Saturday, April 27, 2013

It Takes a Community

If you're a regular follower of this blog, you've probably noticed that I have not posted anything in the last month or two.  I think it’s safe to say that all writers experience times when we are either blocked creatively or we just have too much on our plate. The last couple of months have included a little of both for me.  I usually keep this blog for food-related stories, however, occasionally I have a story that is so close to my heart and so genuine that I have to share.  The following is a story about love, faith and community.  I hope it puts a smile on your face, inspiration in your heart, and fills you with a little hope for those days when society leaves you feeling a little half empty, I’m jus' sayin'!

Every March, we host a group of cherished friends for a week during the annual SXSW festival and during that week, we throw our annual SXSW Party.  As you might expect, it's not only a hectic and busy week, but a busy month when you take into account the planning and preparation beforehand.  This year was no different.  We did what we could before our friends got to town and when they did, we put them to work helping prep for the big party as we caught up and enjoyed each other's company.  

One of the drawbacks to throwing successful parties is that they tend to grow, the next one being bigger than the last. This year was no exception and what was once just a small BBQ with a couple out-of-town friends, family and neighbors has become an 80-90 guest event, this year being the biggest yet. In past years, we've allowed our dogs to roam the party and mingle with everyone.  We found out the hard way what too much brisket can do to a dog when Smoke, then our newly-rescued Catahoula, collapsed the day after our party.  We have kept a close eye on that ever since.  For this year's party, however, we decided to put Smoke and Gypsy, our 2 year old Catahoula, in our side yard behind a small fence and separated from the main yard.

Somewhere around 11pm that night, the side gate got opened and our sweet pups made a run for it. We still don't know if Smoke opened it (which he has done in the past) or if it was simply not shut completely by a guest.  We knew the dogs had gotten out pretty quickly and went out to corral them and interestingly, Gypsy came running from around the corner and went straight back to our front door.  Smoke, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen.  When he's gotten out in the past, he would usually work his way through our neighbors yards taking in all of the different scents.  On this night, however, he just disappeared - possibly a bit skittish with so many strangers in our home. Smoke had never spent a night outside in the time that we'd adopted him so we expected to see him back before too long.  Within 15-20 minutes, search parties went out from our house. Up and down the streets of our small subdivision you could hear people calling out for him.  A few hours later, after the party had ended and the clean-up was done, we placed his bed on our front porch, confident that he'd find his way back.  We said a prayer for his protection and went to bed.

The next morning the bed was empty and there was still no sign of him so we started down the road of a more formal search. Over the next few days, we made flyers and posted them. We contacted The Lost Dogs of Texas website.  We posted on craiglist . We tweeted, emailed and facebooked to all of our friends. Notices went out on yahoo neighborhood groups. News of our missing dog was shared from North Austin to Buda and specifically in and around our entire South Austin neighborhood.  We had lovely friends Kate & Jo and Rachelle personally checking the local shelters on our behalf.  Our wonderful house guests that came out for SXSW gave up much of their “music” time to search each day.  We would get up and start our day either in the car or online, searching various websites for any news on Smoke, and every night we would say a prayer for his protection and hope that he would come home.

Our dear friend Sam has always gotten strong premonitions about things and I learned a long time ago not to question but to trust her.  She kept seeing Smoke in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the large land preserve just blocks from our house, and specifically near the back by the Veloway, a recreational bike and rollerblade trail also close to us and adjacent to the Wildflower Center. So each day, we would visit and search in that area.  After 5 days, our friends had to leave and go back to their lives in California and Arizona. My husband had to leave as well for a business trip.  Our friend Lisa stayed another day just in case I needed her. This was a very difficult time for me.  I am a firm believer in God’s plan and that everything in this universe happens for a reason, but when one is hit with powerless, sleep deprived days and nights full of worry, faith tends to dwindle. However, every time I started to feel like “this was it” or “he was not coming home” a friend would instant message, e-mail, or call me to either check in or give me some encouraging story to hang on to. In that one week, I received more texts, e-mails and IM's then I had in a months, all from a community of animal loving friends.  On Wednesday, a week after Smoke had gone missing and two days since my husband and our house guests had left, I got up and read my e-mails before work. One of those emails was from Jennie, my friend and fellow foodie/dog lover, who said that she had spoken to Marti Miller, a local pet psychologist that she had worked with before. The email went on to say that Marti had told her to search the Wildflower Center for Smoke. I told her that several people had that same premonition but we still had not seen anything. Jennie then asked if I was willing to speak to Marti myself. I said sure, I had nothing to lose. I called her and right away she had a calming spirit. She said that she saw him alive but hurt, and also said there was darkness. We both just thought the darkness was the energy I was bringing as I had started to give up hope. She asked me if I had a good picture of Smoke's eyes. I said, “Yes it’s on my facebook”. She said, "I need you to stare at his pupils. When you stare long enough you will see your own reflection, that reflection in a sense will become a channel of light for him."  I told her I would do it before I left for work and I thanked her for her time. As soon as I got off of the phone I started staring at his eyes in the picture on the computer screen. I focused as long as I could and then closed my eyes and prayed. I asked God to please bring us peace over this situation. I asked for closure so that we could move on and said, "Amen!"

Literally, two minutes later I got a call from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It was Philip the site manager. He said, “I think we found your dog.” Can I just tell you those words will forever be engraved on my heart. He said an intern had left some buckets down in one of the caves on the property and she went to retrieve them and noticed a blue eye looking at her from a ledge way back in the cave.  I told him I would be right there. With the help of Philip and Edward (the other amazing dog loving Wildflower Center employee) they helped me down into the cave to see for myself. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I got the first glimpse of my sweet boy. I was surprised when he would not come to me (clearly in shock).  I crawled on the muddy cave floor to get close enough to put his leash on him. He finally started to move when I gave a slight tug on the leash but then he collapsed. That is when Philip noticed his leg. It was quite bloody. 

Everything happened so quickly after that. I left Smoke with Philip. Edward got water for him. I called 911 and had the fire dept. on their way to help us get him out of the cave.  I called my husband to let him know.  I called my friend Lisa who got a hold of our Vet and got them ready for us to come in.  The wonderful crew from Station 27 showed up and with the help of Philip, Edward and myself, the "B" Shift of Station 27 we were able to hoist him out on a stretcher to safety. Smoke never complained once.  It’s like he knew he was being saved. I hugged them all. I told Edward and Philip that I would be back with a reward and they just looked at me and said, “the tears on your cheeks were reward enough.” (I know, right?)

As soon as I got to the vet's office, the staff dropped everything and carried Smoke straight to the back. It was there that Dr. Stried assessed that a car had hit Smoke. His poor leg was barely hanging on to the bone. The flesh was exposed and infection had set in. He was also very dehydrated and had lost 20 lbs (25% of his body weight). The Dr. asked me to trust them and that I should leave so that they could do all they could for him.  I guess I was no help standing there covered in mud and tears.

That afternoon, the Dr. spoke to my husband and filled him in on Smoke's condition and treatment options. He had severed the main tendon in his hind leg and a nickel-sized piece of bone clearly exposed, to go along with the roughly 5-inch gash on either side of it. To think that he'd been stuck in a cave like this for a week, unable to get out!  He continued and said we could see a specialist about the possibility of surgically repairing the tendon, but that was down the road, assuming the leg would not need to be amputated first.  His recommendation was to let it heal naturally and see how it progressed.  It was already about as bad as it could get.  That evening, we decided to take the conservative route and see how well and quickly it might heal.  Surprisingly, within two days, Smoke was up, around and ready to come home.  Our vet was amazed at his vigor and how fast he was healing. He told us we have a miracle right here and not to forget it. Don’t worry Dr Stried, I don’t think we ever will. The healing had progressed enough after 5 days that the Dr. could now stitch the wound and cut the recovery time by a month, which we did.

Moving forward, it’s been 43 days since Smoke came home. We have had our ups and downs with his recovery, mostly due to his relentless urge to chew off his bandages, but it still beats not having him home. I have tried to thank everyone that has had a part in making sure that Smoke's recovery has been comfortable and pain free. Thank you Karla for your care packages. Thank you Kerri, Kari, Julie, Lucinda, Lisa S, and Amanda for all the yummy gourmet bones, treats, cards, and TLC. Thank you to my dear out-of-town sister friends Lisa M, Sam, and Katie for the love, support and understanding while you were here visiting. Most importantly, thank you to the best community of friends and family a grits girl could ask for. Y’all have no idea how important your role was in getting Smoke home.  It was your energy, prayers and hope that sustained me when I was at my lowest and it was that same energy that brought Smoke home to us. The superficial injury is now almost completely closed up and healed and he is able to put weight on the leg.  He is not yet able to jump with it and may never again, but I wouldn't bet against him! Would You?  Today, we took Smoke on his first walk since returning home. He was understandably skittish from passing cars, reinforcing the notion that he was hit by one.  We walked over to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to say hi to two very special guys.  In closing, I only have one thing left to say - Never underestimate the power of positive prayer and energy, and never underestimate the power of a community!

It's hard to see the depth of the cave he was found in. He was way down and back on a ledge in the back of this cave. 

At home after the first Vet stay-Before Surgery. 
After Surgery with my Husband.

This is how Texans say "Thanks".  A 14 lb brisket for Station 27
Station 27-"B" Shift 
"Our Heroes" From the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Edward & Phillip