The Missing Maltese
"...love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation."
Saturday afternoon my beloved pup, Bella, went missing. Those of you new to Positively Present or not following me on Instagram -- @happilyeverafternow -- might not be aware of the love I have for that dog. It is an over-the-top, can't-live-without-her kind of love. It's one of those dog-human bonds that's almost hard to understand, given the species barrier. I love all dogs, but I love Bella. When she went missing, having slipped out the back gate and trotted her way to god knows where, I was devastated. At first I was shocked, then determined to find her, then heartbroken as the hours passed, then terrified and stricken with sadness when darkness fell.
Try as I might to stay positive, my mind wound it's way to the dark side, imagining the worst. I could not bear the thought of losing her, but after looking for hours -- recruiting the help of my entire family, neighbors, and even the mailwoman -- it became harder and harder to have hope. Bella had never been away from home before. She is one of the most sheltered, coddled, spoiled dogs I know. She is terrified of men, strangers, and other dogs. Even if someone saw her, I couldn't imagine a situation in which she would go willingly into the arms of safety.
I told myself over and over again to be positive, to have hope, but there was a heavy weight that I carried around during the time she was missing. It was a mixture of love and loss, hope and fear. Over the past eight years, every time I felt loss or sadness, Bella had been there. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote about her dog, "[Her] ears were often the first thing to catch my tears." Without her, even crying, sadness, was different. That, in and of itself, was a new kind of heartache.
When darkness had covered the city for hours and I had already crawled into bed, attempting to rest amid fits of sobbing, the phone rang. Someone had seen her a few blocks from where she'd gone missing -- on the opposite side of a busy road -- and though he'd attempted to catch her, she was quick and scared, racing away from him. Disheveled and desperate with hope, I jump from bed and my boyfriend and I raced over to the neighborhood where she was last seen. My parents met us there and neighbors joined in on the search, our hopeful calls poking holes in the silence of the night.
Another phone call arrived, alerting us that she'd been spotted again near the neighborhood pool. We all darted up and down side streets, calling her name. With every moment that passed, a little bit of my hope was chipped away. We'd spent the whole day looking for her. What made us think we would find her now, in the dark? After all this time?
I got back into the car, ready to circle the streets one last time before turning back toward home. And then my phone rang. It was my father and he had found her about a block from where I was. Hearing his voice, she had come to him slowly, shaking with fear and cold. I jumped from the car and sprinted down the block, shouting her name, until she was in my arms. She licked my face and my heart flooded with love and gratitude.
There was a moment of disbelief when I couldn't believe that this -- what I'd been hoping and searching for all day -- was finally happening. After hours of crying, panicking, searching, and struggling to stay positive, the seven pounds of fur was finally back in my arms. A wave of peacefulness washed over me and I realized that, even though someday I would have to let her go, today was not that day.
7 Steps for Coping with a Missing Pet
I've been through some tough times, but having a missing dog was one of the hardest things I've been through. Hours and hours of guessing and looking and calling. Hours and hours of hoping and wondering and begging the universe to bring her back. It was terrifying, traumatic, and downright terrible. Finding her, however, was amazing. As was seeing all of the people I didn't even know helping out, looking for her with the same determination that my family and I possessed.
As heartbreaking as the experience was, I can look back on it now -- with sweet little Bella sleeping by my feet -- and share what I learned from going through it with you. My hope is that you never have to deal with the loss of a pet (or person!), but if you do, I hope these tips will help you cope until the time that s/he is found...
1. Stay positive. The most important -- and hardest -- thing to do when dealing with a lost pet is to stay positive. Losing an animal puts us in survival mode, which causes us to expect the worst. It's normal to have these racing, negative thoughts, but it's not okay to dwell on them. Negative thoughts will only bring you down and distract you from your mission: finding your pet ASAP.
2. Ask for help. We ultimately found Bella because neighbors had been alerted and had the necessary information to contact us when she was spotted. In a frantic state, it might be tempting to focus on the task at hand without reaching out to others for help, but in this situation -- as in life -- it's important to ask for the support of others. Without the help of other people (complete strangers, no less!), I'm not sure we would have found Bella.
3. Don't give up. When I crawled into bed last night, there was definitely a part of me that had given up hope. Don't. You never know when everything will change and in the blink of an eye, you could be given valuable information that will lead you to your pet. Life holds so many surprises and you never know what will happen. Keep the faith. Don't give up. Keep hoping, hoping, hoping.
4. Allow yourself to feel. When I first found out about my missing pup, I didn't react. I went into autopilot, immediately searching for her everywhere. It wasn't until about an hour or so into the search when I broke down and had a good, hard sob. It wasn't my proudest moment (wailing, "I can't function as a human being without her!" was a tad drama queen), but it felt good to release those emotions. Let yourself cry, scream, whatever you need to do -- but don't dwell in that. Feel it and move forward.
5. Be productive. One of the things that helped me the most when I was in search of Bella was staying productive. I was either searching, making flyers, posting notices online, or calling local animal shelters and vet offices. Keeping active kept me distracted from the possibility of not finding her and the sadness of her absence. Doing something is a distraction and it's also a great way to keep options open for finding your pet.
6. Stay present. It seems illogical to stay present when things feel so incredibly hard. You'll be wishing you were in the past when your pet was still safe at home or imagining the future when you are either reunited with your pet, but it's important to stay focused on the now. You want your focus not to be on what could happen (those negative thoughts will try to creep in!), but on what is actually happening. Focus on the present to keep calm.
7. Practice kindness. When times are tough, emotions will run high. Try to keep in mind that the people around you are feeling the same emotions that you are. At one point, I found myself snapping at my mom, forgetting that she was just as sad as I was. It's hard to focus on other people when you're overwhelmed with emotion, but working together with others and being kind is important for focusing on what's really important: finding your pet.
I hope, hope, hope you never have to go through what I experienced on Saturday. But if you do, I hope these tips will help you stay focused on being positive and present. Difficult situations really try my goal of living a positively present life. (Who wants to be present when something terrible has happened?!) But I realized that focusing on what could have happened or what might be won't change what is. Dwelling on what could go wrong won't help -- or change anything -- either. Odd as it might seem, these are the times when being present and positive are the most important. Focus on the now. Focus on the positive.