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Dog Gone

A liquor store pooch gets into a snootful of trouble

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page W48

This is a true story about the recent misadventures of Wendy, a liquor store dog. "Liquor store dog" is not an AKC recognized breed; Wendy hangs out all day at Hayden's, my neighborhood liquor store. She belongs to Tom, the store manager.

(Actually, no one would mistake Wendy for a purebred. She is comically two-toned, with a completely black-velvet snoot and a completely blond body, as though a black dog had been held by the nose, Achilles'-heel style, and dipped into a vat of peroxide.)

(Eric Shansby)

Wendy's best dog buddy is Ophelia, who lives nearby. My theory is that Wendy likes hanging around Ophelia for the benefit of physical comparison -- the way Lucy Ricardo liked hanging around Ethel Mertz, if you get my drift. Ophelia appears to be a cross between a hyena and a wildebeest.

Wendy and Ophelia are personable dogs, and everyone loves them. So it became a neighborhood crisis when word spread that Wendy was missing. She had been in Ophelia's house on a sort of play date; unexpectedly, someone opened the front door, and Wendy pondered her options.

Option One: Remain in the house and in the custody of people who love you and provide you a comfortable, stimulating life, nourished in body and mind by ample food and exciting adventures.

Option Two: Bolt for the street and run like a lunatic, becoming a homeless cur in sub-freezing temperatures in an inhospitable city where you will die of exposure and/or starvation in teeth-chattering agony, or, if you are lucky, get squashed by a car into dog goo.

Wendy was gone in an instant, of course.

(I am not making fun of Wendy's brain. Wendy has a fine brain, for a dog. She is, for example, vastly more intelligent than Augie, a collie I once owned. One day, my wife went into a store, leaving Augie tied up by a leash to a metal garbage can. When my wife came back out, Augie and the garbage can were . . . gone. My wife tracked Augie rather easily, by following a trail of people doubled over in laughter at the sight of a collie, racing in mortal terror, loudly pursued by a garbage can.)

Once it became clear that Wendy was good and lost, Tom and his wife, Sarah, leapt into action. Sarah is a take-charge type -- a practical woman, a CPA, a rational, prudent, chief-financial-officer, executive-boss type. Sarah telephoned a pet psychic in California.

(Have you ever lost a dog? I didn't think so. Let's cut Sarah some slack here. )

The psychic -- a renowned expert in "interspecies telepathy," according to her Web site -- offered many observations, for a fee of $60. They didn't check out. At this point, Sarah knew she had to take some additional, serious action. So she called another West Coast pet psychic. This one was named "Hilary Renaissance."

(Does anyone happen to have any extra slack? My inventory seems to be running short.)

Thus, Sarah and Tom learned many more vital facts about where Wendy might be, all of which, for some reason, proved wrong. By this time, more than a week of cold weather had passed. Dozens of posters had been hung, some in full color and the size of a large-screen TV. A battalion of Concerned Liquor Store Patrons had combed the neighborhood. Nothing.

Deep in their hearts, Tom and Sarah understood how bleak things looked. They sensed what they had to do. Sometimes you have to Just Let Go.

So they decided to let go of an additional $1,800. They phoned a pet detective in Georgia.

Carl Washington, professional pet detective, hopped in his truck with his two tracking dogs -- a toy poodle named Coco and a Jack Russell terrier named Rocky -- and drove through the night to Washington. (I met Carl the day he arrived. He dresses like Indiana Jones. He talks like Sgt. Friday. When on a job, he sleeps in his truck. He is one serious, studly, pet-tracking dude, with two little sissydogs.)

Carl worked tirelessly, but he didn't make the difference. Two weeks to the day after Wendy disappeared, a good Samaritan phoned Sarah to say he'd spotted a dog matching Wendy's description on a golf course 25 blocks from where she had vanished. Tom and Sarah raced to the scene, commandeered two golf carts and roared past startled duffers, calling Wendy's name, until they came to a wooded area from which Wendy emerged, skinny but fine.

Wendy approached them in that slap-happy, semiapologetic dog-who-has-done-something-wrong manner, where the tail is wagging but the dog appears to be simultaneously attempting to wipe the ground with its butt. Wendy seemed to be saying, "Hi. WhattookyousolongI'msorryIloveyoudoyouhaveanyfood?"

The next day, I brought Wendy a welcome-back present of three dog biscuits and a dried pig ear, tied up with a ribbon and bow. She ate the bow, too.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

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