When you own a loving dog who is your constant companion and never leaves your side, you never expect to be a victim of dog kidnappers.
It was New Year’s eve and I had gone out with a group of friends to celebrate the New Year. We had a ball, going from club to club, meeting up with other friends and even some acquaintances I hadn’t seen in a long time. Midnight came and went, and when the last club closed, I headed for home, safely ensconced in a taxi.
When I finally arrived home I immediately noticed that the lock on my door had been jimmied and the door was ajar. I had no alarm system as I had always felt safe living alone. I turned on all the lights to my small apartment and checked quickly to be sure I was alone. I might be 6’2” and weigh 200 pounds, but I’m no fool when it comes to my own personal safety.
I called to my Charlie, my pet Beagle. No answer. I called again and again. Silence. I desperately searched the entire apartment, my heart growing heavier each minute with the knowledge that my beloved dog was gone. When I knew for sure he wasn’t anywhere in the house, I sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor and cried. Charlie and I had shared so many wonderful times together.
I had adopted Charlie from the animal shelter when he was only two, left there by a family who no longer wanted him. He treasured my adopting him and I treasured the unconditional love he always gave me, no matter how much I unconsciously ignored him or sometimes wasn’t home to feed him when he needed to eat.
The hour was late and I was tired, so I laid down and tried to get some sleep. I was unable to even doze off for a short nap as I was so worried about Charlie and what might have happened to him. As soon as the morning alarm went off in my bedroom I picked up the phone and started calling the animal shelter, the SPCA, the Animal Control Department, and a half dozen friends who commiserated with me and even offered to drive around the local neighborhoods and help search for Charlie.
After a fruitless day and night of searching, I was heartbroken. I turned down offers from a few friends who wanted to take me to dinner and help me forget, at least for a while, that my ‘best friend’ was nowhere to be found. All I could think about were the dog kidnappers and how they were treating my best friend Charlie.
The next day I made more phone calls to the same places and still, no Charlie. I went to Kinko’s and printed 200 posters with a picture of Charlie and an offer of a $250 reward. I started putting the posters on telephone poles and supermarket bulletin boards. I even listed Charlie on Craigslist on the off chance that someone might have found him.
Nothing came of all my efforts, or the efforts of my friends. A week rolled by while I slunk off to work, was distracted the entire day, then hurried home each afternoon to begin making phone calls to everyone and every place I could think of. I was becoming quite unpopular at a couple of the locales I kept calling. It was obvious their politeness was wearing thin.
I printed some more posters and asked friends to put them up in their neighborhoods. I kept leaving posters on the subway in hopes that the right person might see it and lead me back to Charlie. One of my friends was the DJ on an early morning radio show and each day she would tell a heart-warming story she remembered about Charlie and me, and ask anyone with any knowledge of Charlie to contact the station.
My days were lonely and sad without Charlie. I thought about all the dogs that had lost their families, their homes, and even their lives during the horror of Hurricane Katrina. I began to doubt that I would ever see Charlie again.
One morning I was in the shower when the phone rang. At first I ignored it, but then something told me that maybe it was a call about Charlie. I ran to the phone, dripping water all over my bedroom floor.
The voice on the other end was that of a young child, maybe 10 or 12 years old. “My mom said I had to call you because she found your poster on a seat in the subway last night. I, uh, I – well, my mom found this dog and I think he might be yours. He looks just like the dog in the picture, even his collar. My mom found him running loose in the street a couple weeks ago and brought him home because she was afraid a car would run over him. He didn’t have a tag with his name or a phone number. My mom said we couldn’t keep him but I could take care of him until we could find the person he belonged to. He was limping a lot on his back leg and he had some small cuts and bruises when she found him, but he’s okay now.”
I was ecstatic! “Please hold the phone next to his ear and let me speak to him”, I yelled. I called Charlie’s name several times and then asked the boy how the dog responded. “He started wagging his tail like crazy and knocked my glasses right off the bed.” I was trembling with excitement knowing that Charlie and I would soon be reunited.
I shouted into the phone, “Tell me where you live and I’ll be right over to pick him up.” I looked at my watch and saw that I had time to retrieve Charlie before I was due at the office. “By the way, what time do you have to leave for school? I want to be sure you’re there so I can thank you and also give you the reward.”
The voice was hesitant, finally saying in a low whisper, “I don’t go to school. I’m… I’m, well my mom home schools me. I’ll be here whenever you want to pick up Buster.” “Buster?”, I croaked. The young voice answered, “Oh don’t worry, that’s just the name I gave him because he didn’t have a tag.”
I dressed faster than I had since the last time I was late for work. I jumped on the subway and nervously paced back and forth in the subway car the whole way to the stop where I needed to exit. What if this dog wasn’t really Charlie? Would I be distraught and break down in front of some young kid and his mother?
Reaching the address I had been given, I rang the doorbell four times before realizing how rude that must appear to these people. A very nice looking woman in her thirties opened the door and gave me the most incredible warm smile I had seen in a long, long time.
“You must be the man who owns the dog. I have to tell you, that is the best behaved dog I have ever seen. If I knew dogs could be that loving and well-behaved, I would have let my little boy have one a long time ago.” She ushered me in and told me to follow her upstairs where my dog and her little boy were. She looked back at me and said, “That dog and he have been inseparable since the first day I brought him home.”
I followed her up the stairs and into a clean and uncluttered bedroom where a young boy lay covered with a blue quilt. I said, “You must be Jimmy.” “In a quiet, and slightly sad voice, he said, “Yes. And I guess you’re the guy who came to take your dog home.”
“That’s me alright, and that is definitely Charlie.” Charlie hopped off the bed and came over to me, wagging his tail furiously. I patted his head and scooped him up in my arms. I hugged him and gave him a big kiss. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you Charlie. Thank God you’re okay.” I looked over to the boy and saw tears running down his small pink cheeks. His mother went to comfort him saying, “Everything will be alright honey. This nice man has his pet back and maybe one day we can find a dog like this for your very own.”
“There’ll never be another dog like Buster,” he said. Then he turned to look at Charlie who immediately jumped from my arms, ran back to the boy and hopped up on the bed next to him. The quilt was pulled back far enough on the bed that I could see the braces that supported the boy’s legs. I must have stared at him because he turned red and his mother quickly said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I should have told you Jimmy can’t walk. He was injured in a car accident last year and he can’t get out of bed without help. It has been wonderful having your dog here because Jimmy has been the happiest I’ve seen him since the accident.”
Charlie starting licking Jimmy enthusiastically and Jimmy started laughing and hugging Charlie so tightly I thought my poor dog might explode from the pressure.
“Now Jimmy, it’s time to give the nice man back his dog. Let go of him and hand him back.” Jimmy reluctantly passed Charlie back to my open arms and I could feel the sadness in Jimmy as our eyes met. Charlie obviously felt it too because he jumped out of my arms again and buried himself beneath the quilt that covered Jimmy. I became painfully aware of what I needed to do, yet the struggle was more than my heart could bear. In a choked voice I said to Jimmy’s mother, “Well you know, I have a new job I’ll be starting next week and I won’t have very much time to spend with Charlie anymore. In fact, I’m going to have to do quite a bit of overnight traveling.”
“Maybe, if it’s okay with you and with Jimmy, Charlie could come to live with you. I’d just like to be able to visit him from time to time when I’m in town. Would that be alright with you, Jimmy?”
“Oh mom, please, please say yes. I love Buster – I mean Charlie.” The biggest smile was plastered on his face and I knew right then that I had made the right decision.
“Well, yes,” Jimmy’s mother said, then looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I know what you’re doing and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. These two have been attached to each other from day one. I promise you that your dog will receive all love and good care we can give him for as long as he lives.”
I gave Charlie one last pat on the head, turned to Jimmy and said, “I know you’ll love Charlie as much as I have. Be good to him and he will always be at your side.”
I floated down the stairs in a daze where his mother opened the door and thanked me again. As I walked down the sidewalk, I looked back at their house, expecting to feel sad, but instead I suddenly felt excited about life again, knowing I had helped bring together two loving creatures who truly needed each other and who would always put the welfare of the other one above theirs.
In a way, the dog kidnappers had won after all because I was losing Charlie forever. But I knew in my heart that one day there would be another “Charlie” in my life.