It's 7:00AM on Saturday morning and Cocoa's not home. She has never been gone overnight before, and now it's pouring down rain.
Cocoa is an interesting Boykin. Since the day Welch brought her home, she has been uncontainable. ItŐs really amazing that we haven't lost her before now. She hadn't been with us for a day when she escaped from our backyard with only a temporary collar bearing the name and number of the hunting club Welch was managing. The first of many good Samaritans called to report her whereabouts and she was returned home safely.
She was supposed to live in the kennels at the hunt club from September to March, but after escaping several times, losing her collar in the process, we decided it would be best if she stayed with us. She accompanied Welch on the 2-1/2 hour drive back and forth to Estanaula each week and over the course of the season they became inseparable. When March rolled around her owner wasn't in a position to take her back, so I urged Welch to ask for her papers in return for providing her with a good home. Happily for us her owner agreed and Cocoa became a full-fledged member of our family.
My relationship with Cocoa has been challenging. The things that dog has eaten boggle my mind. It's virtually impossible to figure out what she will eat or chew up next. We had to put a latch on the kitchen trash can so she couldn't get in it, but she quickly figured out that if she pulled hard enough on the plastic bag she could turn it over, emptying the contents all over the floor. While we were having some remodeling work done she ate the painter's lunch... more than once. She chewed up a hand-carved wooden box, the buttons on a dress, a rice-filled bag that I use as a heating pad, and more pairs of underwear, pj's and pants than I can count. The loss of my favorite pair of Abercrombie & Fitch shorts almost pushed me over the edge, until I thought about checking Ebay. My search wasn't productive until I realized I needed to add the word "vintage" to the description of the shorts. That didn't sit well.
Cocoa's latest escape point was strategically chosen. Our ancient picket fence abuts a wonderful big shade tree with a trunk that slopes down to a wide base. The fence is so old that the wood is soft enough to dig your fingers into - or in her case, toenails. Welch and I had both watched Cocoa walk over to the tree, stand with her back legs on the base of the trunk, put her front legs on the top cross board, climb up on the bottom board, then scratch and claw her way over the top. She could be out in fifteen seconds, tops.
Prior to her escape, I had been out of town for almost two weeks and my mother, Miss Lou, had come to dog sit. Cocoa was as good as gold while my mom was here. When Welch is gone, she adopts a "love the one you are with" attitude and will hardly let my mother out of her sight. I had been back in town barely 24 hours when she made her latest escape.
Ours is a turn of the century neighborhood with wide streets lined with stately old trees and prized for its sidewalks and alleyways that bisect the blocks. Over the years, Cocoa had escaped so many times that neighbors would just bring her back to the front door instead of calling. She was wearing a good strong collar on that Friday afternoon, with both of our phone numbers engraved on a brass plate, but this time there were no calls. We knew that her Avid chip contained all the necessary information because it had facilitated her return to us once before. I posted a note about her disappearance on our neighborhood internet message board but received no response. In the past, even if we didn't get a call we could follow her progress through the neighborhood with postings to the board. This time felt different. Not only had she never been away overnight, no one reported seeing her the afternoon of her escape. It was as if she had disappeared into thin air.
"What if Cocoa had worn out her welcome at her new home prompting her "kidnappers" to deliver her back to us? More specifically, it was suggested that she had probably eaten a favorite article of clothing at her new home then thrown it up on the "good" rug.
We'll never know, will we?"
In the rain the next morning, Welch and I drove the streets surrounding our neighborhood. Neither of us could put into words our fear of what we might find. When our search proved fruitless, we listed her as missing with the local veterinary office and PetFinders website. It would be Tuesday before we could contact the metro government offices to see if there had been a report of an injured dog, or worse, a dead body alongside the highway. Thankfully there were no such reports when we called, but there was still no sign of Cocoa either.
Days turned into weeks and we had all but given up hope for her safe return. Since she disappeared on Mother's Day weekend, Welch theorized that someone had picked her up that Friday afternoon and taken her home as a gift. Gradually, our routines began to change. We didn't lock up the trash can anymore, socks and underwear stayed on the floor where Welch dropped them and Miss Edie began sleeping in the bed with us, again.
"We've got a houseguest," my next door neighbor said that Monday morning when I picked up the phone. I was focused on a spreadsheet at my desk and the full import of his words didn't register immediately.
"A guest?" I questioned.
"Yes," he replied, "a four-legged brown guest wearing an orange collar." Sure enough, Cocoa was back! My neighbor said that the pest control man had knocked on his door to tell him about the friendly brown dog in his front yard. By the time I got home there were three messages on our answering machine from neighbors calling to say they had seen her at our front door or walking down the sidewalk.
She didn't look a bit different from when she left. Her coat was clean and glossy, she didn't appear to have lost any weight and she was as playful as ever. Many a night Welch and I sat on the back porch wondering where she could have been for those 3-1/2 weeks. If only she could talk.
Several of my girlfriends advanced an interesting theory that sounded a lot like the plot from O. Henry's Ransom of Red Chief. What if Cocoa had worn out her welcome at her new home prompting her "kidnappers" to deliver her back to us? More specifically, it was suggested that she had probably eaten a favorite article of clothing at her new home then thrown it up on the "good" rug. We'll never know, will we?
Last Friday night we were having a cocktail on the screened porch when Welch asked me if I was missing a pair of University of Pink panties. Since that's a Victoria's Secret brand of panties favored by teens, I wondered why he asked. Grinning, he told me he had watched Cocoa throw them up on the dining room rug.