Friday, July 31, 2015

It Started Like Any Other Day

After working almost non-stop up through May, I decided to take a break June 1st and spend the day on the beach. It was nice to get away and I wasn't the only one enjoying myself.

After a full day of play, it was time to get back to work. I spent the rest of the week editing and Sunday evening I decided to take a day off. Monday I headed back down to the Outer Banks to enjoy another well deserved day on the beach.

Monday June 8th started out like countless other day trips to the beach but this time it ended quite differently. 

It was around 1PM when we left the beach and started heading back home. I'd just crossed the Wright Memorial Bridge and needed to make a stop at the BP station in Point Harbor, NC. I signaled and slowed down as I approached the entrance to the gas station. I started to make the turn into the parking lot and out of the corner of my eye I saw a something quickly getting larger in my rear view mirror. I glanced up. It was a car. In that split second I saw the driver, a young guy looking down at his phone, and then his eyes came back to the road just before he slammed into me.

According to the police report I was traveling at about 25mph as I turned into the parking lot. The young guy, in Honda Accord, was traveling at 55mph when he hit me. The velocity of the impact turned my SUV sideways and caused it to roll over in the parking lot. Initially the roll over felt like slow motion but when the sunroof and other windows blew out, things sped up and we were right-side up again. Seconds after the accident I did a self-assessment and I was fine. I asked Kait, my passenger, if she was okay and she nodded so I got out to check on my dog who was in back of my SUV.

She wasn't there! A number of people rushed over to see if we were okay and I asked everyone if they'd seen a dog. One person said a dog was ejected during the accident and another said she thought she saw a dog run across the parking lot just after the accident. Expecting the worst, I searched around and under my truck and the other vehicles at the gas pumps. The parking lot looked like a terrible yard sale. Many of the things that were once inside my truck were now scattered all over the ground. I found my cell phone, undamaged, lying on the ground under my truck. There was no Piper, no blood, and no sign of her.

The state police were on scene within moments. I handed my info to one of the troopers, gave a statement about what happened, and I walked away. The trooper called after me and I told him I needed to find my dog. The trooper jogged over to me and said he had dogs too. He spent the next twenty minutes helping me search for Piper. After everything was cleaned up at the scene, the troopers who responded to the accident went out and helped search for Piper. They spent nearly an hour driving through nearby areas and talking to residents. Despite their best efforts, no one saw her.

The staff of the BP station said they were dog lovers and knew what I was going through, so they started circulating a photo of Piper on Facebook. Michelle, a nearby resident, heard Piper was missing and wanted to help find her. Michelle found Kait, picked her up, and they drove around looking for Piper. Michelle's sons came over and helped me search a wooded area across from Sound Park. Hours passed with no sign of Piper and Michelle was kind enough to bring us bottled water and snacks. 

Later that afternoon, my father arrived to help with the search and to give us a ride home. Everyone scoured the area throughout the evening but we weren't able to find her. The sun had finally set and the last bit of light was fading. I didn't want to leave. I didn't know if she was alive and in hiding or if she ran off to die as dogs sometimes do. Either way I felt like I was abandoning her. It was now dark and we made the long, quiet drive back to Newport News without Piper. 

Early Tuesday morning I started posting photos of Piper on the Facebook pages of local the animal hospitals, shelters, and everything in between. The night before my friend Shane sent photos and contacted friends he knew in the area. The info Shane and Michelle sent out and the photo the BP staff posted had been circulating all night. Word spread rapidly and Piper started to go viral on Facebook. You may have seen these on Facebook in early June...

A little while later, Kait and I were planning our trip back to Point Harbor to continue the search and distribute flyers when I received a call from Michelle. It was good news! She and her sons were walking to Sound Park, which was next to their neighborhood and near the scene of the accident, when they saw Piper at the edge of the neighborhood. Piper spotted them and ran across the park into the woods. Someone had finally seen Piper and since she was running she may not be hurt too badly.

Kait and I left immediately. We arrived mid-morning to find Michelle and a friend watching the perimeter of the woods while her sons and another friend searched the woods. They placed food and water along the tree line to lure Piper out. Kait and I joined the search in the woods. I used one of Piper's favorite squeaky toys, called for her, and whistled for her. We all searched the woods for couple of hours but didn't hear as much as twig snap or even a leaf crunch that wasn't our own.

As the morning went on, Piper continued to go viral on Facebook. People who saw the posts were driving through Sound Park and the surrounding neighborhoods hoping to spot her. Around 1PM I received a couple of calls about sightings. One of them was not Piper but one sounded solid and was just two miles away. Kait and I went to follow up on that lead and Michelle's family and friends took a well-deserved break from the heat and bugs. 

Before we chased down this new lead I wanted to try something. A few people told me that after an accident dogs will take off because they are scared and they may not come back to their owner until the fear subsides or hunger and thirst trumps the fear. The day of the accident, a man at the gas station told me he loses a hunting dog in the woods from time to time. He puts an item, with his scent on it, where he last saw the dog and a day or so later the dog finds the scented item and waits there for him. Anything was worth trying if it would help find Piper.

The woods across from the park were pretty thick but crisscrossed with game trails. One of those game trails led to the tree line where Piper was spotted running in. I went into the woods and up the trail to where it intersected with another. From the intersection, I peed as I walked backwards toward the opening near the tree line. I stopped about 100ft. from the opening. I tore the sweat soaked shirt I wore on Monday's search into large pieces. I tied a each piece, at Piper's nose level, to branches along the trail. This led to the opening at the tree line. I gathered the hot dogs that were set out as bait. Under each piece of heavily scented shirt I placed a small chunk of hot dog. At the opening of the game trail I tied the armpit of the shirt and left a couple of pieces of hot dog. From that point I placed a few more pieces, which led to a bowl of water out in the open.

Piper is certainly a creature of habit and I hoped I could use that to my advantage. I figured she would use the same way in and out of the woods most of the time. If she came from deeper in the woods to the trail intersection, she'd pick up the scent I left on the ground. That would lead her to the first piece of the shirt and the first chunk of hot dog. I wanted her to associate my scent with the food not only to lure her out, but also to let her know I was there and I hadn't abandoned her. Then I hoped she would follow the chunks of hot dog to the bowl of water that was out in the open and someone one would spot her.  

As we drove to the new sighting location, we noticed a dog size carcass in the center turn lane up ahead. I felt a lump in my throat as we approached it. As we got closer, I realized it was smaller than Piper and it turned out to be a fox. What a relief. My biggest fear was that Piper would try to cross Highway 158 and, with the heavy volume of traffic traveling at 55-65mph, it wouldn't end well for her. 

We met the couple that called about spotting Piper and we split up. John and I searched the woods while Kait and Krista drove through the neighborhoods. We spent several hours covering the area. As we searched we met people who asked if we were looking for Piper. It was obvious how viral the Facebook posts had gone, but only a few people actually saw her. There was another sighting in this area but it was now two hours after the couple's sighting and we were about forty-five minutes behind this "new" sighting. We followed the lead and it too came up empty.

Michelle and her family kept an eye on the park throughout the day. Shane was home monitoring Facebook for leads and he saw that Piper was allegedly spotted in a neighborhood heading back toward Sound Park. This time we were fifteen minutes behind the sighting. We searched the neighborhood and the surrounding area where she was last seen. No luck. 

It was almost 5PM, there were some rumbles of thunder from an approaching storm, and I had to get the rest of my belongings out of my truck before the tow company's yard closed. We thanked John and Krista for all of their help and made our way to the tow yard. I took one last photo with my truck after another sweat soaked day of trudging through the woods.

 Kait and I grabbed some bottled water and went back to Sound Park to see if the bait I left was still there or if anyone had spotted Piper. There were a few kids and a woman at the skatepark. Just like earlier in the day, there were vehicles  driving slowly through the park and you could hear whistles or voices calling, "Piiiiper" from the vehicles.

We pulled up and I got out to ask if anyone had seen a dog. Before I finished my question the woman said she saw Piper at the edge of the tree line by the "red thing" about five minutes ago. Then Piper was spooked and she ran back in the woods. The "red thing" was the water bowl. We drove across the park and ran to the water bowl. Sure enough, half of the water was gone. The chunks of hot dog leading from water and back up the trail into the woods were gone.

Finally! We were within just minutes of a sighting so we started searching the woods again. I know, you're thinking if we took less time at the tow yard and not stopped for water I'd have seen Piper myself. Trust me, I thought that too. I also played the "what if" game about stopping at a gas station in town or further down 158 and none of this would have ever happened. Dwelling on "what if's" will do you no good. You can't change what happened especially when you couldn't possibly foresee it coming. All you have is "right now" and what you do with "right now" is really all that matters.

Our "right now" was spending more than an hour searching the woods again and we saw and heard nothing. While we searched, the storm that was coming our way moved well north of us and the skies cleared. We exited the woods from a game trail that led us out to a field on the side nearest the gas station. Kait and I walked along the tree line and turned the corner to go back to where we started. Down the tree line saw Michelle, her sons, and a few friends gathered near the opening of the game trail where Piper was last seen. It was now after dinner and they wanted to take a look around before it got dark. I gushed and thanked them all for their help, spreading the word, bringing food and water for Piper, and all the time they spent in the heat searching.

As the sun was setting on the park, Kait and I were discussing our next move because earlier John told a local motel owner about Piper and the owner offered us a room at a discounted rate. Staying at the motel down the road meant we didn't have to waste precious time driving all the way home and then back in the morning. As we talked, a couple in an SUV pulled up and asked if we were looking for Piper. We said yes. The driver said that, just now, as they were driving into the park he saw Piper around the corner of the tree line from us. When he called her name, she ran along the trees and into the woods. Kait and I just walked the game trail, which led to that side of the woods! Maybe Piper heard us calling and she was trying to find us? We thanked him and, with very little daylight left, the search started again.

Kait went to get the key to the motel room before they closed and I went to the front side of the woods where Piper was last seen. Finally, I was right behind her! This could be it! I entered the woods from game trail opening we just came out of a short time earlier. I walked it and several other trails. I called, whistled, and squeaked her toy. Again, there wasn't the slightest sight, sound, or movement in the woods. There was just the constant buzz of mosquitoes flying around me. The whole day I felt as though I was chasing a ghost.

When Kait returned the sun had set and the last bit of light was fading once again. I filled the water bowl and baited the trail with some deli meat Michelle brought earlier. Next to the water bowl I placed the bull shaped squeaky toy I'd been driving everyone crazy with all day. The toy had my scent on it and if she came back out here, I wanted her to see something familiar and associate it with me.

We were at the end of another day and it was time to stop the search for the night. Although I knew she picked up my scent earlier and probably thought I was somewhere nearby, I couldn't help but feel as if I was abandoning her again. I did find comfort in knowing she was definitely in those woods and if she was injured, it may not be too serious.

Darkness set in, so we grabbed a couple of sandwiches and headed to the motel for the night. We cleaned up and ate what little we could. We'd spent the last two days in June's stifling heat and humidity. We walked countless miles as we fought off ticks, mosquitoes, Mayflies, and horseflies but we'd come within just moments of finding Piper. Although it had been two exhausting days, we found it hard to sleep so we talked about our searches and the new game plan for Wednesday.

Around midnight I received a phone call from a man who'd heard about Piper and decided to drive through the park on his way home from work. He said Piper was at the boat launch area at the far end of the park and he described her perfectly. He had eyes on her right now. He whistled and he said she turned around. Then he called her name and she took off running towards the woods. Over the phone I could hear the distinct sound of Piper's tags jingling as she ran. The caller lost sight of her in the dark.

I thanked him for taking the time to drive through the park and calling me. Kait and I drove the couple of miles back to the park. There was no sign of Piper. I was making my way to the water bowl when I saw vehicle driving slowly through the park. I heard the faint call of "Piiiiiper" coming from it. I walked to the road and the woman asked if we were looking for Piper. I told her I was Piper's owner. The woman told us she saw a post on Facebook that said Piper was seen near the boat launch and the woman decided to come by to see if she could help find Piper. Simply amazing! I thanked her for coming out so late at night and helping to spread the word. 

I checked out the water bowl and bait. Nothing had been touched. I was worried that over the course of the night raccoons or cats would find and eat the deli meat. I searched along the tree line with a flashlight. I called to Piper and there was no sign. Meanwhile, a couple of other vehicles slowly drove around the park and left. I figured they too saw the post and wanted to take a look. Kait and I went back to the motel to catch a few hours of sleep before heading to the park first thing in the morning.

We arrived back at the park just after 6:30AM. Today's game plan was going to be different. Instead of hiking through the woods, calling her, whistling, and squeaking a toy; we were going to sit and wait for her to come out again. If that took all day, fine. If it took all night we were prepared to do that too. I thought that maybe all of the strange voices, sounds, and smells maybe driving her away from us instead of to us. 

As I walked up to the water bowl, I noticed the bull squeaky toy was a couple of feet away from where it was the night before and was laying on its side, not on its feet. Piper may have sniffed and pawed at it at some point in the night and that was why it was moved. The water level in the bowl was the same but the deli meat was gone. She may have been spooked and ran back into the woods before she could drink any water. I baited the trail with pieces of the sandwiches we didn't finish the night before and put the bull squeaky toy next to the water.

I put a blanket about 75ft. upwind of the entrance to the game trail, I sat down, and I waited. This was going to be my post for the rest of the day. Kait walked along the tree line toward the boat launch. I contacted Michelle to let her know we were out there, what our game plan was, and she said she'd stop by in a little while.

As I sat there, I thought about the squeaky toy. Piper saw it last night and she touched it, so she knew it was there. Along with a number of things I brought along for the search on Tuesday, I had a smaller version of the same bull squeaky toy in my pocket. I thought maybe if I squeaked it, and she was nearby, she'd come to investigate. I was breaking the game plan from the start but what could it hurt?

From the blanket I squeaked the toy several times and waited. A minute, maybe two passed and slowly Piper emerged from the entrance of the game trail. She looked at the larger version of the squeaky toy sitting next to the water bowl and she looked around as if she wanted to know who touched her toy. Then her eyes locked on me. She didn't move. I thought to myself, "Is that really her?" I'm sure she was thinking the same about me. I opened my arms wide and, with her head down, she slowly came toward me. I called to her and she ran to me whimpering. 

Kait saw Piper running to me and she made her way to us. Needless to say we were both in tears at this point. I checked Piper over and aside from a cut on her face and a bit of a limp, she seemed fine. I walked over to the entrance to the game trail and saw that Piper gobbled up all of the bits of sandwich as she made her way out. We went back to the car to give her some water and a bit of food. I started contacting everyone to let them know Piper was with me and she was okay. They search was over!

I contacted Michelle to let her know we found Piper. I wanted her family to meet the pup they worked so very hard to help find and our first stop was their house. Everyone was excited to meet her. Over those couple of days Michelle and her family spent so much time searching, talking with neighbors, helping spread the word, getting others to help with the search, bringing food and water to lure Piper out, and were so supportive to Kait and I. I can never thank them enough for everything they did. They are truly an amazing family!

On the ride home I pulled almost three-dozen ticks off of Piper. I made an appointment with the vet later that day to have the cut and her limp looked at. The vet was stunned when I told him the story and he said Piper was just fine. The cut healed and her limp went away. In the photo below, the area above and below the scab was where the vet shaved some hair to clean the wound.

It was truly a blessing that everyone walked away from the accident without serious injury. Even the young guy who hit us was fine. Kait had a sore neck and several small cuts on her hand from broken glass. I had a small scrape on my shoulder where I made contact with the asphalt as the truck rolled over. That was it. Truly a blessing!

There is so much more detail I could go into with this story but I don't want to keep going on and on.

I am so very thankful for everyone who spread the word and helped with the search. There were a core group of residents from the New Beach Road community, and their friends, who relentlessly scoured the surrounding area and the woods of Sound Park several times a day, for hours on end. There were many others who saw the posts were looking for Piper at all times of day and night. The outpouring of help and concern was simply amazing!

The eagerness to help, compassion, concern, and kindness shown by the good people of Currituck County is something I've never experienced on such a scale. Time and time again, strangers treated us like part of their family. If everyone on this planet treated each other the way the people of Currituck County treated us, the world would be a much more beautiful place! I will strive to be more like the amazing people I met and do will everything in my power to pay it forward every chance I get.

I would like offer my deepest, heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped! I would also like to thank Kait, Michelle and her family, Shane, Carol, David, Cameron, Cindy, Cliff, Amber, Beau, Tisch Perry, my Dad, John Boy, Krista, Eastern Shore Animal Hospital, Currituck SPCA, Animal Hospital of Nags Head, the staff at the Point Harbor BP Station, Sea Oats Motel, Lost Found and Spotted Pets of Dare and Currituck, Good Neighbors of the Outer Banks, Currituck Fire and EMS, Currituck Sheriffs Office, NC State Trooper Sgt. White and the other Troopers on scene who took the time to search after the accident, all of the folks who went out searching for Piper, everyone who posted sightings or called me directly, everyone who shared our story and passed our info on to all of your family and friends, and everyone who kept us in your prayers and positive thoughts!

YOU, all of you, are the reason Piper is safe at home right now! Thank-you! Thank-you! Thank-you!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I'm so glad you found Piper and that you are ALL doing well. Thanks for sharing your story and thank you to anyone reading this who joined the search for Piper!