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July 8, 2008

Yesterday through our neighborhood email list, I received a note about a lost dog. For some reason, I didn’t receive the plea for help from the dog’s owners, but another neighbor realized the oversight and forwarded it to me. She knows I adore dogs. (That’s putting it mildly.) She knows I frequent the roads and trails nearby. Today, I found the lost dog while on my morning walk with Lilly. I was excited to be the hero, until I realized he was dead.

Call me naive (or more likely in shock), but when I first saw his beautiful buckskin-colored coat, I thought he was sleeping. I figured since he’d been scared, since he’d been missing for a day or two, maybe he was hungry and tired. Maybe that’s why he didn’t hear us coming up the road.

Regular readers know that Lilly isn’t always friendly to strange dogs, so I made a hasty retreat. We ran home (quite a ways) the best we could. I figured that I’d drop her off, grab a better leash and some stinky food and go back and get Mr. Lost Dog. I figured he could stay with me until I could reach his family by phone.

It didn’t dawn on me that he was dead until I returned and started calling his name and he didn’t move. He wasn’t bloody. He wasn’t visibly injured. He indeed looked like he was sleeping. His big, sweet, block-head resting.

There he was, down an embankment, laying on his side in the weeds and grass. I inched my way down the slope. Flies covered his eyes and his lips. I started to cry.

I climbed back up to my car, drove home and made the call. I probably should have taken a moment to write a little script so that I could deliver the news well, but I didn’t. I simply explained who I was, where I lived, that I’d seen the email, that I’d found him, and that I’m sorry to say he’s dead. There was a lot of crying on both ends of the phone line.

Make no mistake that finding his body, for me, is the equivalent of finding the body of a dead child on the side of the road. There are tough lessons here, so stick with me.

The note about his disappearance bothered me … a lot. For privacy and copyright reasons, I won’t publish the text of the email, but I will explain that he escaped his chain link pen during a thunderstorm out of fear. The note included his name, but it also used the word “stupid” twice, including that he answers to “Hey, stupid!”

I often joke in emails and in conversations about Lilly being silly or nutty or mentally ill, so I can only assume that calling a dog who fled in fear “stupid” was a joke, meant to mask worry and stress. Unfortunately, if people don’t know you, such banter can come off as mean or uncaring. So, my first thought, as the mother of a noise sensitive dog, was “That poor dog was left out during a storm.” My second thought? “And, he’s the stupid one?”

A Rant
Let me be clear on where I stand: No dog should be left outside during a thunderstorm. It’s reasonable to assume most, if not all, dogs are afraid of loud claps of thunder. Even if they don’t run away because of it, the stress of exposure when they are outside and (likely) alone is unnecessary, if not cruel. Noise impacts their health and well-being. Period.

Our Prevention Strategy
Because of Lilly’s extreme noise sensitivity, I’ve worked VERY hard to prevent full-on noise phobias. In addition to never being left outside when we’re not home, she is always protected during storms (and fireworks season) by being crated in the basement as soon as the sky starts to rumble.

She’s so tuned into the process that one roll of thunder brings her immediately to my side. We walk together, with Ginko, to the puppy treat jar, and the three of us head straight for the crates. We’ve repeated this process so many times that it’s nearly a default behavior. If I don’t move fast enough, she’ll open the basement door herself and head downstairs without me.

Is she hiding? Maybe. But, I think the pattern is simply well established where she knows *that* noise marks a time to retreat to her crate.

Since Ginko was home with us 4 years ago when lightening struck our home, which was very loud, he’s much more sensitized to storm noise. He doesn’t completely freak, but he does bark in a way that says he’s nervous.

Benefit of the Doubt
So, considering the devastating news, I’m inclined to give the dog’s family the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t know he was afraid of thunder. Maybe it was an accident he got left outside. Maybe it was just a fluke that he made a run for it. I truly am sorry for their terrible loss. The whole thing breaks my heart.

Another Rant
However, I’d like to get my hands on the @#$@#$ who hit him and didn’t stop to help. What kind of human trash can collide with a dog on a road and not report it, not try to help, etc? If the dog was that scared, he probably ran wildly into the road (less than a half mile from his home). It’s likely the driver could not avoid him, but still … stop the darn car and do something. Don’t just leave him on the side of the road. No living being deserves that.

Messed Up
It’s been a tough day for me. I’m hoping his family got him before today’s storms came in. It may sound silly to some, but the thought of him laying there in the rain rips me up. I wanted to go sit with him until his family could get him — both so that they could find him faster and because I didn’t want him to be alone. They said it wasn’t necessary.

If he wasn’t so big, I would have moved him myself.

I’ve had a hard time working today because the sight of him haunts me, but what haunts me more is that he died because he’s afraid of loud noises. The sky went kaboom. He ran. He’s now dead.

So, that’s the story of this sweet boy. Learn the lesson, please. Take canine noise fears seriously! Protect your dogs.

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Roxanne,

    I realize this story is not a new one, but I saw it posted on Twitter just a few minutes ago and clicked to read it. What a heartbreaking experience, and how right you are that we need to take fears seriously, whether they are of noise, other dogs, children, or any other thing with which our dogs tell us they are clearly uncomfortable.

    I will pass this story along as a reminder to pay attention to your dog, what scares her, and how important it is to help her cope.

  2. I am so sorry about what happened to that sweet boy, and that you found him after he’d died. It’s awful for all concerned.

  3. Oh my. Just reading that brought tears to my eyes. I’m so sorry for all parties involved… I just can’t imagine.

    Though let me second that no dog should be left outside in a thunderstorm. Ever. Whether he/she has noise phobias or not. I’ll never forget coming down stairs, seeing how bad the weather was and asking where my boy was. My mother had let him out and forgotten he was out there because he never signaled to come back in. Toby never had noise problems before (he has slight ones now)… but there are so many things that can happen in a storm, especially a severe one. Our gate happened to be blown open, a section of the fence down in that storm. And as we were running up the block screaming for him, the tornado alarms sounded.

    Thankfully, he’d never been a dog with a noise-fear at all before then (this was the dog who’s initiation to a gunshot was my uncle firing a gun right next to him… I’m beginning to see a pattern with my stress levels here…). But it was enough that it had him hiding under our back deck tucked away where we couldn’t see him. Thankfully, before taking off on a full on search in a tornado warning we did a double check on the house. That time he heard my call and came flying up to me. But what if a wrong clap of thunder had hit and he ran? Or the storm hit in full force like the sirens were signaling? You just can’t tell things like that. We were really, really lucky that night. And I never had to hurry downstairs each time a storm started to let the dogs in again. But I can’t even begin to imagine him winding up dead for that…

    You never know what’s going to happen… And just because a dog has always done something or has never reacted to something doesn’t mean that things will never change. The unexpected always has a chance to happen. They poor, poor guy. He breaks my heart just looking at him.

  4. What a sad story! I’m so sorry that you had to be a witness to a very sad ending. For a slightly different perspective, though… I knew someone many years ago with a very thunderstorm-phobic dog, living in an area where thunderstorms tend to crop up very quickly on hot summer afternoons while this dog owner was still at work. If the dog was left loose anywhere in the house and a storm blew through while the owner was at work, the dog would literally do thousands of dollars of damage to the house. The dog pulled up carpet and linoleum, destroyed a tv and stereo system, and literally chewed through walls. So the dog was crated during the day, and when storms blew through while the owner was at work, the dog chewed and clawed its way out of the crate, or at least tried – losing several teeth and toenails in the process. By the time the owner got home, the dog would be a blood soaked mess. This was not a wealthy person. After paying a $7000 repair bill to have the damage to the house fixed, they seriously considered euthanizing the dog – they simply could not afford the damage to the house, and they couldn’t live with the damage to the dog. In the end, they build a secure outdoor pen to keep the dog in while they were not home. This resulted in no more damage to the house, and actually much less damage to the dog than crating. I’m sure that leaving the dog outside during storms was not the ideal solution for them, but I think that it was the best that they could do, and after learning why the dog was outside during storms, I really couldn’t fault them for it. (They had also tried behavior modification to no avail.)

  5. How very sad. I’m so sorry that you found this dog dead. My heart always goes out to innocent animals who depended upon others to protect them. Even when accidents occur, it’s still so sad. I am lucky to have averted our own 4th of July tragedy with my dog, who escaped and swam out too far in the lake, chasing ducks. She refused to respond to my calls, but luckily we were able to row out and guide her back. I can’t imagine the guilt and sorrow if we’d been unsuccessful. Please know my thoughts are with you as I’m sure you’ll picture that beautiful dog in your mind many times and feel the burden of its loss.

  6. Roxanne – I am so sorry that you had to be the one to find the dead dog. I know how traumatic this is. Even more so, I am sorry that the dog is dead. His death did not need to happen and would not have happened if he was in a secure environment. One of our dogs is terrified of thunder and firecrackers. This means that we never leave the house on New Year’s Eve, July 4th, or when there is a thunderstorm. If something came up and we had to leave when there was thunder in the forecast, I would put Sally in a safe environment — perhaps a dog crate or board her with our veterinarian. Dogs that are scared of loud noises have been known to jump right through closed windows and take off. I won’t take a chance at my dog being a statistic. As for the (insert explicit terminology here) who ran over the dog and left him. Shame on you! There is a special place in hell for people like you. Most likely the incident was not the driver’s fault, but I can’t fathom how anyone can run over a living thing and not stop to help or take care of the dead body with respect.

  7. Oh, Roxanne, I understand your upset and fury. The good person on my shoulder says they are just ignorant- and that’s why they left the poor guy outside in a storm. I guess it’s the same reason that they think it’s okay to have a dog that answers to stupid. I hate to sound like a Pollyanna, but maybe he’s better off. (I have been known to refer to my dogs my little dopes, but they certainly don’t hear it enough to respond.)
    But the guy/gal that hit them? No forgiveness. One of my dogs was hit by a car– and the bas**** didn’t stop.

    I am so sorry you were dragged into this.

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