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Lessons About Life from a Lost Dog

By Cari Haus

I always thought it would be hard when something happened to Zack, our 9-year-old Golden Retriever. He was well-mannered, loving, gorgeous, and truly a "member of our family. What I didn't anticipate was how soon something would happen, or just how hard it would be.

Although my parents had Collies as pets, dogs were never allowed in the house. Things were different for Zack and my own family, however. We not only let him in, we took him with us on rides, hikes, school picnics, church programs, and just about anywhere else a dog was allowed. Although rather rambunctious as a puppy, Zack eventually settled down and matured into what my husband called the "Elder Statesman". With his graying muzzle and friendly ways, Zack found his way into the hearts of just about everyone he met.

I remember the day Zack disappeared as though it was yesterday. He went for a little tromp in the woods with our other dog, and simply didn't come back. We live in the country, and there is a stream not too far from our house where the dogs loved to wade. There were also deer to chase, and a small pond nearby where, if the dogs were lucky, they could scare up a Canada goose. Sometimes I wish we had put up a fence for the dogs, but they loved to run and we hadn't had any problems.

It was late in the day when I got home from work and found out that Zack was gone. My husband had to leave for work, so I sent my two teenage boys through the woods in a circle, calling in vain for Zack. But our beloved retriever, aka Zackie, Sad Zack, and a zillion other fond little names, never came home. We posted pictures all over, offered a reward, combed through the woods, banged on doors and called every vet and animal shelter in the area not once but many times"but never did find our "puppy".

It's been 8 months now since we lost Zack, and our family has learned a lot from the experience. We all grieved in different ways. I cried for what seemed like a whole week. My husband felt like a black cloud was hanging over our house. My sons didn't shed any tears that I saw, yet I caught them tromping aimlessly through the woods more than once, and both were willing participants in the many rides we took looking for Zack. Through it all, I feel like I learned some very interesting things.

Lesson #1: Others Could Share Our Pain

Through this experience, I have learned that there are an awful let of dog lovers out there. People I don't even know share my pain, for many of them, like me, have lost a beloved pet. I have been a dog lover for as long as I can remember. As a child, when I was in trouble with the rest of the world, I would often literally go into the "doghouse with our Collie. He was always glad to see me, and no matter how unloved I might have felt at the moment, he never seemed to care. I always knew that I loved dogs, and that others did too. But I was amazed at the depth of emotion people showed when I told them about Zack. As much as losing him hurt, it helped to know that others cared and connected with what we were going through.

Lesson #2: It's Amazing What You Will Do for Your Dog!

I hate knocking on doors. I hate meeting people I don't know, and I certainly don't like sharing my emotional pain with a stranger. Yet this is exactly what I had to do while looking for Zack. If somebody reported a dog that might have been Zack, I hurried over to the neighborhood with flyers and made the rounds. I was completely out of my comfort zone, but at that point, really didn't care.

Lesson #3: This Could Be Much Worse!

I would never minimize the pain of losing a pet. Yet one night as we were talking about Zack and how much we missed him, my husband said something that really struck home.

"Losing a dog is so terrible"but think how people must feel when their child is missing! We just heard on the news about those poor parents whose girl disappeared on her senior class trip. We were starting to understand what it meant to have lack of closure, to accept that we might never know what happened. This seemed like a very difficult thing for us"and yet, as sad as we were over Zack, it would be so much worse in the case of a missing child. And I really began to feel empathy for others who had a loss with no closure in ways I could never have fathomed before.

Lesson #4: You Never Stop Looking

Just this week, a friend told me she saw a dog running by the side of the road about 5 miles from here"a dog that looked just like Zack. He was an older Golden Retriever, male, with graying muzzle. I wish with all my heart she would have stopped and picked him up, but she said she couldn't'she was taking her Dad to the doctor and just couldn't do it.

So today I found myself in a nearby post office, posting a flyer about Zack once again, and explaining the situation to yet one more sympathetic postmaster. In the health food store, I met a lady who once again shared my pain. She had lost a pet monkey in Brazil. She said they traced him for blocks and blocks"but the trail finally left off at a bus stop and they never saw him again.

It seems like a slim chance that we will ever find Zack. My husband has given up, so I'm the only one looking. Yet when I called once acquaintance who lives where the golden was sighted, she confirmed that there had indeed been an older male Golden Retriever in their yard just a few weeks month ago. He was a large male, with a graying muzzle--a very nice dog, she said. I don't know if that dog, or the other ones like him that I have missed by just a few hours, are Zack. In some ways, life has got to go on.

We have a new dog now, a gorgeous stray Golden Retriever / Saint Bernard mix that somebody thought might be Zack. The people who found him said he was too nice to take to the pound, but they already had three dogs. We fell in love with him right away, and he's now an important part of our family. But somewhere, deep in my heart, there's a special place that only one grand "Elder Statesman can fill. Which is why, when someone nearby says they saw a gorgeous older male golden wandering around, I still go looking for Zack.

Copyright 2006 Cari Haus

About The Author

Cari Haus, CPA and entrepreneur, sells log furniture on her website,

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