Ged left the farm at about 3pm to meet Ben on 10th December and I for Ben’s final preschool presentation. All was well. Phoenix had been in the office with him and following him around all day – situation absolutely normal. After the event, we went into town for supper and then I stayed to do the shopping. Ben and Ged were home by about 7 – no Phee. So after getting Ben to sleep Ged went out calling and searching, but didn’t tell me he was gone. I didn’t get home til 9, exhausted, and was then told that Phoenix wasn’t home. I was pretty hysterical. Didn’t sleep a wink. Terrified that I was never going to see his sweet face, brown eyes and waggling tail again. He’s getting old, my friend. All of a sudden. Lame and slower. Time has suddenly stolen his essential puppy-ness.
They say that about spaniels. They say that they are eternally young until just before the end. I don’t want to lose Phoenix. I don’t want him to ever leave me. Especially not so soon after Baby – I can’t bear the thought of another two years of grief. I have been worrying about him going and realising that our time together is limited. But not so soon, please.
At first light we were up and searching. Nothing. We hit the phones and rang all the neighbours. When he was much younger he would occasionally go walkabout – but not for more than 5 years. I went driving – it was a foul day, chucking it down. I saw George and told him and he gave me phone numbers of other occasional neighbours to call. Eventually we all had to get on with our day. I had to clean The Tree House for the visitors arriving later. Ged took Ben to preschool & went off to work. Phoenix didn’t have a collar or a tag on. His collar had just broken & a new one on the shopping list.
I was scrubbing & polishing when Ged rang and said that our lovely neighbour Pat had just rung him to say Phee had been spotted – over 5 klms away and heading for the highway. I got in the car and drove through the river and cross country over her land. She met me at the house gate and told me that the fencers had come in and seen him on Wallis Road, heading out to the highway – looking exhausted, apparently. A big storm was hot on my heels and Phee hates thunder and lightning now he is old. Apparently all dogs do.
So I drove as if the hounds of hell themselves were yapping at my tailgate. Trying to get to him before the storm made visibility impossible. Thunder was rumbling and booming. Lightning streaking the sky. My poor boy was out there somewhere, terrified. Pat said that her neighbour, Barb, had heard a dog barking outside her house all night – it must have been Phee. She had rung Pat to ask if it was one of hers. If only we had rung her the night before.
Oh well . . . hindsight is a wonderful thing. And wouldn’t find my friend. I drove all the way out to the highway. There was a tree down across the road – I just drove over it such was my haste to find him before he got run over on the busy Oxley Highway. He wasn’t there.
I turned round and retraced my route. Stopping at the few isolated farms to ask if they had seen a small black spaniel with a white front. No sign. I drove slowly on the return trip, scanning the surrounding countryside. The rain was lashing the windscreen. I met the fencers as they drove back home ‘any sign?’ I asked them. ‘Nothing’ they said. They had chopped up and moved the fallen tree. I was despairing. And then there he was on the road in front of me. Wild eyed, soaked, bedraggled. Thank God.
I grabbed the rug from out of the boot and wrapped him up in it, sitting him on the passenger seat and hugging him over and over again. He was wet to the bone, violently shivering, and he barely recognised me, such was his terror. My poor, beautiful boy.
We got back to Pat’s and told her the glad tidings. And then I took him home before yet another storm hit. Dosed him up with Emergency Essence and Arnica for his poor tired muscles and bones. He must have run over 20 kilometres. But why?
When he was safely home and in recovery there was the time and space to ask that question. Ged spoke to Pat and asked whether there had been a big storm after he left that day. Sure enough, she said there had been. He must have been scared and just started running. Why he ran that way and not home we will never know. He must have become disoriented and just kept running. Maybe he thought Barb’s house was our house and that’s why he barked all night. Why didn’t he stop at Pat’s house? She would have recognised him . . .
What a wake up call. That every moment is precious with my dearest friend. That we can’t take our time together for granted. That one day, inevitably, everyone we love has to leave us. That I have to make time, carve time, to spend just being with the ones I love. There’s no point taking them for granted and then mourning them when they are gone. Take the time to love them when they are here on planet earth. Take time to PLAY, to connect, to have fun, to stop treating them all like annoyances. So what if Phee traipses mud all over the floor – he’s here with his loving energy, his unconditional love for me whatever I do or say. The last words I spoke to him before he ran away the following day were to yell at him for making a mess. That’ll learn me – or will it?