If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen this photo posted last week with the caption: “Guys, I need some good vibes sent my way. Frankie disappeared last night and hasn’t returned. Parker and I left him with my brother so we could escape to the beach for the week but found out this morning that he ran away. We’re devastated and returning home to try to find him but any positive vibes to find my one true love would be much appreciated. Thanks all.” Frank is still missing, and I’ve found myself so overwhelmed with grief that I needed to write it out. I’ve wanted to transition my blog from a collection of pretty things, to something much more personal for a long time (and I have…just not officially; that’s why I don’t post much anymore), but this post is not pretty at all, and only personal. It’s sad and it’s real life and there’s nothing pin-worthy about it. But since I may never have closure and may never see my boy again, this post just poured out of me out of necessity. Full disclosure: It’s a novel in length and there’s not really a happy ending so….No one actually reads my blog anyway, right? Here goes.
Parker and I headed to Rosemary Beach, Florida last Tuesday. One last chance for a romantic, relaxing getaway before baby boy (we’ve decided to name him Charlie) comes into our lives and changes it forever. A “babymoon” is what they’re calling it these days, and though I’m not crazy about the term (so cheesy…), that’s exactly what it was. We booked the trip four months ago, rented a house close enough to the shops, restaurants, beach, and pools so that we could park our car all week and just mosey around on foot or on the provided bicycles to get where we needed to go. We made arrangements with my brother and sister-in-law to watch Frank, our beloved 11-year old dog, and looked forward to the (much needed) time off.
I had been running around like a nesting-hormones-crazed woman for the last few weeks, trying to get the nursery finished and get the house in order before we left because, at 36 weeks pregnant, the baby could come at any time. Oh, and also, I thought it would be a fun idea to have my baby shower at my house. Which it was! (Though it was probably a crazy idea, knowing me and how worked up I get at the prospect of having company over…) I felt so loved and the afternoon flew by way too fast. Two of my friends hosted, but I offered to provide the venue as several people hadn’t had a chance to see the place and I especially wanted to show the out-of-towners what we’d been working on for the past year. But I definitely let it add additional stress to make sure everything was tip-top perfect for the shower that was just two days before our beach vacation. Parker had been getting upset with me for working too hard, pushing myself too much, not eating and drinking enough throughout the day, and generally letting things stress me out too much. But it all worked out, we had a beautiful (wonderful!!) baby shower, the house looked great, and I was sooo happy to have pushed myself and gotten all the projects done that I wanted so that I could relax at the beach knowing there was nothing on my to-do list waiting for me when I got home.
We left Tuesday for the beach. I dropped Frank off and returned home to finish packing before Parker and I headed out around lunchtime. A six hour drive, we made it to our sweet home-away-from-home just before dinner time (I’m pregnant – all events are centered around meals these days….) and we walked around until we found a place that looked good and had a great meal. We were so tired that we went to bed early that night, but got up the next morning ready to try out the new diner in town for breakfast. I left my phone at the house because I didn’t want to be distracted from spending time loving on my husband. We talked over omelettes about owning a home in the area one day and how nice it would be to have a place you could always go back to. My parents owned a beach house just down the road for years and I always loved knowing I could go there to get away. They recently sold it but I feel so spoiled having had a place to stay that felt like home and so we schemed over breakfast how to get one of our own one day.
After breakfast, we drove back to the house (“Las Brisas” or “The Breezes” was the name of the house – isn’t that lovely?) and opened up the big french doors to sit out on the porch and look at real estate online, just for fun, to see exactly how out of our minds we were (or exactly how big the lottery we win would need to be). My iPad was upstairs, so I grabbed my phone from the table where I had left it and sat down in that second Adirondack chair, telling Parker “I don’t know if I have the Zillow app on my phone, I may have to downlo-” and that’s when I read the text that shut my whole world down.
“Hate to ruin your vacation, but Frank ran off last night into the woods next to our house, we looked all over but couldn’t find him in the dark and he didn’t come home….we have flyers printed to distribute and I’ll check in with animal control and keep you posted”.
I could only read up to “Frank ran off last night” from the preview on my screen and I remember I kept saying “no no no no no” and fumbled repeatedly to get the damn thing to open to the full text, my clumsy, panicked hands unable to do something that comes so naturally every single day. Parker kept asking me what was going on and I finally got out “Frank!” in a panicked voice. I opened the text and read the whole thing aloud, but not before completely dissolving in to heartbroken sobs. Parker, always the logical and rational one, immediately asked about his harness. I texted back: “Was he wearing his harness?” (Side note: Frank only wears a harness and not a collar because his neck is bigger than his head and collars slip right off. All his identifying information is attached to his harness.) My brother texted back: “No.” More panicked cries, then screaming. ”No, Frankie, no, not my Frankie, no, no!” Everytime I thought about another odd stacked against us, another desperate cry. He’s 11 years old! He can’t hear very well! He’s 30 miles from home! He’s not chipped! He didn’t have his harness on! He’s weary of strangers and probably scared to death! We lost him once, 9 years ago, for three months (!) – how can we possibly be lucky enough get him back a second time? Oh god, Frankie.
Parker ushered me inside and shut the French doors. I was completely losing my mind and the neighbors didn’t need to be witness to that. Screaming, crying, furiously pacing the living room, shaking. My baby, my Frankie – gone. ”We have to go home!” I yelled. Parker sighed, obviously conflicted. ”They’re doing everything they can, what else can we do?” I understood his hesitation – we had paid for a full week’s accomodations in advance and had only been there long enough to sleep. We hadn’t even fully explored the place yet; hadn’t even checked to see if they had a coffee maker or if they had beach towels for us to use. ”I can’t sit here and pretend to enjoy the rest of my vacation while Frank is out there, missing! We need to be out there, searching, putting flyers in every mailbox, on every stop sign, in every vet’s office and shelter. They’re not going to do that!” Another sigh from Parker and then, “Okay, let’s get packed up.”
I flew up the stairs and threw everything in our suitcase, which wasn’t much since we hadn’t unpacked anything except our pajamas, the clothes we wore the day before, and toiletries. We loaded up the car, complete with the $5 blue pool noodle we had just bought 30 minutes before in anticipation of me floating in the water all week long. We had a choice of a $2 noodle or a $5 slightly bigger noodle and we thought, “Hey, we’re on vacation! Let’s splurge.” My back had been bugging me for a day or so, a burning sensation in the muscles in my upper back – evidence of the relaxin hormone starting to loosen everything up in preparation for giving birth in the coming weeks, I had learned. Weightless floating in water was just what I needed for some relief.
Fourteen minutes from receiving the first text message, we were in the car and I texted back, “We’re coming home.” My brother wrote right back, “There’s no need, there isn’t anything you can do at this point…if I get him, I’ll just keep him on a leash when I take him out.”
Another 6 hour drive, this time only stopping once to pee and get gas. Eating the doughnuts we got to-go from the breakfast diner for lunch. At some point, I posted a picture of Frank and a brief description of what was happening on Instagram and Facebook and was overwhelmed at the support we received. People that lived in the area wanted to know exactly where he was last seen so they could keep an eye out. So many promises of keeping Frank in their thoughts and praying for a safe return. People shared the post on their pages to spread the news, and then friends of my friends, people I had never met, shared it on theirs, with heartfelt messages urging everyone to keep an eye out for our boy. Again, I was reminded of the kindness of strangers and felt the outpouring of love.
We got back into town and went straight to my brother’s house, hoping and praying that Frank had returned and they were going to surprise us, but no such luck. My brother was at work, but had checked the animal shelter and dropped off a few flyers when had a break. Parker wasted no time and immediately got changed and headed for the woods. I got busy on my sister-in-law’s computer making a new flyer with better pictures and descriptions (mother knows best) and ran out to FedEx Office to have copies made. Hours went by, mostly in a blur. Parker stayed out until it was almost dark, my brother joining him after getting off work. I had started having major pain in my back, no doubt from the combination of driving two days straight and the debilitating stress of the situation. My back pain coupled with a ginormous baby belly and I couldn’t do a whole lot of pounding the pavement like I so desperately wanted. I tried to keep up when the boys got back from the woods and started walking the streets with flyers, but I was easily left in the dust, hobbling and waddling as fast as I could to catch up. We talked to a neighbor who said she saw a dog running around just a few minutes before. She looked hopeful and said, “Does he have dark brown fur? He was right over there” pointing to a few houses away. No…Frank’s blond. I showed her a picture and her face was blank. Wrong dog.
It got dark and Parker and I put flyers on every mailbox in the neighborhood and all the stop signs. We stopped anytime we saw a neighbor outside and I would waddle over to show them the flyer and tell them about Frank. I figured I should be the one to get out and talk to people, even though my back was killing me at this point, since an 8-month pregnant lady approaching you at night isn’t very threatening. Everyone was so sympathetic and promised to hang on to the flyer just in case they caught a glimpse of him. Eventually, the night got late and we were exhausted, so after taping flyers to a nearby gas station, a daycare, and leaving one at a hospice center just down the road, we headed home, defeated and devastated.
That was Wednesday. The next three days were much of the same. More flyers printed, more visits to the shelters, lots of google-mapping efficient routes to hit every single veterinary office in the surrounding areas, even going pretty far away “just in case.” On Thursday, I tried to traipse through the woods with Parker and one of my brother’s dogs (in case she could sniff out Frank) but that was clearly a mistake. I limped back to the house while Parker continued, in so much shooting pain that I had to keep stopping and resting. We took a break and went back to my parent’s house (who were both out of town) because they live so much closer than we do, for dinner and showers before going back out at night with a flash light, driving around the neighborhood, hoping to catch a glimpse of his eyes somewhere. We knew it was a long shot, but had to try. No luck. Parker woke up at 5am the next day and drove back out to do it again. Again, nothing.
By Friday, my back was so severely messed up that I was having terrifying thoughts of “What if I go into labor like this?? That’s like starting a marathon with a freshly sprained ankle and without the option of dropping out of the race. I can’t even walk, how in the hell am I going to labor through this?” Parker and I headed to the chiropractor hoping for a fix, but she was out of town and the sub wasn’t able to even get my back to crack. ”You’re way too tight! I can’t do anything for you,” he said. He recommended some stretches and we left, headed back out to continue the search.
The grief is overwhelming. It’s just a dog, though, right?! I keep trying to tell myself that in hopes that it will somehow make the situation not hurt so much. But the thing is, Frank and I have been in each other’s lives for over ten years now. He taught me how to be a mother. He taught me a lot about patience and he taught me that the most important things in life are to love and be loved; everything else will work itself out, but you have to always put love first and have love in your heart in order to lead a happy life. Frank watched me grow up from a young and immature nineteen-year-old college student, into a much wiser soon-to-be-mother and devoted wife. Frank was there with Parker and I when we got married and was the life of the party, mingling with all of our guests and pleased as punch to be included in what was obviously a very special occasion.
Parker was decidedly not a dog person when we met and was determined to never allow Frank on the sofa or on our bed when we moved in together, but it only took a short time before the two of them fell in love and Parker would invite Frank up to cuddle with us, throwing the no-Frank-on-furniture rule completely out the window. ”Family time” is what we called it and Frankie knew exactly what we meant when we would pat the spot next to us and ask him, “family time?!”. We chose our sofa with the chaise, specifically so there would be enough room for all of us and Frank wouldn’t be relegated to the floor. Parker got such a kick out of telling Frank “Mommy’s home” when he would see me pull in the driveway because it got Frank so excited. We became a family of three. Frankie was our practice child. He witnessed us mess up and still loved us completely, loyally, unconditionally. He wasn’t just a dog. He was our family.
And he was perfectly healthy still. People would stop to pet him on our walks and be shocked – every single time – when I told them he was 11. ”Oh, he’s still got several good years left in him” they would say and I would be so pleased to agree. His hearing was going – well, gone, pretty much - and his teeth were showing signs of wearing down, but otherwise, he was (is?) in tip top shape.
On Saturday, after another exhaustive search and flyer distribution session, this time with my mom, we stopped by my brother and sister-in-law’s house for a potty break and I had a chance to ask my brother again what exactly had happened. When Parker and I first arrived, we got the story, but were too distracted and really didn’t care about the details because it didn’t matter – we had work to do. But this time I got the full story and I honestly wish I hadn’t asked. I wish I didn’t know because what happened was so colossally careless and irresponsible and stupid that I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive or trust the people I put in charge of caring for Frank.
Apparently, Frank started to wander around the side of the house one night when my brother and sister-in-law were taking the dogs out for the bathroom before bedtime (he has three dogs himself). He did not put on Frank’s harness or leash, which isn’t so out of the ordinary - I mean, I never do either when I take him out. At my house. Where Frank lives. With his family. I don’t put it on when visiting my parents either because Grandma and Grandpa’s house is Frank’s second favorite place in the world besides his own home. But my brother’s house is not home for him and with a brand new puppy they just adopted, it’s a source of anxiety. Frank is an odd creature, with his own quirks. He’s the most un-dog-like dog who has never been interested in most things dogs are interested in. He’s an old man; he doesn’t like to play and he especially doesn’t like high energy pups, as cute as they may be, jumping in his face. My brother and sister-in-law watched him for us over July 4th and said he was depressed while we were gone. This concerned me, but Parker had said the same thing when I had left for a weekend in June – and he loves Parker! I figured that in his old age, Frank just didn’t like it when I was gone, his mama. I’m home with him every day and that is his routine now. We’re thick as thieves, the two of us, so I understood that he would miss me. But I can’t never go out of town, so as much as I hated it, I decided Frank would just have to deal and I would give him lots of extra kisses when I got back.
So, Will takes the dogs out (that’s my brother’s name, by the way) and he only has the little pup on a leash and everyone else is loose. He does not have a fenced in yard. Frank starts to wander around the side of the house and Will follows him, obviously afraid that he may get too far away from him, and quickly catches up to him and pushes him down to stop him. Frank has arthritis in his hips and yelped in pain and dropped to the ground. This surprised my brother who immediately took his hands off of him and Frank, scared, anxious, and in an unfamiliar place, took off. He ran right into the neighbor’s yard, right through an open gate in the fence. That’s right, a fenced in back yard. A perfect place to corral an animal on the run until you can get help. Or take the leash off the tiny pup, carry the tiny pup, and put the leash around Frank’s neck. But, that didn’t occur to him. Instead, he left Frank in the fenced in area with open gate and went back to the house to put the little dog in the house so he could focus on just getting Frank back. Well, Frank took the opportunity to run out of the fenced in yard and my brother saw him head for the next street over. My brother got in his car and drove over there to try to corral him back to the house. To Frank, who is already a skittish and shy dog, I’m sure he felt like he was being chased. It was dark, he was in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and a car with bright lights was coming after him. Frank is the kind of dog that cannot be disciplined or strong-handled. He shuts down and tries to flee. We would have to give him “pep talks” when he didn’t want to do something, like get in a car (he hates car rides), but after a minute or two of sweet talking and gentle pets, he always did exactly what we wanted him to do. My brother didn’t try this. He chased him back home and got him back in the yard, but in some ivy near the edge of the woods. So, he got him there and he said Frank was right next to him, when his phone rang. My brother answered his phone, without holding on to Frank, to give his wife an update of the situation and the next thing he knows, Frank is gone and was never seen again.
How many mistakes can you count in that story? Nevermind that of course my brother didn’t intend to lose my dog, my love, my baby boy. And of course, he tried to get him back. But, I can’t stop the screaming in my head that HE WAS IN A FENCED-IN YARD! He could have stayed there with him until my sister in law brought his harness and leash! He had his cell phone on him, or at the very least, he could have shouted to her; she was just on the other side with the other dogs! Or, worst case scenario, he could have tied the pup to the fence, carried Frank back home, then gone back for the other one. But then, HE CHASED HIM WITH HIS CAR! That’s probably a much more dramatic description of what he thought he was doing, but from Frank’s perspective, I’m sure that’s what he thought was happening. And knowing Frank, I know that that was the absolute wrong thing to do for a dog like him. And Will should have known better too. The next street over isn’t far, it would have taken just as long to run over there on foot, with a harness and leash – which he did not grab when he had the chance. And then, the absolute worst, most devastating fact – he got him back in the yard and had him RIGHT NEXT TO HIM. And answered his phone rather than picking Frank up and carrying him home. Or keeping a hand on his neck to prevent him from running again. He answered his phone and took his attention away long enough for Frank to escape this scary situation, once and for all.
The part that just kills me and breaks my heart and brings me to tears every single time I think about it, is imagining how frightened he must have been to run away. At 11-years-old, Frank no longer has wanderlust like he did in his younger days, which is how my brother first lost him (we were living together in college at the time), again without his harness on. Running off is very uncharacteristic of him these days. He had been physically hurt and chased, both on foot and by a scary car, and was already in a fragile state being left with my brother and sister in law. I knew it would be tough on him, and I hated that, but I selfishly wanted a vacation. I wanted to connect with Parker before Charlie is here. Dogs weren’t allowed and my parent’s weren’t available to babysit, plus the thought of sending him to a kennel at this age was heartbreaking, so I made arrangements well in advance for them to take care of him. I will never, ever, ever forgive myself for that. I will never forgive myself for not getting him chipped. I never really thought about it and vets are *another* source of anxiety for our boy, so I only took him for absolute necessary visits (yearly shots and exams). If a vet had ever asked if I wanted to get him chipped, I would have jumped at it. Or if I had ever been asked if he was chipped, I would have had it done. But they never did, and I never thought about it, and anyway - now I live with the guilt of never microchipping my dog and may never see him again because of it. Let this be a lesson to all dog owners reading this who haven’t had their dogs chipped.
But, I can’t seem to get over the fact that my brother was so careless that ultimately it was him who is responsible for breaking my heart and ripping a giant hole in our family. And do you know what might make it a little easier to forgive him? An apology. A heartfelt, “I’m so sorry” would go a long way to making me think that well, maybe everything happened so fast and maybe he just wasn’t thinking straight… But we’ve never heard an apology. From either one of the people left in charge to care for Frank. Which hurts nearly as much as losing Frank. And also? Doesn’t news of losing the dog you’ve been trusted to care for warrant a phone call rather than a text message? Don’t you think, as hard as that call may be to make, that the sentiment needs to be made via your voice, brother to sister, rather than words on a screen? He is just a dog, and after all, I knew I would have to say goodbye to him some day. I just never thought it would be like this. Grieving his death would be so hard, but it would be so much easier than just never knowing what happened to him. And I know that anger is one of the five stages of grief, but I feel totally justified in it. It’s totally natural to need to blame someone, but it is going to be hard for me to ever come to another conclusion other than: he could have saved him and didn’t.
Anyway. The story of Frank may not be over yet, but this is where we leave it for now. He’s gone. We’re devastated. And every time I’m alone in the house, I am so very alone. His presence is missed in more ways than I ever imagined. He makes old man coughing sounds and pants loudly. He snores and it’s so cute that we never wake him up to stop. His energy lit up our house and now it feels so still and empty.
5:00 rolls around and he’s not there to harass me about his dinner time. He couldn’t hear well, but I think he could still read lips and when I looked at him and asked “Are you hungry?” he always managed to freak out and do his happy dinner dance. Every time I finish a meal, I instinctively reach down to place the plate on the floor for him to lick. Every time I get into bed and pass the hidey-hole we made for him I think of how cute he was in there. Every time I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and don’t see him sweetly curled up on his bed at the end of ours I miss bending down to give him a kiss. Every time I walk in the door and am greeted with silence instead of his panting and excited wiggling to let me know he’s SO GLAD I’M HOME I want to break down in tears.
I hope and pray that all of the hundreds of flyers we passed out or ads posted online will reach someone who found him and that he will come back to us, but every day that passes gets a little harder to keep hope alive. And with the reality of giving birth in the next few weeks looming over me, I have to prepare for our other baby. The human one. And he needs me too. My first real struggle as a mother is trying to balance doing everything I can to find Frank, while also grieving his loss as I may never see him again, and trying to still be excited and ready for Charlie’s arrival. It’s so hard to be excited during such a time of sadness. It’s hard to get ready when I feel so, so NOT ready all of a sudden. I was supposed to have relaxing time to get ready and mentally prepare. And now he’s coming, ready or not, sadness and grief-stricken or not.
One thing I need to remember, is how amazing Parker was this week. He worked so hard to find Frank, was so amazingly supportive, and was there for me one hundred million percent. Our week was certainly the complete opposite of what we were expecting, but actually brought us closer together, just in an unexpected way. He is already the best dad and every time he parked the car at *yet another* stop sign and would get out to tape a flyer (because I couldn’t walk anymore and was pretty useless), I would mentally do a fist pump that this is the man I chose to make babies with. He’s a winner. And whether or not Frank makes his way back home, we will be okay.
Also, this may be the silliest picture I have of Frank and it made me laugh after crying for so long, so it seems like a good one to leave this post with.
I love you, buddy.