Sunday, April 15, 2007

My Story....

Thursday April 12th started out like any other day. My husband and I were busy upstairs re-doing my home office. We completely gutted it and started all over. Since I was distracted, I asked my older daughter to put UB out. (It was around 10:15 am and she was wandering around downstairs ready to go out and eat.)

{Background info: UB is my wonderful desert tortoise. She belonged to my most favorite person, Uncle Bill. When he passed away suddenly in 2000, I ‘inherited’ this incredible reptile. She is about the size of a salad plate and is the light of my life. I take her to the vet at least twice a year for checkups, I plant food especially for her, and I even adopted two baby tortoises so in a few years she will have some company. This pet is a family member 100%}

Back to the story….

About four hours later, I saw a beautiful red hibiscus flower in the yard. I went outside, picked it and looked for UB to watch her devour it. But I couldn’t find her in her pen. I searched her favorite spots, no luck. I called frantically to my daughter and asked her if she put UB in her pen…she then cried back that she just put her in the backyard (forgetting that UB’s pen has recently been moved.) {In my daughter’s defense, she has been suffering from a headache for over a month. She is unable to think clearly. She has seen six doctors…long story}

At this point, I started with a high pitched scream. Our backyard backs up to an incredibly huge slope, and UB can go under our rod iron fence. Approximately 40 homes are at the top of the slope and there are about 30 at the bottom of the slope…at the small part, it’s probably 50 feet in width and at the large part about 150 feet in width. That’s a lot of real estate! The land is full of trees, bushes with huge branches, mud and dirt. We’ve been visited by skunks, raccoons, coyotes, bunnies, rats and even mice. Somewhere out in that wilderness was my dear UB.

Our entire family jumped the six foot fence and started searching…UB only had a four hour lead on us, so it couldn’t be that bad! Right? We started searching with no luck. I then found some local friends to help in the search. At the best time we had at least ten people searching the brush. My dad drove over 30 miles to help in the search as well. There were so many great kids helping. As my anxiety grew, so did my reward for UB. I started at a lousy $10 thinking we would be finding her quickly; however, I was so wrong. The reward grew by the minute. $25, $50, $75 an hour later it got up to $100.

I was desperate. I was sobbing. I just wanted my tortie back.

As it grew dark, I knew UB was fast asleep somewhere. But where? We searched the slope behind our home. I wouldn’t let myself believe she went to the right and straight to the street. No. Thoughts of her being hit by a car or picked up by a stranger burned my heart.

It was dark. We had to call of the search. It wasn’t safe for us to be on the slipper slope.

We searched for four hours. No sign of UB. Defeated, we came into the house. By now, tears had been flowing and we were all exhausted. I comforted my children the best I could and told them that in the reality of life, this was a sad happening. But, we still have each other, and our health. Family members are more important than a pet. The pain was so strong for all of us; my pep talk fell on deaf ears.

I was unable to search outside, so I went to work inside (anything to keep busy!). I went online and searched for places to post LOST PET messages. I wound up on Craig’s List and posted LOST Tortoise in Laguna Niguel. Once that message was posted, I read some of the other posts…lost cat….found bracelet…and then another post caught my eye….My search dogs and I will help you find your pet!


I opened that message and there was someone saying they had three dogs trained for pet search and rescue. Are you kidding me? My husband had asked me earlier when we were on the slope if there were search dogs for animals and I almost smacked him. Of course not, silly! No one cares about my lost pet except us. But, I was wrong. I was looking at the proof.

The message directed me to a website that explained the company, Pet Search and Rescue. I was flabbergasted that there was someone out there that might be able to help me. The website urged pet owners to call immediately for a free 10 minute consultation. What did I have to loose? I looked at the time…it was after 9pm. But I was desperate. I picked up the phone and dialed….

The phone was answered immediately. The calm voice on the other end listened to my story in between my sobs. At this point, actually telling the story, by body started to shake uncontrollably. I was a wreck. The woman on the line with me was Annalisa. She listened to my story, asked a few questions and said she could probably help me. The problem was, in the morning she was scheduled to find a lost dog, and she had no idea how long it would take. She could possibly help us on Saturday morning….and hopefully sooner, but she didn’t know yet.

She promised to take my number with her the next morning and if she was able to find the dog in a reasonable timeframe, she would call me. I told her I would be praying for a quick recover of the lost dog.

I told the kids we had some hope. This lady on the internet and her dogs. Did I believe what I told the kids? Not really. I didn’t really believe that a dog could sniff UB’s bedding and find her on that slope. But I had to try. I had to believe. I prayed. I prayed and I prayed that we would find UB. I didn’t want my daughter to have this tragedy on her shoulders for the rest of her life.

I tried to sleep. I tossed and turned all night. Dream after dream, we found UB…in a closet, at the beach, on the slope. Each time, I woke up relieved that we found her, only to discover it was my mind tricking me into believing she was found.

I woke up at 7:30am and was unable to convince myself I needed more sleep. I planned the day in my mind. Make posters, make fliers. Spread the word. My Dad was coming back at 9:30am. UB would wake up around 10am, so we needed to be ready. While I started printing photos of UB, and creating posters, my husband jumped the fence once again and started listening. Listening for a twig to break, or a leaf to move…something to indicate UB was on the move. He heard nothing. Except the beginning of a new day; birds were chirping, families were waking up and the wind was softly blowing.

I made two huge posters. They included the words: MISSING ~TORTOISE~ REWARD~ HELP and a big photo. I created flyers for the kids to hand out. I even laminated three flyers with color photos and dropped them off at the two local vets and at my favorite place, 7-Eleven.

While I was at 7-Eleven, Annalisa called (it is 11am by now). She had already found the missing dog! If I still needed her, she could be at my home in a little over an hour. I was ecstatic! Finally some good news! I gave her my address and rushed home to spread the news.

Once I told everyone the news, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Did we think she would find UB? I’m not sure. But my thinking was that hopefully the dogs could tell us which direction she went and where we should be looking.

As she was driving to my home, Annalisa would call to let me know her location. This helped me calm the family and assure them help was coming. Annalisa and her dogs arrived just when she said she would. When I saw her SUV and trailer pull onto my street…well, words cannot explain the rush of peace that came over me. This was my last hope, but, at least I could say we tried everything.

After a brief orientation, Annalisa got one of her dogs, Lilly, out of the SUV. She sniffed some of UB’s bedding and went to work….

Of course she went straight to our back fence. Luckily, the side gate was open and Annalisa didn’t have to climb the fence! Sniff, sniff, sniff….Lilly started down the hill and then to the left….she then went back to directly below our home. Her movements indicated to Annalisa that UB’s scent was in the yard that backed to the bottom of the slope. After examining the yard and coming up empty handed, my heart ached even more. No UB.

Annalisa wasn’t discouraged. She put Lilly back in the SUV and then got Rainbow out. (What a great name….Rainbow!) Rainbow sniffed UB’s bedding and after hearing Annalisa’s command “Go to work” she started to the left on the slope. Rainbow began taking Annalisa on the jog of her life. They went through the bushes and branches and onto a small dirt path. They jogged next to a large and long drainage ditch. They kept going and going and going…

They were gone for so long, my hope turned to despair. With each passing minute, I realized that all optimism was lost. I could no longer see Annalisa or Rainbow. They were too far away on the slope. Too far away to find UB. Rainbow must be smelling or searching for something else.

My cell phone rang. The caller id showed me it was Annalisa. With dread I said hello.

Annalisa then said, “WE FOUND UB!”

I couldn’t believe my ears. It was impossible! They were too far away! How on earth?!? I remember saying something like, “What?” or “are you sure?”

I then started running in the direction she and Rainbow had taken off. I was yelling into the phone, “I’ll be right there!” I ran and I ran. Faster than I had ever run before….but where were they? I couldn’t see Annalisa’s orange shirt… I called her and asked her where she was and she said, “keep coming! Follow the path! We are on the path!”

Well, let me tell you, that was the longest run of my life! As I was running, people were watching me from their backyard wondering, “What in the world is that wacko doing up there?” I shouted out to a few of them that we were looking for a missing tortoise and we had found her! The shouts back were so encouraging! (Keep in mind, I’m STILL running!)

Finally, I turn a corner, and there is Annalisa, with Rainbow. Annalisa pointed a little further down the path and I saw the most beautiful site.

My tortoise looking up at me.

I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do! Everything got really slow…I ran to UB, I hugged Rainbow I spurted out questions…could this really be real?

It was real. UB had been found by Rainbow the wonderdog! We would have NEVER found her on our own. We hadn’t searched even half of the distance she went because we had no idea she could go that far in that short amount of time (28 hours total).

I started to make phone calls. I called my husband first and then the kids. The kids and my Dad came running. They called and said “Where are you?” And I said the same thing Annalisa said to me, “Keep coming! Follow the path!”

Annalisa had me check UB over to make sure she looked ok. She looked GREAT! What a sight for sore eyes she was. When we were done checking UB out, we started to make our way home…via street! It was so much shorter that way!

On our walk home, we ran into many neighbors. What a joy it was to call out to them, “We found the tortoise!” They were all amazed and thrilled. Imagine my joy as I began to tear down the LOST posters…one by one. Little did I know when I hung them that morning that I would be tearing them down just five hours later!

Once home, we all gathered on the front lawn to show off our tortie. The neighbors came over, we laughed, we smiled and boy, did we hug Rainbow! Cameras were snapping all over the place. What a party we had created!

After the excitement wore off (it took awhile!) we decided we owed the neighborhood kids ice cream for their time they took in the search. Annalisa needed to get back home, so we hugged the dogs once last time. The gratitude that I felt for Annalisa and Rainbow will be with me forever. Words cannot express how thankful I am to them.

We now estimate UB traveled about half a mile in the 28 hours she was missing.

We have already begun plans to block anymore traveling for UB.

I figure a six foot cinderblock wall will be just fine…. ;)

Rainbow the Wonderdog!
My oldest daughter took this picture of us on the long walk back towards our home.

What a great day this turned out to be! Friday the 13th is my lucky day! ;)

A big thank you to Annalisa and Rainbow!