both. Nothing. None of the rustling, none of Roo beating the bushes, none of her snorting as she shoved her nose into the dirt or the bursts of speed when she chases. Just a type of silence I haven’t heard since Roo came along last summer.
Eight months together and she has never gone far from me. The farthest she ever ran was on a hike in Sierra Vista to chase a deer, but even then she always kept within earshot and she always came running back. Roo stays close to me. You’ve seen how she constantly checks for me in the videos. She gets around a bend ahead of me and doubles back to make sure I’m there, looking like a pygmy giraffe with her ears up and that sweet, serious look on her face when it rises over the foliage. Her natural inclination to stay close gave me some reassurance.
But after a few minutes, I started to think Roo had crossed a new line. There was so much heavily-forested terrain to cover. Too much. There would be no way to look everywhere for her. I went first up to a part of the field around a turn in the road where Roo had discovered a warren of rabbits on her first day here. Nothing. I came back to the house. The whole time I whistled for her and peered into thickets where she’s already gotten a bloody snout and where I started to imagine she might have caught her collar. I whistled for her until my mouth was as dry as cloth. Normally, even when she’s hunting, she comes back after a minute at the most. It was now pushing minute 15.
Getting to the one well-used road would require her to run through the woods in a straight line for at least three miles. It didn’t seem she would do that. She was either chasing someone or trapped someplace. I was more worried about her being caught or injured, because I don’t think she would make a peep, even if I were out whistling for her ten feet away. She just doesn’t make noise. I had terrible thoughts of passing her by like this, Roo wondering why I didn’t help her, the way I always did.
So I listened for the sound of a caught dog struggling in the leaves and brambles. Nothing. I drove up and down the only road. Nothing. That nothing when you’re looking for a missing dog is a terrible sound. I drove up to the road and drove slowly for a mile, whistling and calling her name. Everyone around here must know the name Roo now.
The first hint came from a neighbor who asked me if I was looking for my dog. She said she had seen her take off like a shot along the beach.
There’s no way to get a vehicle on the beach. Years of accumulated logs have washed up to the top of the shoreline and nothing short of a tank could get over them. I would have to go on foot.
This was after Roo’s hiking Roo for three hours, and after the first leg of checking for her up the road. I started tired and got worse. I trudged as fast as I could through the sand and rocks for about three-quarters of a mile, whistling, calling her name. It was a calm day, the first sunny one since we got here. There was no sound of surf to block out any noises from the forested bluffs that run along the beach there. There was only silence.
Two things worried me. The worst possibility was that Roo was injured somewhere. That she had finally taken more of a jump than she could handle. There were hundreds of acres of thick, impassable forest around me, rising from the water’s edge to steep bluffs that Roo likes to try to climb. If she was stuck in thick growth, finding her would take hundreds of people. Ideas of mobilizing the Boy Scouts, organizing please on the radio, convincing search and rescue teams to break out their infrared scanners started running through my mind. I phoned Animal Control and the police and talked to them while I trotted, out of breath. As an hour of Rooki’s absence passed, I was seriously scared. My mind started casting about for solutions, no matter how improbable. Had Roo gone for a dip and been eaten by an orca? Had aliens lifter her off the ground in a ray of light to conduct experiments on her? How else would you account for such a complete disappearance? Roo ALWAYS COMES BACK.
After 20 minutes of hiking the beach I checked the house again. My neighbors were keeping an eye out for her. I got back in the truck and drove way up the road behind the beach. By this time my voice was shot. My lips were unable to purse for a whistle and my mouth was dried out, not just from the fear but from a sick sensation. Everything started to sound feeble and hopeless.
After an hour and a half or so, the coming dusk added another dimension to Roo’s disappearance. There is an exact moment, an unvarying amount of gathering darkness during sunset when she becomes scared, and it was approaching. By this time I was convinced that she must have taken off after some deer. No one else could inspire long distances. If that happened, and she went more than the mile of beach we’ve hiked together, then followed the deer up into the forest up there, she could easily get turned around and lost. Roo doesn’t have the greatest sense of direction to begin with. She always, for example turns left. Getting off an elevator, even if she knows her room is to the right, Roo turns left. When she gets to the bottom of a set of stairs, she turns left. Just that could be enough to baffle her in confusing woods. And with darkness falling, there was the chance that Roo might try to hide. I started to worry about the darkness as much as Roo does.
I drove that road ten, fifteen times, whistling as loud as I could, calling her name. Over time it changed from “Roo!” to a more pleading, “Come on, Rooki Bear,” and I realized that I was so hoarse that she would never hear me unless she was standing right beside the road.
Right before the moment of dusk sets in when Roo always calls it quits and wants to be inside, I parked the truck and stood outside the house. I went inside long enough to get a little water so I could whistle some more. I walked up and down, thinking of what a long night this was going to be for both of us.
It was around 8 and getting darker. I kept thinking that this had to be the moment. That if Roo wasn’t hurt someplace, if she wasn’t lost, that this was when she would stop whatever foolishness she was up to so she could seek refuge in the house. I walked in the direction of the beach where the neighbor said she ran.
And there I heard that same neighbor shouting, “You go home! You go home now!” And in the little light that remained, her tail down and her ears back, wondering why someone was shouting at her, was the Kahoo. I called her and her head snapped up. She didn’t appear completely sure of where she was. I could see she was a little confused. She ran full tilt at me.
When she got to me she was two things: drenched and excited. The drenched part verified that she had been hunting. When she hunts she runs around like a maniac and gets hot. She decided to take a swim on the way home. She was also exceptionally proud of herself. And a little scared.
I found myself saying to her, “Kahooki, I’m going to kill you.” She gave me a series of licks on the face that were unlike anything she has ever done. She had scared herself. She was glad to see me, too.
I ran her under the hose. In my mind the freezing water was a punishment. Of course, to her, it was a wonderful reward that put her in an even better mood. She inhaled her dinner with all sorts of snorting as if she were killing it and then made a show of wiping her face all over the place and wiggling on her back.
Then, her adventure caught up with her. She jumped up on the bed, and within a minute she was snoring. Her dreams seemed particularly strong. Her jaws worked and her arms flailed and she growled and whimpered. I watched her, and realized that this little girl is starting to get a little too big for her britches.
And, it’s really too bad, but there won’t be any more running around with the other dogs around here for Roo for a while.
I hope she enjoyed her freedom while it lasted, because it’s over. Which, in the end, isn’t the greatest outcome.