Lost and Found: How a Whole Neighborhood Helped Get My Dog Back
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Lost and Found: How a Whole Neighborhood Helped Get My Dog Back

When my brand-new dog ran off, a whole neighborhood of incredibly kind strangers suddenly came to the rescue.

On Tuesday we brought home our new dog. On Thursday I lost him.

I was taking him for a walk in my Manhattan neighborhood when another dog lunged at him. Lil Moe, a sweet, shy, slender racehorse of a miniature pinscher, the first dog I have owned since childhood, freaked out and jerked backward out of his collar and leash. He bolted down the sidewalk and disappeared.

A rapid-fire series of emotions ran through my brain. Horror: He has no ID tag. Disbelief: This isn't happening. Hope: He won't go far. Shock terror panic guilt grief. Then I ran. I ran blocks and blocks in hipster platform sandals after the vanished dog, knowing he would not turn back. He barely knew my voice; he had been in the city for only 36 hours and couldn't find his way home if he wanted to.

As I sprinted, people on the sidewalk registered something terrible in my face. "He ran down 86th Street!" they called. "A man's trying to catch him!"

I ran and ran until I couldn't run anymore, and then I staggered, out of oxygen and energy, sobbing to every stranger, "Did you see a little lost dog?" A deliveryman left his truck to join the hunt. Professional dog walkers took my number and started calling other dog walkers to spread the word. A woman at a bus stop said, "I'll ask Michael. He can do anything." She meant Saint Michael. I am not religious, but I wanted to sink with gratitude against her kind shoulder.

An hour later, after a trip to a copy shop, I was plastering Lost Dog signs around the neighborhood. I walked block after block, still crying, thinking the worst. He could have been anywhere -- killed by a taxi, cowering under a parked car, injured and hiding in Central Park. I thought about telling my family I'd lost Lil Moe. I thought, I have killed an animal.

My cell phone buzzed. Someone had texted me: "I'm the man who chased your dog to Lex and 86th. I'm sorry I couldn't catch him. Good luck." I called him back in tears to thank him for trying.

A woman stopped me as I was hanging my 50th or so sign. Her eyes were wide. "I just saw your dog!" she said. "A man was holding him and asking a doorman on 89th or 90th Street if he knew whose it was!"

It turned out that Lil Moe had run across a busy avenue and four streets, then curled up in the doorway of an apartment building. A man named Greg found him huddled there like a tiny, scared fawn. He carried the dog upstairs and made Found Dog posters. Then he walked the block, asking doormen if they recognized the dog, leaving his phone number with each one. After one doorman gave me Greg's number, I went up to his apartment, and there was Lil Moe, cuddled in the lap of a second, much older man in a wheelchair. "My friend has Alzheimer's," Greg told me.

Finding Moe

The man was petting Moe gently. I knelt next to the wheelchair and touched the man's soft, gnarled hand. "Thank you," I told them both. I let Moe stay on the man's lap a long time, and then I gathered the dog in my arms. I pressed my cheek between his pointy ears and for the first time felt him snuggle into me.

Moe had been lost for less than three hours. Later that day I went alone to a pet store to buy him a harness. Two customers helped me pick one out, and when I mentioned my dog had been lost, they said, "You mean the little pinscher? We've been looking for him all afternoon!"

I called to thank the woman who'd led me back to Moe. Another woman spotted my Lost Dog sign and Greg's Found sign and called excitedly to tell me. When I told her Lil Moe had been found, she said, "Hug him for me!"

Sometimes it takes a minor crisis to remind us of the beauty in human beings. New York City can be a harsh place. But if you are in trouble, any stranger will help you. We're never alone. I made dozens of new friends that day -- faceless strangers I'll pass on the street and won't even know.

A few days later I went to church to light a candle for the woman who had asked Saint Michael for help, and I gave money to an Alzheimer's charity. As I sat at the computer to make my donation, Lil Moe jumped up onto my lap. He turned around on his delicate legs, curled up and fell asleep with his head on my arm.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2012.