"What's the nature of your emergency?" asked the 911 dispatcher.
"It's not an emergency," I said. "My dog got away from me in Hartwood Acres. He chased the deer. But it's an emergency to me!"
A calm woman's voice said, "I understand."
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, 2 p.m. For more than an hour, I had walked the trails, calling for my dog. A hundred-pound, tan-colored, 4-year-old Belgium shepherd, Dozier was neutered and good-natured; he had floppy ears and a German shepherd face.
I had worked with a trainer and an electric collar to prevent his chasing deer. My sharp command had always stopped Dozier from pulling away before, but not this time.
"Could you give me the number of the local police?" I asked the dispatcher. "I don't know what else to do."
"It's the Allegheny County park police," she said. "What's your location? I'll send somebody over. We'll get you reunited with your dog."
"You're helping me?" I asked in gratitude, and I started to cry. My children were grown and both my husbands had died; I could not now lose my dog. I steadied my voice. I was walking toward Hartwood Mansion where I was parked, and I said I would meet the officer there.
"Thank you, thank you," I repeated. "I'll write about this, whether we find him or not." I hung up and wept. I bent over double, hugging the pain. I wailed out loud. Dozier was gone. I could feel that he was gone.
I headed toward my car, scanning the woods to the left and right. Somewhere, another dog barked. The rain poured down.
• • •
Forty-five minutes passed. More people offered help. My son-in-law volunteered to come from Shadyside to search. From Los Angeles, my son sympathized. Dogs have always been part of our family.
I called the emergency vet, who said she'd post signs in her office, and she told me which shelters to call. I called my next-door neighbor, Marti, and asked her to bring my dog whistle.
"And my big umbrella," I added. The rain was now torrential. I was soaked but wanted to keep my cell phone dry. Dog tags on Dozier gave his license and rabies information and, above all, my telephone numbers. If someone found him, maybe they would call me.
Deep down I also feared that someone bad would find him. What if they kept my lovely big dog, who looked so scary and fierce? How could I stand it? Anything else could have happened, too. Dozier could have tripped in a hole and broken a leg.
He could have trapped himself in the metal wiring of an old fence, or been kicked by a cornered deer. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for dogs to chase deer. I had tried so hard. But deep in his blood, Dozier's predator nature had won.
Keeping my car in sight, I moved back to the edge of the woods: "Dozier! Dozier, come!" Then I commanded, "Speak!" I had taught him to bark on command, a last resort if he were lying, wounded, in some leaf-soaked swale. But there was only silence, broken by the pounding of rain on the waterlogged trees.
• • •
My cell phone rang, startling me. It was Marti, my next-door neighbor.
"Ann," she said. "I have him."
Whistle and umbrella in hand, Marti had gotten into her car and started down Harts Run Road. Just as she turned right onto Saxonburg Road she slammed on the brakes. Moving in the same direction, Dozier trotted ahead of her down the middle of the road.
A silver van behind Marti also screeched to a stop. Both cars swerved around Dozier and turned into the nearest side street. They called Dozier and he ran to them. They were miles from where I waited.
I jumped in my car and canceled 911. I hated to do that since I hardly dared believe they had my dog. But it was true. As I reached the side road, Dozier lunged for my car. The strong man from the silver van held him, rearing on two legs, until I could open the car door. Dozier bounded into the back seat, as if nothing had happened.
It was serendipity. It was fate. Most of all, it was human kindness, from the police dispatcher to strangers, family, friends. If it takes a village, the village had rallied, and they had found my missing dog.
Ann Fromm, an award-winning freelance writer and author of "Steel City Love Song: Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Lives," lives in O'Hara (firstname.lastname@example.org). The PG Portfolio welcomes "Animal Tales" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.