Joy was the dog of my life. She was a mutt, maybe part bull terrier; absolutely beautiful, lion colored, with a strong white chest and white snout. She used to sit at my feet while I wrote or did my homework, and would sneak her way into the bed - under the covers, with her head on the pillow - whenever I let her. When I didn't, she'd lie outside my window, with her face against mine on the opposite side of the glass pane.
My mom and I (and whoever wanted to join in) used to take Joy on walks to the Ajusco, a wooded area near where we lived in Mexico City. Seeing that dog run filled by heart. She'd get crazy with joy (hence the name), and was impossible to tire.
One day, as we were walking along our usual trail, Joy heard a cowbell in the distance and took off. She ran until we couldn't see her anymore. This despite the fact we called her, whistled at her, clapped our hands at her, screamed at her, and tried to run after her.
We lost her.
We looked for her for eight hours, calling her name until we were hoarse. We walked up and down every hill, every mountain, followed every path. At one point, my mom finally said out loud what I knew to be inevitable.
"We have to go."
She looked to see how I would react, and then added "It's getting dark, and we have no food, no water and no flashlights."
Then, to make me feel better "We'll come back tomorrow."
I turned around towards the parking lot and cried. I got in the car and cried. (I want to cry now, more than 10 years later.) I cried all the way home. I drank a tall glass of water, turned down dinner, and took a hot shower. My mom came down to my room. "We'll get up early,” she said "and we'll get back there and we'll find her".
"Mom" I said. "We'll never find her. We looked everywhere today. She's gone, mom."
I got no sleep that night. I tossed, and all night Joy's new friend Cool cried. Not the weak whimper of the restless puppy that he was, but desperate, heart wrenching howls of a grown wolf in agony. Long, drawn out "aoooooo, aooooo" pierced the night. You have never heard an animal so upset. We worried Joy’s disappearance would kill him. (I worried it would kill me.)
As soon as the sun came up, we met up in the garage. We got into the car without saying a word. I felt sick. I knew she'd starve, or that someone would hurt her. Even in the best of circumstances, she’d be so confused - who else would give her the kind of a life we gave her?
Meanwhile, my mom was really chatty. She had a plan. She had thought about it all night. I was only half listening.
"We have to think like a dog,” she was saying. "Think like a dog. Think. Like. A. Dog. If you were a dog, where would you go? I think we'll find her in our picnic place. It's a spot she associates with food, and she'll be hungry".
Gone, I was thinking. Gone, gone, gone.
We trudged up through the hills, hollering her name. I looked down ravines, imagining finding her body. How can a domesticated, good-natured, big-hearted honey eyed dog survive a whole night of freezing temperatures, lost in the wild? How can Joy, who likes to sleep with her head on a pillow, for goodness sakes -
That's when I heard the soft, rattling sound of her leash.
I looked ahead. And saw her. And screaming her name – startling her - ran towards her. She looked at me. Our eyes locked. Mine said "OH MY GOD ARE YOU ALRIGHT OH MY GOD OH MY GOD?" Hers said "Oh, wassup?"
She wasn't panting, or dirty, or matted, or skinnier, or bloody, or in any way showing she had just survived a terrifying night. She was like "Whatever. That was kind of fun. Anyone got anything to drink around here?"
I hugged her thick neck, and scratched her belly, and took in the woodsy smell of her paws. I ruffled her head, held back her ears, and kissed her cool, wet nose. Without turning, she rolled her eyes and turned them towards my mom with a look that said "Jeez. What's gotten into her?"
I could barely see through my tears. I dried my eyes and nose with my sleeves, and made an effort to compose myself. Hugged her again. Leashed her. Checked the collar to make sure she wouldn't get away again. Stood up and looked around, squinting at the light.
We were at our picnic place.