A version of this essay, "Lost and Found: How a Whole Neighborhood Helped Get My Dog Back," appeared in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2012.
On Tuesday, we brought home our brand-new dog. On Thursday, I lost him.
I was taking him for a walk in my Manhattan neighborhood when another dog lunged at him. Lil Moe, a sweet, slender racehorse of a Minature Pinscher, the first dog I have owned since childhood, freaked out and jerked backward, out of his harness and leash. He bolted down the sidewalk and vanished. He had no ID tag, no collar, nothing.
A rapid-fire series of instantaneous, simultaneous emotions: Disbelief: This isn't happening. Hope: He won't go far. Shock guilt terror panic grief. Then you run. You run blocks and blocks in your hipster platform sandals after the vanished dog, knowing the dog will not turn back; he is terrified; he barely knows your voice; he's brand-new to the city and couldn't find his way home if he wanted to.
And as you sprint past, people on the sidewalk register something terrible in your face. "He ran down 86th Street!" they call. "He's running up Lex!" "There's a man trying to catch him!" You wait for the screech of brakes and a tiny, helpless, frightened creature bloodied in the street.
I ran and ran until I couldn't run anymore, and then staggered, out of oxygen and energy, sobbing to every stranger, "Did you see a little red dog?" A deliveryman left his truck to join the hunt. Professional dog walkers took my number and started calling other dog walkers to spread the word. A woman at a bus stop said, "I'll ask Michael. Michael can do anything." She meant Saint Michael. I am not religious, but I wanted to sob my gratitude against her kind shoulder.
An hour later I was plastering the neighborhood with one hundred LOST DOG signs. I hung them on lamp posts, on mailboxes, at subway entrances. I walked up and down, block after block, still crying, knowing the dog was never coming back. He could have been anywhere now--killed by a taxi, cowering under a parked car, injured and hiding in Central Park. I thought about telling my family I'd lost the dog. I thought about breaking the news to the breeder, with whom I'd been communicating for two months, who had written me two hours earlier, "I am sure he is happy. Just let him know you love him." I thought, I have killed an animal.
My cell phone buzzed. Someone had texted me:
"Hello, I was the gentleman that chased your dog to Lex and 86th. I just wanted to wish you well and I am sorry I could not catch your dog. Good luck."
I called him back, crying, and thanked him for trying.
A woman stopped me as I was hanging my fiftieth or so sign. Her eyes were wide. "I just saw your dog!" she said. "A man was holding him in a towel. He was asking a doorman on the south side of 89th or 90th Street if he knew whose it was!"
After I left, she texted me:
"I'm the girl you just saw. I think it was 90th! There is a school on the south side of 89th."
"I hope you find him!"
Lil Moe had run several blocks, then curled up in a doorway. A man named Greg found him huddled there like a tiny, scared faun. He picked the dog up, carried him upstairs, and made "Found" posters. Then he walked from apartment building to apartment building, asking doormen if they knew the dog, leaving his phone number with each one. I told him, "You are the kindest person in the world."
Moe is back. He has a small ding in his fur but is otherwise unharmed. I went alone to Petco to buy him a stronger harness. Two customers helped me pick one out, and when I mentioned my dog had been lost, they said, "You mean the little red dog? We heard about him. We've been looking for him all afternoon!"
I called to thank the woman who'd led me back to Moe.
A dogwalker called to ask how I was doing. She was thrilled at the good news.
A woman spotted my Lost Dog sign and Greg's Found Dog sign a block apart. She called excitedly to tell me. When I told her the news she said, "Hug him for me!"
Another woman called this morning. She said, "I met you yesterday and was up all night worrying about your dog. Did you find him?" She said, "That makes me so happy."
Sometimes it takes a terrible incident to remember the beauty in human beings. New York can be a harsh place. People can be terrible. But if you are in trouble, any stranger will help you. We're never alone.
I made dozens of new friends yesterday--faceless strangers I'll pass on the street and won't even know.
I called the man who chased Lil Moe down 86th Street. He said, "God bless!"
This afternoon I'm going to church to light a candle for the woman who spoke with Michael.