In the early 80s, Elton John had a hit song called “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny). It was a song written in honor of John Lennon, Elton’s friend and fellow rock star, who was murdered by a deranged fan in New York City in December 1980. I’ve always appreciated that song for its beautiful melody and poignant lyrics. They spring to mind this morning as I consider the events of the past 36 hours or so…
I had been pining for another dog since we lost Zane in August of last year. Many people who know Bill and me, know that our dogs are our lives. We’ve successfully adopted five beagles/mixes so far and all of them have been special to us. We are usually quick to adopt again when we lose one. We figure it’s the right thing to do, since we there are so many animals that need good homes and we’re willing and able. But this time, we put off trying to adopt because of all the horror stories we’d heard about Germans not wanting to adopt to Americans. We had some travel planned, and wanted to wait until we’d both be home to break in a new dog. Also, we worried about how Arran would handle being a “big brother”. He’s a wonderful, sweet, devoted companion, but he gets jealous.
Nevertheless, last month, the time seemed right to take in our sixth rescue, even not taking into consideration that, because of the coronavirus, we’d be housebound anyway. I also have a very persistent local friend who’s been sending me pictures of prospective rescues for months.
I was especially attracted to “Jonny”, a beagle mix from Sardinia who had once belonged to a hunter. We sent in an application for him late last month, just before he was moved from Sardinia to Hamburg, arriving February 29th. But we had to have a home visit and interview before we could get him, and Bill had to go to the USA on business until March 10th. We couldn’t have our home visit until last Sunday. It went very well, though, and the lady who interviewed us had no qualms about approving us. She made a special point of telling us about the harness and collar combination so important for rescue dogs who are scared and unfamiliar with their new homes.
Wednesday night, we were formally approved to adopt Jonny. Originally, our plan was to drive to Hamburg on Saturday and pick him up. Because of the coronavirus, traveling has become more complicated. We realized we might not be able to find a hotel because so many are not accepting guests due to the “plague”. So we figured we’d bite the bullet and drive to Hamburg early in the morning and bring him back home that evening.
At any other time, our plan would have gone off without a hitch. But coronavirus has really made arranging travel more difficult. Then, on Thursday, a couple of workers in Bill’s office came up positive for COVID-19. Consequently, everyone in our local military community has been asked to stay in town and avoid any unnecessary travel. Bill called the rescue Thursday night to see if we could arrange alternate plans for picking up Jonny. He asked if we could pay the adoption fee and provide financial support for Jonny and have the foster mom hang onto him until we could travel to Hamburg to get him. The coordinator told Bill that we must arrange to take him immediately or lose out, because travel was being shut down in the Hamburg area and there were local people who had asked about him.
It was looking doubtful that we’d be able to adopt the dog and Bill was about to say we’d just wait until a more convenient time, but then the coordinator suggested that we pay for a pet taxi to Wiesbaden. The dog would arrive at our home between 6:00am and 7:00am Friday morning. We’d just pay 160 euros for the transportation. But we also had to sign the contract and pay another 380 euros for the adoption fee. We don’t have a printer or a scanner anymore, because every time we’ve had one, its use has been short lived. I used printers all the time when I was in graduate school, but now that I’m out of school, they end up being wasted space in short order. So that was another problem that made the adoption look like it couldn’t happen.
Fortunately, our landlord likes dogs and is very open to letting us get a new one. Bill asked him if he’d mind printing the contract, letting Bill sign it, scanning it, and sending it back to the rescue. The landlord obliged; the contract was signed; the fees were paid, and we spent all Friday morning eagerly awaiting Jonny’s arrival.
Sure enough, a “pet taxi” arrived at our home yesterday at 7:00am. The driver had called us an hour earlier. She’d been bright and cheery and she spoke excellent English. We spent the last hour excited about meeting our new family member. When we spotted her pulling in next to our driveway, Bill went out to greet her. He’d even bought a couple of croissants for her because he knew she’d been driving all night.
Bill stood at the back of the pet taxi as the transporter emerged to get Jonny out of the back. She took him from his crate and set him down on the ground. For some reason, he was not wearing a harness (she said it was too small for him), and the collar he was wearing was too big for him. The transporter said it was her collar, and claimed she was not given a harness or a collar by Jonny’s foster mom; consequently, it didn’t fit him properly. When Jonny’s paws touched the ground, he suddenly backpedaled and slipped out of the collar, bolting from our neighborhood. Neither of us so much as had a chance to pet Jonny before he was gone. I only got the slightest glimpse of him.
Bill and the transporter set off on foot to try to catch him, but he was too far gone. A few drivers pointed in the direction of Wallau, which is a village not far from us. Bill and the transporter got in her taxi and went looking for him, but it was a futile effort. They came back without the dog. Bill was in tears. But he still paid the transporter and gave her the croissants.
I spent all day joining Facebook groups and posting pictures of Jonny. We called the police station, where someone had reported seeing the dog in Wallau. I left messages at the fire stations in two villages, and we called our vet. I posted in Toytown Germany, and got a lot of suggestions for groups to post in. One lady even called me and offered suggestions, even offering to call around on our behalf, since our German isn’t so good.
Meanwhile, while this was going on, Bill was having to work from home. He spent his lunch hour searching for Jonny, with no luck. Then he was summoned to his workplace because the commander had ordered that everyone in his office get tested for COVID-19. Bill went in to get swabbed and came home with a face mask. He has been ordered to quarantine until the test results come back, so he’s not allowed to leave the house. That means I probably shouldn’t leave the house, either.
We did have a couple of stupid and thoughtless comments from people. Two people assumed we’d been scammed. They thought we’d paid for a non-existent dog, which is an unfortunate crime in Europe. Fortunately, I was able to set them straight very quickly. I got a few comments from people chastising us for not having the dog in a harness or a crate. We’d stupidly assumed a professional pet driver would know what she was doing and we hadn’t been involved in outfitting Jonny for the trip. However, we definitely learned a lesson about securing new dogs, thanks to Jonny’s escape. I did get one comment from someone who said maybe Jonny wasn’t meant to be our dog. That thought has crossed my mind, although it surprises me that someone would say that to me. It makes me feel like shit and isn’t helpful.
Many people suggested using tracking dogs to find him, but as he’s never been in our house and we’ve never so much as petted him, that didn’t seem to be the best solution. Jonny’s foster mom came all the way to Wiesbaden with her daughter and their dog. Jonny loves kids and they do have things with his scent on it. I was gratified that they’d made that effort, and suddenly began to think that the foster mom wasn’t the one who hadn’t properly secured Jonny for his new home. We did tell the rescue what happened with the transporter and her services with them have now been terminated. She also paid Bill back for the transport fee. Oddly enough, I don’t feel that angry with her. I know she didn’t mean any harm; she was simply careless. Hopefully, she will learn a valuable lesson.
All day, I got private messages from Germans all around the communities. Most of the advice was genuinely helpful under normal circumstances; but again, he’s only technically our dog at this point. We haven’t bonded with him yet, because we’ve never touched him or looked him in the eyes. He doesn’t yet associate us with home or family. I still have hope we’ll someday have that connection, although the longer he’s gone, the more I worry that he’s gone forever.
Nevertheless, the pictures and posts were shared repeatedly in many groups. Last night, several people said they’d heard barking in a forest near a riding school about four kilometers from us. It was dark outside, though, so no one was ever able to find the source of the barking. Hopefully, it’s Jonny, and we’ll be able to recover him sometime soon. He’s overweight and he’s a beagle, so he’ll no doubt be ready to eat and sleep in a comfortable bed soon.
I’m trying to stay optimistic. I do have a feeling that we’ll get him back. But I’m also a pessimist by nature, so I can’t fully let myself go there yet. This is an absolutely nutty situation made all the more complicated by the pandemic, since we can’t even go looking for him ourselves. I was planning to write a fun story about how we made the adoption happen. It didn’t occur to me that we wouldn’t even get to pet our new dog before he ran away from us.
I’m still very moved by the response of the community. Germans really love their dogs, and they are overall helpful, kind, people, if not a bit harsh at times. I have faith that we’ll have Jonny back in his garden, soon… with a LoJack on his collar. If not… I think it’ll probably be a long time before we try to adopt again. I don’t think my heart can take another loss so soon.
Update: Jonny was found dead. He was hit by a car.