(As published in Chicken Soup for the Soul! I miss and love my Cookie. We lost her a year ago.)
We live almost a half-mile from the nearest paved road, surrounded by woods and fields, with only a few homes cut into the miles of green. It's quiet, but our Golden Retriever, Cookie, is the exception.
For months, she would charge out the door every morning at dawn, pushing one or both children aside and trampling a cat or two. Then she would go roaring into the woods barking and galloping, almost prancing.
Sometimes, she would come back when I hollered, but mostly she ignored me and returned later on her own schedule, wagging her big, feathery tail. I could tell she was trying to look regretful, but her overall body language was absolute glee.
I kept threatening to track her, to see where she went all the time. But I had two small children and zero interest in getting out of my PJs that early.
Then, one day, I saw her picture on Facebook.
She was on a back deck that wasn’t ours, enjoying a snack with a big guy who wasn’t mine, outside a ranch house that wasn’t hers.
“What is thisssss?” I asked her.
She said nothing.
The neighbor was due north, accessible only over a fence and through a vegetable garden. I Facebooked my neighbor: “Do you have my dog?”
The reply was instant. “Yes! We’d love to have you over, too, sometime.”
"Sure!" I replied, wondering why I hadn’t yet.
The disappearances escalated. Just when I’d assume she was having a cold one with the strangers next door, she’d come loping down our long driveway from the opposite direction.
Finally, that fall, I tracked her. We have a community walking trail in the woods out back. It’s a combination of our property and the neighbors’ and has turned into a nice meeting place for the neighborhood dogs.
It was early, and I followed Cookie out the door on a whim, in my rattiest sweatpants, my husband’s oversized sweatshirt and a pair of slippers. The grass was still wet with dew, but I was determined to follow her.
About five paces into the woods, I encountered another neighbor.
Roger looked unforgivably dapper, as always. He turned to Cookie as if I didn’t exist, a nod of respect to my state of dress.
“Greetings, Cookie,” he said.
“Hello, Savannah,” I countered, patting his dog’s head.
We had an entire conversation through the dogs.
Finally, I went back inside with Cookie and accused her of taking walks every morning with Savannah but without me.
Again, she said nothing.
The very next day, I got a call from Barb, a neighbor up front. A little worry went through me. We weren’t the type to call and chat.
“Hello?” I asked, quickly running through how to do CPR in my head.
But no, it wasn’t necessary.
“Do you realize your dog has been here all day?”
“All day?” I said, stalling. Oh, dear. The last I’d seen Cookie, she was barreling out the back door at dawn headed for Savannah. To my credit, I was so busy working that I was still dressed in last night’s hiking outfit.
“Well?” Barb asked.
I cringed. What would she say next?
“Can Cookie stay for dinner?”
I heard Barb popping open a can of soft food. I stared at the day-old dry food in Cookie’s bowl, told her YES and hung up. Cookie wasn’t losing her appetite after all, far from it.
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Finally, I had a chance meeting at the grocery store with another neighbor, Mary. “I’m worried,” she said, as we walked out to the parking lot together.
“What’s happened?” I asked.
“I haven’t seen Cookie in a week,” she said, bracing herself for a moment, her hand to her chest. “Is she okay?”
Well, we’d been on vacation. Cookie had been gone for a week, but so had our ENTIRE family. Mary hadn’t noticed that.
But before I could answer, she saw my car and its occupant.
“Oh, my Lord, you have her right here. Cookie!” she squealed. I had to open the back hatch—not to put in my groceries, but to allow Mary and Cookie a reunion. “Now, hold on,” she said. She produced a dog biscuit from her purse. Cookie went crazy.
“Wow, thanks, Mary. See you back at home!” I said, giving her the heave-ho - because I had to go back into the store and buy gigantic dog biscuits and soft dog food, the best money could buy. It was becoming apparent that I would have to woo my own dog.
Finally, I had my answer. My dog had a secret life. She was taking walks, eating meals and scoring dog biscuits at four houses that I knew of.
I got home and reported my findings to my husband, and we broke the news to our kids together: Cookie had another family.
Several, in fact.
But they were delighted. It was like finding out we had a celebrity in our midst. And it turned out to be the beginning of something wonderful: We followed Cookie to all of the neighbors’ houses after that, and the friendships blossomed for us, too.
Our neighborhood that was once sprawling and separate became connected and approachable, thanks to Cookie and her secret life. I love that when I walk her now, I know everyone. Or, I should say, everyone knows her!
But if I see one of the neighbors set up a fan page for her on Facebook, I’m drawing the line.
We lost our tea cup Yorkie named Pickles last October. She was 14 1/2 but it felt like we only had her for a year. It amazed me how many people were so saddened by her passing. No doubt at least three other families lost their beloved pet when Cookie passed. Now, she is frolicking at the rainbow bridge. Love that pic of the two of you. Hugs.