On Nov. 14, one family came to meet Nerds at his foster home. He didn’t seem to understand yet that his name was Nerds. But he did know what to do when 7-year-old Blake Chasin wanted to pet and cuddle him.
“I wanted a friend who is fluffy,” explained Blake.
Blake’s sister Zara, 11, agreed. “Mom and Dad, they’re just upstairs, but it seems like they’re never there ‘cause they’re working all day, and Blake doesn’t listen to me,” she said. “I wanted someone to talk to.”
And so it was decided that Nerds would come home with the Chasin family, where dad Andy Chasin was doing his health-care policy job from home, mom Gargee Ghosh was managing her high-level job at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from home, and it finally seemed like it was possible to get a dog. Nerds, now riding in the back seat, reminded Andy of the retriever he’d had when he was a boy.
“Plus, not being a puppy, he wouldn’t chew my wife’s shoes, because that would be a capital offense,” Andy said.
He pulled into the driveway of their brick colonial in Chevy Chase Village, Md., a wealthy enclave of 2,000 residents just outside the nation’s capital, home to a Supreme Court justice, the chairman of the Federal Reserve and many mannered mutts.
Bowls, toys and a leash were waiting inside. Blake opened the car door, and Andy reached for Nerds’s collar. But suddenly, Nerds dodged. He leaped. His paws hit the pavement, and within seconds, he was bolting down the block.
“His tail was between his legs and I just knew he was gone,” Andy said. “I have been waiting 14 years, our entire marriage, to get a dog, and I just lost him.”
Andy, a seasoned triathlete, followed in pursuit. A neighbor on a bike saw a sprinting dog followed by a sprinting man and offered to help. In the parking lot of Saks Fifth Avenue, they cornered Nerds. But every time they got close to him, the retriever slipped away, a blur of chestnut fur.
Friends were called in to search. Volunteers from the rescue organization, Operation Paws for Homes, arrived. But Nerds remained on the lam.
The next morning, 150 pictures of Nerds’s slobbery smile were hung on trees and light posts, while Facebook groups and email lists sounded the alarm. Neighbors began calling Andy with sightings of Nerds lurking in their yards, sending dozens of strangers into a tizzy as they tried to “triangulate” Nerds’s location.
He seemed to be repeatedly crossing major thoroughfares, including Wisconsin, Connecticut and Western avenues. Gargee warned Blake and Zara that their retriever might never be retrieved.
But on Nov. 16, 48 hours after Nerds first fled, the Chevy Chase Village police called Andy. They had the fugitive surrounded.
Andy rushed to the corner of Nevada and Western avenues to find his dog facing down two armed officers and the Chevy Chase Village chief of police himself, John Fitzgerald. There was, the chief would clarify later, not much else going on.
“When he was spotted along some of these main roads, we thought, ‘Oh, my God, this dog is going to get hit,’ ” Fitzgerald said. “Somehow or another, he had escaped all risk.”
Last year, Fitzgerald’s force had spent months responding to another high-stakes canine kerfuffle: dogs barking at the new dog park. Annoyed neighbors frequently called the police about the audacity of these animals and the obliviousness of their owners. The tension escalated until the Village Board, PETA and a congressman got involved. The park was ultimately shut down, enraging the dozens of dog die-hards who had turned out to testify, one of them wearing a “Make Woof Not War” T-shirt.
Now that woman, Judi Dash, was filming the standoff among Nerds, his owner and the police. She brought her mutt Shayna May’s best treats. She was determined that this time, the dog lovers of the world would get a win, even if extreme measures needed to be taken.
“I asked the police chief why the cops don’t have tranquilizer darts in addition to guns,” Dash said. “He looked at me like I was antifa.”
Andy inched closer and closer to Nerds. Nerds ate more and more treats. Andy lunged. Nerds skittered. For over an hour, the cycle repeated until Nerds was spooked into another sprint, gone again.
Defeated, Andy called the rescue organization one more time. Their last idea was a trap. Literally. Now that Nerds knew where he could get food, they said, he might come back to that same spot. With the permission of the homeowner, they set up a large cage with a pressure plate that, when stepped on, shut a door without harming the animal inside. They filled it with steak and chicken. They scattered more treats nearby and squirted liquid smoke on the grass. Nerds’s former foster parent brought a blanket he used to sleep with. They set up a motion sensor camera that could see in the dark.
But Nerds didn’t come back. They closed the trap, afraid it would catch another animal overnight, and went home.
At 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 17, Andy was awake again, checking the camera. The grainy black-and-white image showed that just after midnight, Nerds had returned to the cage and sniffed his blanket. He was probably long gone again, but Andy had to check.
He arrived in the dark to find what looked like a fox lurking in the shadows not far from the cage. He turned on his phone’s flashlight to scare it away, but when the beam reached the animal, it was Nerds.
Andy reopened the trap with the bowl of meat waiting inside, and backed away.
Five, then 10, then 20 minutes passed.
By then, Nerds had been on the run for nearly three days. He was hungry. The steak smelled good.
He trotted into the trap, and the door snapped shut.
“We got him! We got him!” Andy yelled into the dark. He called the police to help him lift the cage into his car.
Before his children woke up, Nerds had finally made it home. The retriever walked out of the cage, climbed into Andy’s lap, and let his ears be scratched, like he was right where he always wanted to be.
Blake came running down the stairs. He wrapped his arm around the dog’s neck, nuzzling into his fur, and decided that Nerds shouldn’t be called Nerds at all.
“Your name is Lucky,” Blake told him. “We are lucky to have you back. We are lucky you are ours.”
In the coming days, Lucky would get his first bath and learn to sit. The dining room would become his napping den. And the whole neighborhood would be updated on how well he was settling into his new home — where wood planks and folding tables blocked every door.