When a dog goes missing, its owner sets out to find her and discovers something else

John Kelly
Columnist September 8, 2013

The dog died.

I wish this story had a happier ending, but it doesn’t, and I don’t want to lead you on thinking that it does.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

When Ms. Winter, a black miniature schnauzer, slipped unseen from an Arlington County townhouse one night in July, her fate was pretty much sealed. Her life would soon be over.

But the lives of a half-dozen humans would intersect in ways they hadn’t expected, and in the process they would come to look at their neighborhood, and the people in it, in a different way. Not a happy ending for Ms. Winter, perhaps, but an eye-opening experience for the humans who cared about her — in life and in death.

Ms. Winter belonged to Laurie Nakamoto, who lives not far from the East Falls Church Metro station.

Laurie is 64, though she looks 10 years younger. She’s a geriatric social worker and a hard-core volunteer. She started volunteering as a docent at the National Museum of Women in the Arts before it even opened. More than 25 years later, she still volunteers there, as well as with the Smithsonian Associates and at the Hirshhorn, the National Gallery of Art and the Marshall House in Leesburg.

Ms. Winter was one of Laurie’s three dogs — all miniature schnauzers. There is also Autumn and Haruko, the Japanese word for spring.

“I decided all my dogs would have names of the seasons,” Laurie said. (Summer passed away nine years ago.)

Laurie got all of her dogs as puppies from a breeder in the small Montana town her parents grew up in. Because the dogs accompany her on nursing home visits, it was important, Laurie said, that she know their temperament.

A lifetime of owning dogs had convinced Laurie that a lone dog is a lonely dog. “They were a good balance for each other,” she said of her three-dog pack. “I think they’re happier together.”

At 13, Ms. Winter was the oldest. Haruko is 3, and Autumn is 9.

Anyone who has spent any time around dogs knows that they have personalities as distinct as any person’s. As a young dog, Ms. Winter struck Laurie as almost catlike. “She was aloof,” Laurie says. “She decided when to be loved.”

But as she aged, Ms. Winter grew more affectionate. She became eager to melt in your lap, two eyes gazing up from a pile of warm fur.

There can be few owners as accommodating as Laurie. Pillows and dog beds are scattered around her townhouse. She takes the dogs with her wherever she can, from nursing homes to her weekly voice lessons.

“They’re just a huge part of who I am,” Laurie said. “I just feel that people who don’t have a bond with an animal — a dog or a cat or a hamster — have missed out.”

It was July 6 — a Saturday night — that Ms. Winter disappeared. Around 10, Laurie went outside to check the mail. She thinks that in the excitement of the door opening — and with three small dogs swirling around her feet — Ms. Winter trotted outside.

Lately, the 13-year-old Ms. Winter seemed to be showing signs of doggy dementia. She was deaf and often confused. Occasionally, she seemed not to recognize her surroundings.

“She wandered off,” Laurie said. “She didn’t run away.”

It was two hours before Laurie realized Ms. Winter was missing. Around midnight, she put leashes on the two other dogs and started searching — in vain, as it turned out.

Said Laurie: “You’ve got a black dog, a black street, a black night . . .” And because Haruko had the strange habit of gnawing the collars off of her fellow dogs, Ms. Winter was without a tag.

Over the coming days, Laurie papered her Arlington neighborhood with “Missing Dog” posters. Finally her search took her to a restaurant a mile away on Washington Boulevard. It was a restaurant whose very name seemed to evoke the heartbreak Laurie was feeling.

Tuesday: A visit to the Lost Dog Cafe.

john.kelly@washpost.com

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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