I’d taken the dogs out for a walk, making the most of the sunny afternoon. The rainy weather had finally blown over, and it was delightful to be outside again!
The five dogs in my custody barked and bounded about, tugging on their leashes. It was a challenge, keeping a hold of all those dogs, filled to the brim with energy. Let’s just say that they weren’t the only ones who got a workout.
Ivy had generously let me borrow her iPhone so I could take pictures on my outing. I had what I called a photo-diary, so I took pictures of everything I did to add to it. It was basically a scrapbook, but I thought photo-diary sounded cooler.
I fished Ivy’s phone out of my bag so I could photograph the dogs horsing around in front of me. I had to shift all of their leashes into my non-dominate left hand so I could open the camera app, which turned out to be a very, very bad idea. The dogs strained on their leashes while I fiddled with the phone, and as I was waiting for the app to open, the pressure of the dogs on my hand went away. Once I’d set up the camera app, I triumphantly held up the phone and tilted it this way and that as I searched for the dogs so I could photograph them. But they weren’t on my left. Panic rose in my chest as I slowly lowered the phone away from my face, dreading what I might see.
I spun around, searching for the missing dogs. I caught a glimpse of them racing away from me, leashes trailing behind them, just before they veered off the sidewalk.
“Stop!” I hollered, sprinting after them. “Leo, Boo, Coconut, Chocolate Chip, Rembrandt! Come back!”
I reached the spot where I’d last seen the critters and paused to catch my breath.
What if I never find them? I wondered miserably. What if they don’t want to be found?
I squared my shoulders and tried to figure out what to do. “Well, I have to find them, obviously,” I muttered to myself. “Searching in the direction that they ran in would be the best way to do that, I suppose.”
But I’d been so shocked when they ran off that I could hardly remember if they had leaped off the right or the left of the sidewalk. Glancing around for a hint, I spotted a few crushed leaves lying in the grass on the right side of the path. A person could have done that, sure, but it was my only lead. Hoping that I was on the right track, I stepped over the leaves and walked along, calling the dogs’ names.
After a few minutes, I stumbled upon Leo, Emily’s brand new teacup puppy. Being so tiny, he must not have been able to keep up with the larger dogs.
I crouched beside a panting Leo and stroked his soft fur. “Where are the others, hmm, little guy?” I murmured, grabbing his leash so he couldn’t run off.
In response, Leo gave a high-pitched bark and pressed her snuffling nose to the ground. He’d caught the scent of the runaways!
Holding tightly to Leo’s leash, I let him lead me to what I hoped was my sisters’ unharmed pets. I followed him through a park for several minutes before he barked again and pulled me toward the road. There were the four missing dogs, gathered around an old woman in a shapeless floral dress. Despite the sunshine, she was bundled up in a brick red scarf, cream sweater, and cozy-looking black and white boots that she shouldn’t have worn with her shortbread-colored dress. Old people were always cold.
“Hello!” I called, jogging toward the old woman, with a wide smile of relief on my face. “Thank you for finding my dogs. I hope they didn’t cause you any problems.”
Upon laying eyes on me, the woman scooped up Coconut and stuffed Isabelle’s fluffy white dog into a green bin strapped to the moped behind her. With stunning speed, she shoved Chocolate Chip and Rembrandt into the bin with Coconut. She crammed the smallest dog, my very own Boo, into a cotton candy-pink pet carrier tied to the moped.
I hardly had the time to think She’s dognapped them! before the elderly woman gunned the motor and sped away on her pink and limegreen scooter.
“STOP!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, standing there helplessly as she drove away with my pets. “Someone, help me! That woman stole my dogs!” I glanced desperately around the park, looking for someone who had heard my plea. But the park was empty.
It was up to me to save the pets.
Before I really knew what I was doing, I’d whipped out Ivy’s phone and taken a picture of the woman puttering down the street with my dogs in tow. The photo captured her license plate: OG<3GIRL. It probably stood for Old Granny Girl or whatever. But I wasn’t interested in figuring out what her license plate meant — the police could track her down with the information I’d gathered. That was the reason I’d taken the picture.
At the speed she was going — she’d only just pulled away from the curb — I guessed that I might be able to run alongside her. Then I could follow her home and rescue the dogs myself. That seemed to be the better plan, so I sprinted down the sidewalk that ran along beside the road, almost keeping pace with the old lady’s scooter. Leo whimpered and raced after me.
As I turned a corner, still trailing the woman, I decided that if I lost sight of her, then I would call the police. Only then. Because I, I was sure, could save my pets without the help of the police. She was just an old woman, after all.
The woman turned onto a private drive after awhile, and I slowed down. If I drew too close, she would see me, and heaven knows what would happen then. She might start going ten miles per hour, and I didn’t have the energy left to keep up with her much longer.
Fortunately, at that moment, she parked next to a beige plant reaching up from a flower bed. I stopped jogging completely, stopped breathing, even, waiting to see what she would do next.
The woman eased off of the moped and lifted the dogs out of their cages. She gripped the leashes like her life depended on it, dragging the dogs toward her house. Chocolate Chip and Coconut, who’d had the best seats in the house, surged ahead, while Rembrandt and Boo nervously lagged behind. No wonder; Boo had been trapped in a pet carrier, which bumped against the moped with every pothole, and Rembrandt had been squished beneath Chocolate Chip and Isabelle’s dog.
“Puppies,” the woman cooed, meandering up the walk to her porch. “Sweet puppies, puppies . . .”
And that was when it occurred to me that she was going to lock them up in her home. I might never see them again, ever. I needed to act now.
I dashed up to the porch and shouted, “Stop right there, lady!” I waved Ivy’s phone at her. “Give me my dogs back, or I’ll call the police!”
She shot me an unconcerned look and continued walking along.
“I’ll do it,” I threatened. “I’ll call them!”
She strolled along, unperturbed.
I tucked the phone into my purse and clenched my fists. She was just an old, frail woman, and I was a strong, healthy ten-year-old. If she refused to return the dogs, I would fight her for them.
Plucking a piece of mulch off the ground, I commanded, “Fetch!” and the dogs (all except Leo, who was cowering behind me) bounded after it. The woman fell to the ground and lost her grip on the dogs’ leashes.
“Good dogs!” I praised, throwing another chunk of mulch for them so they wouldn’t instantly come running back to me, begging for something else to fetch. I needed the time to confront the woman.
I pounced on her, pinning her down. She was whispering about her old, creaky joints, and then, randomly, she cried, “Sweet puppies!”
I looked her in the eye and demanded sternly, enunciating clearly, “Why did you take my dogs?”
“Sweet puppies . . .”
“Tell me! Why did you take them?”
“Sweet, sweet puppies . . .”
After that went on for five minutes, I sat back on my heals and sighed. I wasn’t getting anywhere. The newly-freed woman scrambled to her feet and rushed into her house, locking the door behind her.
I stumbled off the porch, collapsed onto the ground, and was immediately surrounded by the dogs. They covered me in puppy kisses, and suddenly my eyes filled with tears. I’d almost lost them all. For good.
Maybe the woman had just lost her marbles. That was the only explanation I had for her strange behavior.
But I didn’t care anymore. I was so glad to be reunited with my dogs that nothing else even seemed to matter.