Chase was nearly five months old when I decided to take him to see my friend. Shane lives in a very rural area of South Carolina, and even though it is merely 20 minutes from my house, it is a completely different world. His portion of the road was paved several years ago but the rest is packed clay. At the time, there were mostly trailers and a scattering of houses. Much of that has changed now with the horse farms moving in and purchasing acres of land, but five years ago, it did not hold a lot of country charm.
Shane had called to tell me about his new Shih Tzu puppy. My Southern four-wheeler riding, Harley Davidson aficionado, beer guzzling, deer hunting friend had bought himself a frou frou dog. This I had to see with my own eyes. When I arrived, his niece’s dog, Slash, was playing outside and Chase was excited to see him. Since the property was over ten acres, I didn’t have a problem leaving Chase outside to play with the Chocolate Lab. I peeked inside the guest bathroom where Shane was keeping his puppy. It looked like a small hamster. Unimpressed, I went back outside to check on Chase. It had begun to rain and I called for both Chase and Slash. The Lab responded immediately but there was no sign of my puppy.
Shane joined my search party of one and we scoured his property for nearly an hour until the drizzle turned into a monsoon. Drenched and cold, we retreated into his home. I called Brad who arrived in record time. The three of us searched the property again, this time including an additional 20 acres of surrounding woods. Brad and I followed one of the four-wheeling trails for a couple of miles. We could see Chase’s paw prints in the soft dirt and every few hundred feet or so it appeared that Chase had dug a hole toward the side of the trail. The path ended at the edge of a remote piece of property with the side of a trailer visible from the woods. There was still no sign of Chase. Back at Shane’s we decided to pile into the truck and search the surrounding roads.
This decision did not make me feel better. Each dirt road that we thought Chase could have roamed boasted dismal dwellings and questionable residents. One man claimed to have seen him but asked for a photo to verify this. Brad and I realized that we did not have any recent photos of Chase. Our puppy was difficult to photograph because he was so energetic and he grew so quickly that there seemed to be differences in his appearance each day.
A group of pale, skinny people living in quarters no better than a lean-to told me that if he was “purdy they was keepin’ him”. Driving the roads and scouring the woods until 1:30 in the morning, we finally called off the search to get some sleep. Brad and I slept on the floor and I finally fell asleep. My mother arrived at 5:30 AM and we began to search again.
Brad and I walked through the woods once more but still did not locate our puppy. I was grateful that he had been micro-chipped but wondered if someone would even bring him to the shelter. We got back in the truck and drove the same dirt roads again. One man said that he had seen Chase the day before which encouraged me. He told us to check with a man up the road who owned many hunting dogs because he might be there. We spoke with that man who said he had not seen him.
Mom found a small trailer colony that looked like it had been hit by a tornado. The people there told us that they shot any dog that ventured onto their property. We maneuvered up a narrow dirt trail that was lined with signs bearing sentiments of “Turn Back Now” and Proceed at Your Own Risk”. The trailers on each side appeared to be slightly crushed with insulation and belongings forced through the exposed crevices. New cars were parked in the cesspool driveways indicating that the trailers were occupied. Brad carefully backed out and I prayed that Chase had not wandered up there.
We also discovered a gang of dogs on one of the roads. The pack consisted of large dogs such as German Sheppards and Rottweilers. There were also Chows and Pit bulls who were card-carrying members. These dogs were sneaky and would lie in the deep ditches by the side of the road. When our car would approach, the dog in the ditch would jump up and lunge at the car window. While the occupants in the car were distracted, the other gangster dogs would leap from their hiding places in the woods and give chase. Clearly walking around on foot and calling for my dog was out of the question.
Mid morning we decided to give up the search. I planned on making posters and distributing them in the area and to the local vets and shelters. I could only hope that someone would call the phone number on his tag. We reconvened at Shane’s for a quick nap. Mom decided to go home. As she was leaving, she saw Chase traipsing up the driveway. He was very happy to see us and was on his best behavior for at least two hours. It was just long enough for Brad to snap some new pictures of him…just in case.