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July 13, 2010

Disappearing act by family pooches upsets household

COLUMBUS _ Big trouble at our house.

Saturday morning, Daisy, our 13-year-old English Springer Spaniel who is coping with dementia, slipped outside as Hon was letting out Della, our 1-year-old Black Labrador Retriever.

Within seconds, they were trotting across the field that leads to the swamp, the border of our land on South Brookfield Road. Like well-trained troops, they seized the moment, made their break, or so it seemed as they disappeared into the dawn.

A year ago, it couldn't have happened; in fact, we looked to Daisy to train the pup. But in recent weeks, the old gal has been wandering farther — acting out of character — especially when with her young companion.

Daisy grew up in the village of New Berlin where she was confined to a yard. When we moved to the country, she was in heaven, able to roam over four or five acres around the house. She never went far, stayed out of the road, came when called. She was eager to please. You could put a biscuit in front of her and she wouldn't eat it until she was told, "OK."

No more. In recent months, plagued by hurts and bad skin, she has become disoriented. She remembers some of everything but nearly all of nothing, and she hesitates, as if trying to remember, when confronted with routine tasks.

This has been sad to watch, but she is the equivalent of about 95 in human years. Balanced against this decline was Della's gradual settling down, growing up. At 75 pounds, she is the larger, faster, stronger dog, but still she is deferential to her older companion and follows her here and there out of habit and inclination.

By the time I got up Saturday, they were gone, last seen heading west toward South Brookfield. I wasn't too alarmed as they'd never not come home before. I called up Uncle Chet to let him know. He wasn't home, so I left a message.

Then Buddy, our 9-year-old, and I got on the four-wheeler and made a slow sweep of the area, first of our land, then the neighbors'.

No luck.

We got into the truck and went farther afield in four-wheel drive, talked to everyone we met along the way. One man had seen a black Lab at the end of our road, so we headed there, but until this search started, I had no idea how common this breed is.

We found lots of black labs, none of them ours.

As for Daisy, it seemed she couldn't have gone far. Several months ago, she'd been languishing, but Hon and the New Berlin Veterinary Hospital had brought her back from the brink. On Saturday morning, as she led the march away from home, she was in better shape than she'd been in months.

Still, she's 95, and Saturday night I did hear coyotes in the distance.

Uncle Chet arrived Sunday in his olive Carhartt jeans and fishing hat.

"Ready for bush-whacking," he said, and after quick coffee recharges, we headed out on foot along Beaver Creek. "You know, ole Daisy might have gone out to die. I've heard of it more than once."

"Me, too," I said.

"She's crazier than a loon these days."

"I know it."

"She's like a fuzzy old senator, who can't seem to remember why it is he first went to Washington," he said. "All he knows is his first name is senator."

"I know which one you mean."

"And if she ran away to die, Della might be stranded, have no idea how to get back," Uncle Chet said.

"That's just what I think happened," I said.

"And our chances of finding them on foot are small. You're going to have make posters, leave them with the neighbors, the stores, the vets, the mailman."

" That's next," I said. "We're printing up photos and descriptions and asking anyone who's seen them to call (607) 847-9806."

At 7:30 p.m. Monday, after getting a hot tip, we headed out again. There they were, side-by-side, trudging down John Karalunas Road, about three miles from where they started. And within a minute, they were in the cab of the truck, on their way back home.

Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit

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