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Friday night, after taking in Metallica and checking in with a friend, Gus and I made our way to yet another bar to catch yet another show. We weren’t feeling it though. Friday was the night everyone decided to let loose and get their drink on, and hellloooo – we had just seen Metallica. That wasn’t going to be topped. Gus turned to me and said “I think I’m done with SXSW”. I agreed. We meant, of course, for the night. We weren’t crazy – there was still more music goodness to come the next day. I went off to catch up with a friend, ended up seeing two more bands with her, and then called it a night. Home by 2.

Saturday morning I awoke to hearing Joel calling for his dog. The backyard fence isn’t the best; combined with a distinct lack of grass back there and it’s prime digging territory – little spots under the planks just perfect for squeaking under. Vegas dug most of them. Zoe (Joel’s dog) would often find her way over to the neighbor’s backyard; so much so that we began referring to it as “the annex”. She’d always wiggle back though when called. Not this time.

Joel walked into my room and announced “They’re gone. The dogs are gone.” He had let them out hours earlier as part of their morning routine. From my vantage point on the floor, I could see Vegas walk through the kitchen. My week of SXSW-affected brain took a moment for it all to click in place. Vegas was there, but Joel had said “they”… FUCK. My father’s dog was the smallest of them all. He would have been the first to make a run for it.

You see, my parents had gone out of town too; and with no one to leave him with and no desire to have him kenneled; it was determined he would come with me. He is a tiny yappy little thing; a miniature Doberman that has no grasp of what it means to be “mini”. My parents love this dog. For the week leading up to my leaving my mother and I would often argue over the standard of care she wanted for him. We have key differences on the proper care of dogs. She was concerned that Rocky wouldn’t get the love and attention he had come to expect. I explained to her that no, he probably wouldn’t, but he’d hardly get mistreated either. And as I wouldn’t even be there but for sleeping, she should really take it up with Joel. Every day this went on. I made a comment that oh, if only such concern had been given for my care and well being when I was a child! [Didn’t go over well. But you get the point.]

So when I pieced together that it was Zoe and Rocky gone; I panicked. There in the backyard was a nice size hole under the fence, just perfect for two little dogs to wriggle through. Dug, no doubt, by my oh so helpful dog. We called and called, but they never came. No barking. Didn’t worry too much; assumed they were roaming the woods behind the house and would be back soon. Joel and I took turns going to the back door and calling. Nothing.

During one of my turns I got the idea to venture in the woods and see if I could find them. Now when I say woods; those of you who have been to the house know what I’m talking about… our house backs up to a large preserve area. Underground pipeline right next door; large pasture above it; heavily wooded areas on the side. I knew it was long. Had idea the width. No grasp of exactly how “wooded” it was. [Now, after having walked it extensively for two days; let me just say – if you ever need a place to hide a dead body…]

Makes sense to walk that right? Without a cell phone? In pajamas? And little fashion sneakers? Yeah, about halfway though my little trek it dawned on me that I too could get lost in these woods. Cause man are they BIG. I followed every trail, hopped every fence, with trusty big stick in tow [for the rattlesnakes] and thought I saw the pups running through the trees – a little white thing followed by a black one – but it could have been jackrabbits. I called out their names in succession; so much to the point where the words lost all meaning. No luck. I headed back home.

I’d been gone for hours. Joel admonished me for not telling him that I was going to do that. “I didn’t know I was at the time.” He suggested we try again, this time starting at the other end of the woods. I downed a bottle of water and agreed. I took Vegas with me this time, thinking perhaps he’d hear something, bark, and his bark would lead to more barking and therefore puppies. We retraced my steps from earlier in the day and walked the woods again. From time to time Vegas would leap ahead and pull on the leash; my heart skipping a jump that he’d seen them. Instead; a bunny or a bird. We tried keeping each other’s spirits up, with little jokes. Joel was walking ahead with the stick, and I had Vegas. He told me to pick up a big stick we walked by, and I passed, saying I was fine; I had Vegas. Joel replied “What are you going to do if you see a rattlesnake? Throw Vegas at him?” We swore we heard the two barking off at the back of the woods, hopped another fence and made it as a close to the sound as we could, called and called out for them; but nothing. It was getting dark. Neither of us wanted to be out in the dark unable to see what we might step on. We headed back, discouraged and sad.

With nightfall there was nothing more we could do really. I could have gotten showered, gotten dressed, and headed out to another night of SXSW. But that wasn’t right. (Your dogs are gone, but mine’s cool, so I’m gonna go catch a show, alright?) I took a bath, applied aloe to my sunburnt shoulders and chest and joined the rotation at the back door to call out for them. “Zoe! Rocky! I’ve got steak!!” Nothing. I shut the door, turned to see Vegas with his headed cocked at me. “I was kidding about the steak.” I told him. He walked away. We were convinced they’d be home.

I slept on the couch in order to hear them when they came in. Joel knocked out a plank from the fence so they’d have an easy entrance. I woke up multiple times in the night thinking I heard them. But never. I couldn’t shut my brain off, thinking about all the things that might go wrong with them out there in the night. I did some work, took a xanax, and finally fell asleep.

I woke up this morning and immediately swapped out my pajama pants for jeans and put on my Pumas. I grabbed a SXSW swag bag and filled it with water, leashes, and a squeaky toy that I thought might attract some interest. Off I went again, straight to the back of the woods where we had heard them last. I found nothing but a new trail; one I hadn’t come upon the day before. I followed. Shortly after I noticed there was a good sized rattlesnake sharing the path with me. I slowly walked around him; figuring if he didn’t bother me there was no reason for me to introduce him to the stick. I kept on walking. And walking. And walking. It was actually quite lovely there in those woods, a nice break from the desert-like terrain I’d been seeing. I had thought to bring my phone. I tweeted. [Don’t judge me. You walk in the woods for hours alone and then you can.] I hit another fence. I hopped it. I came across an old rusted car. I thought “what in the hell goes ON back here??” and cautiously crept up to it to document the find. I snapped a picture. The iPhone screen went dark. I thought nothing of it.

I decided that since this new path was a) new, b) diverging, and c) had a freakin old car in it that perhaps it was a good time to GPS my location and note it should I get lost. That’s when I noticed the iPhone was dead. Not as in battery dead; as in “uh uh i’m not going to let you see the screen” dead. GREAT. So now I was in the middle of the woods, with no idea WHERE, ALONE, and had no way to communicate. Here’s where God and I began to have a little chat. Something along the lines of “no really, give me the fucking dogs right now.” There were tears. Not about the phone; just about it all. I kept walking. And calling. Never saw the dogs. I went back to my starting point and began to head home. I’d been out of contact – perhaps there was news. I thought I heard the dogs bark. I walked back to the edge of the woods. Saw nothing. Never heard anything. Stopped and sat in a clearing to see what was in my shoe. Found that two large thorns had pierced the sole and me. Oh. So that’s what that was.

I sat there, feeling the breeze, hoping the dogs would bark again or better yet run across the field. I cried, because my parents love that dog and really, they don’t need this. I got up, did more walking; thought about him and him and all of them, and life in general. Got home and called my parents; my father having said when I first started my hike that he might come up. They were now 20 minutes away. I looked at the clock; it showed nearly 3pm. “Wow. I was out there a while.

My parents arrived; my father and I setting off once again. I showed him a trail. He promptly went off it. I followed; noting that there was a reason I didn’t do such. We found the main path again. My father, not having hiked for hours every day for 2 days running is far ahead. As I turn a corner, I note the very large rattlesnake slithering through the grass. I call ahead to warn him. He doesn’t hear. When I catch up with him later; he admonishes me to sit and wait while he explores on. SIT? IN THE GRASS? I refuse. Finally though, I give in out of fear that the choice will be made for me. The sun continues to beat down; I’ve been at this for days, and have just begun to realize how bright red my arms and face are. I can’t do it anymore. I’m done.

On the way back to the house I’m overcome with it all – the loss, the worry, the fear, the exhaustion. I cry again, offering apologies as best I can. My father assures me it’s not my fault. We continue on. This time it’s he who spots the rattler; which I am very thankful for because left to my own devices I probably would have just walked right up to it. Dad chooses to tap him with the stick; sending him slithering and rattling into the grass. I try not to think about the tiny dog who might have already met up with him.

My arms and hands are badly sunburnt. I’m tired and exhausted and worried and scared and sad. I have no idea where those two dogs are. And I look at mine and feel so guilty; lucky that he’s still there but so sad for the others. In some ways I wish he had gone with them too. I’d feel better about the little guys being out there if Vegas was leading the pack. He’s smart. He herds. He would have at the least kept them all together. We’re not sure if Zoe and Rocky are still in a pair.

Hopefully, they’ve been picked up by someone who is waiting for the “lost” posters to go up. Hopefully, they’re going to show up on the back doorstep tomorrow morning. Hopefully, we’ll see them soon.