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My dog went missing for six days after the vet lost her. – Slate

When I saw the incoming call from my pet sitter, my heart sank. The no-attempt-at-a-text-first call when you’re out of the country is never anything good.
The pet sitter was calling to tell me two things: First, my elderly 11-pound dog Hazel had eaten what I can only describe as a legendary amount of the sitter’s delta-8 weed gummies. Second, the sitter had taken Hazel to the emergency vet—and the vet had … lost Hazel. I was standing in the middle of a Toronto sidewalk, a spring snow squall having just passed over. I couldn’t make sense of what I was hearing.
I know there’s a spectrum of ways to feel about a pet, from mildly detached to completely obsessive, and I regret to say that I fall more on the obsessive end of things. From my first sight of her, bedraggled, dirty, and growling atop a bed of newspapers at the Atlanta Humane Society, I have been completely in love. She is a member of my family, but it might be more intense than that, even. We don’t do much separately. If I take a shower, she’s curled up on the bathmat. When I’m cooking dinner, she’s underfoot. She flies to New England with me to visit my family. I have had her for six years, and—because I do have to part from her, sometimes—I still get a wave of excited anticipation at seeing her as I’m walking up to my front door. If it were easy to fly a dog to another country, she probably would’ve come on that trip to Canada with me.
So, in short, I did not take the news of Hazel being missing well. I also learned that the vet clinic that had lost her was part of a private equity–backed network. Private equity has been snapping up vets’ offices in droves; in the past several years, firms have spent $45 billion on the pet health care industry. The results have not been good for pets.
Crouched on the Toronto sidewalk, ugly-crying, I typed the address of the vet into Google Maps to see what kind of terrain an escaped Hazel might now be facing. Worst-case scenario: The vet is located on DeKalb Industrial Way. If that name doesn’t evoke images of pastoral suburbs, you’re on the right path—it’s a five-lane highway sitting close to the intersection of a seven-lane highway. Hazel is not a dog who had, in the past, evinced much awareness of the dangers presented by cars.
Most of the first 48 hours are a cortisol-filled mush in my memory, but what I do know is I tweeted something desperate about Hazel going missing while I was out of the country, and also texted a lot of my local friends in a state of panic. The mobilization was instant. Within an hour, my friends were at the emergency vet, having a conversation with the manager of the clinic, asking to see video footage and piecing together Hazel’s last known whereabouts. My ex-husband, who had originally adopted Hazel with me but hadn’t seen her in years, left in the middle of a concert at the Atlanta Symphony to drive to Decatur and search the woods. People whom I knew socially but not extremely well texted to tell me they were going to go look for her too. Atlanta Twitter—then, eventually, just kind of all Twitter, which I cannot really come around to calling “X”—was all over it. By the time night fell on Sunday, Missing posters blanketed the area around the vet, I was told. Meanwhile, I was still in cold, snowy Toronto, feeling approximately 100,000 miles away from Atlanta. A friend texted me a photo of Hazel’s little bed, which, at my request, she placed in the wooded area by a Waffle House near where she had escaped. The sight of something I had always associated with Hazel’s safety and comfort out in the nighttime woods wrecked me.
I obsessively checked the weather, panicking with each dropped degree. I thought about the summers Hazel had spent in a cabin in Maine, shivering kind of pathetically when the temperature dipped under 55. I saw a forecast for inclement weather and thought about how terrified she is of rain, even curled up on my lap inside. I thought about how many thousands of cars traversed the roads near the emergency vet daily. I thought about coyotes, and foxes, and even feral cats. I imagined her curled up, nose tucked under her tail, cold and scared, in a big dark forest.
My boyfriend and I flew home the next day. (Not without some added drama: Air Canada had overbooked our flight and asked us to volunteer for the next one. It’s a good thing he was handling this and I was blissfully unaware as it was unfolding.) We went straight to the vet from the airport, accompanied by a DeKalb Police officer who gave off the vibe that he was never going to think about this ever again after completing the basic duties of responding to my complaint. Despite my best efforts at fact gathering, the people we spoke to at the vet were tight-lipped: I wasn’t even allowed to view the video footage of Hazel being lost, yet another wrench thrown into my attempts to describe her current state in the Missing posters. The vet initially told me she was wearing her collar, but when I got home on Monday evening, it was sitting on the front table in its usual place.
I live-tweeted my way through the confusion and panic. Anyone with a certain number of followers on any platform can tell you that after a point there’s nothing you can say without at least one person absolutely hating you—and letting you know they do—for saying it. But Twitter turned into a place of incredible generosity and comfort and real utility that week. People talked about Hazel so much that a local news outlet, Decaturish, reached out to me for a story.
The saga, meanwhile, just kept taking dramatic turns: The vet’s office told me that someone married to an employee had saved a dog that looked like Hazel from the road the Sunday she went missing, handing her off to a stranger on the sidewalk, but refused to give me his contact information. I publicly begged him to reach out to me on Twitter, and he finally did. (We became friends, and he also spent his days searching for Hazel, making his own colorful flyers and translating them into Hindi so the message could reach more people in the neighborhood.)
Once Hazel’s great escape made the New York Post, I realized it had officially gone viral. Despite the odd prank call (my phone number was on the posters), people were incredibly, achingly kind to me. I could spend this whole piece cataloging the generosity and warmth I was shown. People from around the world who hadn’t met me and never would took the time to send the most thoughtful messages. A stranger in Atlanta took the day off work to look for Hazel behind the Waffle House. Many other strangers in the city hung flyers, searched the area, tried to find surveillance footage, and offered the use of drones or tracking dogs. (The clinic had searched for Hazel for four hours on Sunday and put up Missing posters, albeit with incorrect information. When I started to angrily tweet at the vet office’s parent company, Thrive Pet Healthcare, someone eventually reached out. On Wednesday, after Hazel had been missing for three days, they told me they had hired a tracker. “We are incredibly appreciative of everyone who has volunteered their time to search for Hazel and kept her in their thoughts during this difficult time,” Thrive representatives have said in statements to the media, adding that they were glad to “partner” with me in searching for her. Let’s just say I did not feel the full warmth and sense of action from them that that statement implies.)
But at every turn, it was clear that there were people in my community looking for Hazel. When I called the car wash on the corner of DeKalb Industrial and Lawrenceville Highway to see if they had surveillance footage of Hazel in the road, the guy on the phone wearily let me know that someone had already called to ask the same thing 10 minutes earlier. After my friend drove me, at 10 p.m. Tuesday, to a house in Decatur where someone had spotted a brown-and-white dog in their yard, the homeowner came out to say that it was a different dog—the owner had already come to pick it up—and when I tried to give him a Hazel flyer, I learned he already had one. Robin Allgood, a professional dog tracker, helped for free, refusing any money or gifts. My Atlanta community cried with me and brought over food and made posters and spreadsheets and looked for Hazel themselves. Friends started a GoFundMe to pay for billboards. It reached its goal within eight hours, and we bought the billboard space on Thursday, Day 5 of the search.
As for what Hazel was up to this whole time, here’s what I have very roughly pieced together: Around 10:30 a.m. at the vet, she was taken outside, without a leash, to an unfenced area. Despite being—and I quote the vet—“high as a kite,” she apparently shot off as soon as her paws touched grass, and headed east. (True to her Georgia roots, she seemingly made a beeline to the Waffle House. We were right to focus our search efforts on that area.)
But at some point, Hazel did hop into traffic: The man who eventually saved her from the road saw a streak of brown-and-white fur tear through DeKalb Industrial. He stopped his car in the middle of traffic, and a nearby fire engine, realizing what was happening, swung parallel to help block traffic. Despite not being entirely sober, Hazel gave him a run for his money. Once he was finally able to tackle her, literally, he saw a woman and a teenager standing on the sidewalk near Waffle House, wildly waving their hands—concerned for Hazel, I think—and, in a state of heightened adrenaline and well aware that his car was still in the middle of a five-lane highway, Hazel’s rescuer assumed that these were her owners and handed Hazel off. Now, my witnesses at Waffle House had also told me they saw a little white dog escape from a woman outside the restaurant, so we can all guess at what happened next.
After running from her second kind rescuer, Hazel went dark for five days; I have no direct eyewitness accounts. (If you believe the pet psychic in Oregon whom I contacted in a state of true panic in the wee hours of Wednesday, Hazel was hanging out in the woods and stealing food from a feral cat colony.) All I know is that early Friday morning, a woman in nearby Medlock Park—about one and a half miles from the vet—opened her front door and Hazel was sitting expectantly on the porch. The woman attempted to shoo her away, assuming she was a neighbor’s dog, but Hazel decided to invite herself in. Thanks to the Decaturish story being posted in some local Facebook groups, Hazel’s picture was basically everywhere. The woman remembered reading that Hazel had escaped with a catheter in her leg and, sure enough, part of her front right leg was shaved. Who knows when Hazel decided to de-catheterize herself.
The woman texted me photos of a happy-looking Hazel at about 6:45 a.m. on Friday, Day 6. Within 40 minutes, my dog was back in my arms, skinny with bloodied paws and a scabbed-up belly, fur dyed a little orange on her flanks from what I assume was the result of sleeping in wet red dirt, but tail wagging and clearly still herself. She spent the next week sleeping most of the days on my lap, waking up only to eat gargantuan meals. She was sore and unable to walk comfortably or jump for the first week or so, but otherwise, she was remarkably unscathed.
There’s really no way to write about this kind of experience without lapsing into some truly saccharine clichés, so that’s what I’m going to do. There’s a Mister Rogers quote that used to circulate on Twitter in the aftermath of something horrible—a mass shooting; a natural disaster—that reminds us to look for the helpers in dark moments. (“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”)
People’s love for the quote was panned in what I think was a fairly curmudgeonly piece in the Atlantic (the URL contains the phrase “is-bad-for-adults”) because, I think, the writer misunderstands the utility of a statement like that. It’s not a way to absolve anyone of their responsibility to act (in the instance of shootings, by, say, passing laws) while designated “helpers” take care of everything; it’s just a reminder that, for the most part, people are wired to do good, cooperative things. I think part of the soul rot of the internet lies in how easy it is to constantly witness awful things that you have very, very little ability to affect. It doesn’t have to be much deeper than this: This experience was, at least for me, an important reminder that when people see something bad or upsetting happening to someone, their impulse is to help in whatever way they can, small or large. When we give people the opportunity to be generous in a realistic way, they take it.
Slate is published by The Slate Group, a Graham Holdings Company.
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