His new life was just getting good when Tyrone bolted and got lost,10 dangerous miles away from home.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
In the late afternoon of Oct. 18, a large mixed-breed hound dog freed himself from his steel cable leash and jumped out of the back of a parked Ford Ranger pickup near Fremont Boulevard in Seaside. Leaving the safety and security of the truck bed, he vaulted into an unfamiliar neighborhood—and into an untethered world.
What caused him to break loose is anyone’s guess. How he separated from his chain is a good engineering question. What is certain is that at 4pm, a big dog wearing a blue harness and an orange collar with all up-to-date tags was out on the streets. And his life was on the line.
Neighbors on Williams Avenue later confirmed that he freed himself unassisted, jumped from the truck, and jetted across Fremont Boulevard, nearly colliding with oncoming vehicles. He had not been stolen.
Within minutes a good Samaritan stopped her SUV on Canyon Del Rey Boulevard to coax him into the front seat of her car—and back into safety—but he would have none of that. He ran away from her at a sprint.
Later that afternoon he was nearly caught by Officer Chris Bourquin of the Del Rey Oaks Police Department, whom moments before had seen him nearly get hit by a car while crossing Highway 218. The officer followed the dog into the south side of Del Rey Oaks, but this animal’s deep-seated fear of strangers kept him away.
Here was another lost dog headed for nowhere good.
A DOG’S LIFE
The dog’s story was already riddled with difficult struggles before he jumped out of the truck. Like many among us, his life had not been easy, a fact that was obvious to anyone who met him.
He weighs in at more than 100 pounds and has the stout body of a rugby player, but his first family had abused him, and he showed wounds from that abuse. Whenever a stranger approached he would tuck his tail and flee. He spooked at loud noises or sudden gestures. When anyone visited, even close family, the dog would vanish to sleep under a tree, rather than on the deck.
His official county records document him as a mixed breed, part Catahoula hound and part something else. Turns out the Catahoula hounds are the state dog of Louisiana. Now, like many others from that area, he too was displaced.
He had been on the run before. The last time he was homeless, he had bolted from a different home. A dogcatcher picked him up near Greenfield and took him to the county shelter. He was assigned a new name: Beau.
We met on a lazy summer afternoon four years ago at an adoption table set up at the Crossroads Shopping Center by the Monterey County Animal Services (MCAS). MCAS and the SPCA fight a constant uphill battle—mostly on the losing side—to help thousands of stray animals find homes, keeping them from being euthanized. They rely on adoptions to link families and animals. The county shelter was peddling two dogs that day, and both were wearing green bibs with big white letters: “Adopt me.”
It’s noisy around the cages of the local shelters, and spending any time walking the aisles can be a heartbreaking experience, particularly when your animal isn’t one of the lucky ones that’s been found, and isn’t resting safely in the cage.
The animals in the shelters come in all sizes and colors; all breeds are welcome. English Pointers. Viszlas. Jack Russells. These are some of the more rare pure breeds you might find on any given day. Beau was not one of these, though he was pure in his own right. With black spots, a long tail, a hound-shaped muzzle, and big, sweet eyes, he was a handsome dog, though more skittish than most.
The day we met, Beau had a nasty cough and runny nose, an illness referred to as kennel cough. He was well enough to be taken for a short walk that day and he didn’t tug on the leash once. He had made a good first impression and that first impression won him permanent furlough from the county shelter. He landed a new home.
A NEW HOME
His first night didn’t go so well. Apparently dissatisfied by his containment in an indoor office, Beau—straight out of the comic strip Marmaduke—turned everything in the room upside down: all the books on the shelves, business papers, a computer, printer, pens, furniture—Beau even ripped the window blinds off the wall, except for one, which captured him. He was so tangled he couldn’t free himself until help arrived in the morning.
That could have been the end of this story, but his new family thought it was all somehow amusing. He earned a place in the home, despite his misbehavior, and he also earned a new name: Tyrone.
The truth is, like so many who have been up for adoption, Tyrone had two lives, one before and another since finding his new family.
It’s hard to understand anyone taking out his or her anger or frustration on another living being, inflicting physical abuse on a helpless dog.
Tyrone revealed the scars of abuse with sudden shifts of temperament. He would transform from a sweet lap dog to a dog on the run. And despite four-plus years of being part of a family that loved him unconditionally and lavished him with daily walks, plentiful food and ample praise, there was not one stranger that Tyrone found trustworthy without a long, slow courtship.
But Tyrone was on the mend. He learned how to chase tennis balls, to run on the beach while remaining within close range. He’d begun to greet his owner at the gate and hop and leap all the way to the garage, running up to the car and putting his two front paws on the floorboards to offer up a quick chin lick when the door swung open.
Days were spent lying in the sun on the deck. There was always a walk on the daily schedule, and two full square meals a day. Life was grand. He was around 8 years old, settling into a happier middle age.
A SIXTH SENSE
J. Allen Boone had the opportunity to care for Hollywood’s biggest movie star in the 1930s, Strongheart, a big German shepherd. In Kinship With All Life, Boone reflected on Strongheart’s intelligence and ability to communicate. If Boone spoke to Strongheart with a dismissive voice, Strongheart would communicate back to him, with no uncertainty, that that kind of talk would not be tolerated. Boone’s life was forever changed, and he spent his last years trying to understand the innate intelligence of all animals.
For Tyrone, the night of Oct. 18 would begin his ultimate intelligence test. In a fitful moment he must have spooked and broke away from his chain. His peaceful journey to old age had been derailed.
The search and rescue operation kicked into gear within minutes of his leap. Friends and co-workers drove the streets on the lookout; posters were printed and plastered on street signs in Seaside, Monterey, Del Rey Oaks, even detour signs on the county roads.
By morning, no sighting of him had been reported.
Two animal control officers—Officer Kelly Ramsay of Seaside and Officer Cathi Cristobal of Monterey—were steadfast in their encouragement that Tyrone would be found. Considering the vast terrain, it was difficult to determine if Tyrone would head towards the beach first (Cristobal’s hunch) or towards upper Seaside and Mescal Street (Ramsay’s guess). Both believed he’d somehow head for home, which was a long way away.
They had reason to be hopeful.
Animals have some unique homing intelligence, often covering great distances—at least there are stories. My friend John had a dog named Jesus that found him one night at a pub in Santa Cruz, four miles from his home—a home he was visiting. That’s a nice bar story.
Lynn Rogers of the Wildlife Research Institute reports of other great animal tales. There was a British tomcat named Snooky who returned 135 miles from his new home in Gloucester to Balsham in 22 days. A white-tailed buck captured in Texas and transported 350 miles found his way back to the Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf of Mexico. It took him two years. The longest homing for a relocated “nuisance” bear was 142.5 miles in Upper Michigan. And a female wolf that had spent her entire life in a pen in Barrow, Alaska, found her way back to the pen in four months, after being released 175 miles away.
If Tyrone was going to find his home, that path would take him from Seaside to Carmel Valley, approximately 10 miles away as the crow flies, over a mountain, two or three busy county roads (Highways 218 and 68, and Carmel Valley Road), on a path that Tyrone had never traveled.
The day he got loose he was in an unfamiliar neighborhood. He’d have to cross over the mountain by Tehama, Jack’s Peak or Laureles Grade.
The search was on for a 100-pound mixed-breed hound. His best hope was that he had some wolf in that mix somewhere. And some good luck.
A DANGEROUS TREK
The lost dog flyer featuring Tyrone was handed out to drivers for FedEx, UPS and the US Post Office in the target neighborhoods. The volunteer rangers at Jacks Peak were made aware of the search late Thursday night. The county animal shelter, the SPCA—every animal agency from Carmel to Salinas—was informed of Tyrone’s disappearance and on the alert.
Two days passed. By day three, there had been two sightings but none by any animal control officers. He had been seen the night of his escape, but not since.
On the morning of the fourth day, Allan and Jennifer Davis from Pacific Grove spotted Tyrone. They had seen the poster on South Boundary Road near Fort Ord and about a mile later they saw Tyrone, still in his blue harness, as advertised. He apparently looked healthy, was walking near the southeast fence and sniffing, just as a dog should.
Unfortunately he was on the wrong side of a fence that was reinforced with that treacherous razor barbed wire that lies on the ground like tumbleweeds. The fence had “No Trespassing” signs everywhere and threatening signs about “Unexploded Ordnance.” Ominous signs.
When the couple returned 15 minutes later, after finding a pay phone to report the sighting, Tyrone was nowhere to be seen. It was difficult to figure out how he could have circumvented that barbed wire fence, or how he could have gotten into that area in the first place. It seemed nearly impossible that he could get out.
As with any search and rescue, timing is critical. If Tyrone was unable to get off Fort Ord lands, he could easily have headed the wrong direction into any of its 20,000 plus acres. That did not appear to be a good choice. Alternatively, if he chose to try and get through the barbed wire and failed, if he cut his paw, for example, he could easily become prey for the mountain lions that roam Fort Ord.
Tyrone was now in day four of his journey. He had avoided the Suburbans and Broncos on the busy highways, but now he had to keep free of the barbed fences, the unexploded 57-millimeter anti-tank artillery, and maybe some wild cats.
The search for one lost dog may seem trivial. In the past year, 225,000 people perished in a tsunami in Southeast Asia, more than 79,000 died in an earthquake in Pakistan, and 40,000 homes were destroyed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, which created thousands of homeless people and pets. A war based on a lie has killed more than 2,000 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
So why worry about one lost dog?
The reason, for me, is personal. Tyrone was my buddy, my dog, and I grieved for his loss. I felt as though I had no choice but to do everything I could to get him home safely. When I had adopted him from the county shelter, I promised him that he’d be safe.
Having never lost a pet, I was surprised at the grief I felt each day, and my weakening optimism. It’s a deep lesson for me to accept whatever life presents. Yet by the fifth night I felt depleted, as if I’d let Tyrone down. I started this story that night, in the hopes of remembering and honoring him. I had given up hope of ever seeing him again.
That’s when I heard an animal on the deck. It was an odd sound, and at first I was upset—the raccoons and skunks had returned now that Tyrone was not there to keep them at bay.
But when I opened the door there stood Tyrone. He was muddy, smelly and was still wearing his blue harness and orange collar. He looked fatigued.
Not knowing what else to do in that moment, I hugged him, and told him he was a good boy.
I had left the gate open all week in the hopes that if he did try to make it home that he’d find himself able to come straight to the door. And he had done just that.
The five-day trial, Tyrone’s surprise return, has been a huge gift. How exactly did he navigate his way home? He’d never walked from Seaside to Carmel Valley before, rarely had ridden in the back of the truck between the Weekly office and my home.
While he is a hound dog, it seems unlikely he found his way by smell over such a long distance—winds were blowing from the west. Did he align himself by the sound of the airplanes flying overhead, which traverse on the same flight path daily? Was it the car traffic, or the PG lighthouse foghorn that guided him? There were no stars to navigate with because every night was fogged in. And how did he know which direction to turn once he crossed Carmel Valley Road?
Had Tyrone been wearing a tracking collar, like the one the Aquarium put on the white shark released earlier this year, we could chart his journey. But that would be too neat and clean.
So what led Tyrone home?
What I do know is that I’m not a zooligist or a genetic biologist, or a mystic, so I can’t explain Tyrone’s miraculous journey as some interplay of consciousness with biology and metaphysics. But it’s clear that animals that find their way home over great distances—from homing pigeons to lost dogs—are able to tap into some energetic force or deep intuition that we humans can’t claim dominion over.
On Oct. 17, 1989, my dog Gyro suddenly scurried out of the office where I was working and jumped into the open window of my parked car—10 minutes before the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. It was the only time he ever did that. Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles each year, a journey that takes months and is made by butterflies that have never made the trip before. Maybe the animals can feel the magnetic poles, or have developed some genetic hard-wiring that guides them through unknown territory. Or maybe they are just plain psychic. Whatever the explanation, it’s glorious.
In Tyrone’s case, was he motivated—at all costs—to return to his safe harbor, a place he had been nurtured and healed? My hunch is that he never colored himself with self-doubt about making the return. He probably sat quietly, tuned into where he needed to go, listened, smelled and started walking. I imagine that he was patient and confident as he headed for home. He may have followed an urge to chase the occasional stray housecat, but he never lost his primary focus.
Tyrone was nonplussed upon his return. He was tired—exhausted—and collapsed onto his favorite rug without even eating a bite that first night. He seemed humble, as if what he had done was no great feat. The odds were stacked against him at every crossroads, and he had beaten them. Yet he stood by the door on the night of his return as if it were no big deal. But to me it’s a big deal. I’m grateful.
It’s been more than a month since his disappearance and return, and he continues to remind me with every wag of the tail that miracles do happen—and that animals are more evolved than humans believe. It’s a blessing that he’s smarter than he looks.