An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

The night of the missing dogs

It all started when we received our second water bill for this house, one that had more than quadrupled in amount than the bill before it. Meaning we were spending more on water than a monthly payment on an Italian sports car. Maybe this was Jon’s mid-life crisis? And instead of losing it and running out and buying a convertible Porsche he freaked out one day, stood in the back yard, and sprayed the trees with water for twenty hours straight. Would that not be the cutest mid-life crisis ever?

Now, I’m taking way more baths than I ever have in my life, but it’s not like I’m filling a swimming pool every time I do it. So I know my cleanliness is not to blame for this ridiculous jump in the amount of our water bill. The only explanation is that we’ve got leaks or some other major issue going on with our sprinkler system. ISN’T THAT FUN. SO FUN. Welcome, sprinkler system, to our collection of home owner nightmares! Sprinkler system, meet our troubled boiler! Here’s our twenty-five-year-old roof that is falling off in chunks! Sorry, you missed the dehydrated cat that was living in our attic, but here are all our broken gutters! Oh, and a retaining wall that threatens to crush the garage!

Who in their right mind would buy a house like this, right? Let’s just put it this way: have you seen my bathtub? Fifteen minutes in that thing is like four shots of bourbon, and suddenly everything is fine and next thing you know you’re drunk dialing friends and slurring YOU ARE SO NICE, I LIKE YOU.

So we called out The Sprinkler People, and sure enough, several spots were just shooting gallons of water into the air every time they were turned on. Did I actually just write that sentence? Oh my god, I did. I’m not going to edit it because the thirteen-year-old boy in me is begging me to elaborate.

A few hours later and things were mostly fixed, and all that was going on while we were upstairs shooting video footage for the office remodel. In fact, they finished their work just as we were playing back the video and realized that Jon had plugged the microphone mixer into the wrong hole.

(Thirteen-year-old boy snicker)

(Sixty-eight-year-old father eye roll)

Meaning the microphone I had been wearing hadn’t been working the entire time. Meaning he wanted to reshoot the entire thing. Meaning my face turned an angry shade of red, and I said through gritted teeth, “You know that appointment you’re supposed to make with our marriage counselor? HERE’S THE PHONE.”

Right then my niece came bounding up the stairs. It was her last day with us since she starts school next week, and I thought she was coming to say goodbye. So I stood up to hug her, and she was all, dude. Gross.

And then she mumbled something, I couldn’t make it out, followed by, “We can’t find Coco.”


“Yeah, someone left the gate open, and we can’t find her anywhere.”

Since I have lived through The Missing Dog Scenario more than is fair to a single human being, the script started running through my head involuntarily: I AM GOING TO FIND HER DEAD BODY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS. I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS. I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS.

It all happened so fast, but I remember ripping the microphone off of my chest, running down two flights of stairs and out the front door in my bare feet while screaming COCO! COCO! COCO! And while still in my bare feet I ran a block down the street to the major avenue that circles by our neighborhood, a giant lump in my throat growing in anticipation of what I might find. Where is her limp dead body? Where is her limp dead body?

I know this is morbid, but that’s exactly where my brain goes every time we can’t find one of the dogs. Maybe because that’s how my brother’s dog died, maybe because I know so many people who have lost their dogs to cars. And suddenly my head is spinning with scenarios in my brain like, how am I going to wake up tomorrow morning knowing she’s dead? How will I bring myself to put her body in the car and drive her to the vet? How am I going to tell everyone on the Internet who has grown to love her like I do? Despite her poop-eating, barking at leaves, non-stop licking everything ways?

Luckily I didn’t find anything on that road, so I ran back up to the house, shoved on a pair of flip-flops and grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen. We’ve trained the dogs to come running to the sound of pills rattling around in a bottle, and I thought I’d drive around shaking the bottle out the window while calling her name. Jon would stay at the house in case she suddenly showed up. That was the longest car ride of my life, next to being in labor on the way to the hospital. And I know I must have looked completely insane, my head reaching as far out the window as I could stretch it, a bottle of pain meds in my hand, screaming COCO! COCO! COCO!

I imagined a horrified mother playing with her daughter in her driveway saying, “No, sweetie. That’s not some new ice cream truck. Hurry inside and hide.”

I circled and circled the neighborhood: nothing. Again: nothing. Again: nothing. That’s when I started bawling. This is a new neighborhood. She wouldn’t know her way home. What if she tried to run to the old house? I decided I’d drive over to our old neighborhood, but I wanted to touch base with Jon first. As I turned up our street, Jon was standing in the front of our house waving madly at me. That’s when the lump in my throat sunk and hit my heart. I wanted to stop the car right there and never move another inch.

I know this seems ridiculous to people who don’t have pets. It’s just a dog, right? And even though I have kids and know the difference between the love for kids and the love for pets, that difference in no way diminishes the love for pets. We have raised this dog, fed her, treated her when ill, improved her behavior, taken her outside in the middle of the night because that’s what was required. Yes, she is a total shit, but I love her shittiness. She wouldn’t be Coco if she wasn’t a shit.

Turns out she came running home from up the street, prompted by nothing, perhaps unable to find poop to eat in someone else’s yard and remembering all the poop in ours.

And this is where the line between having pets and having kids starts to blur, because when they come home you have to act very happy about it even though your impulse is to call them names and yell hurtful obscenities. DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU PUT ME THROUGH, YOU SHIT.

I parked that car so fast, ran inside the house, and actually sat on the floor so that she could lick my face with the same mouth she uses to eat all that poop, that is how much I love that dog.

However, that’s another ten years off of my life.

And then later that night Chuck wouldn’t come when called from the back yard. Usual behavior, except this went on and on, and then on and on, and finally Coco had to drag us up to the hole in the fence where he had escaped into the neighbor’s yard. ISN’T THAT FUN. SO FUN. Welcome, broken fence! Meet the sprinkler system! We’ve got a boiler who is dying to meet you!

  • beachreader

    Didn’t you have a home inspection? If so, surely these problems are not the “surprise” you say they are. Otherwise, you should get your money back that you paid the home inspector.

  • julieisthebest

    The dog we had from the time I was about thirteen – gone more than three years ago now, she was awesome – was a total escape artist when she was a puppy. If you weren’t paying attention and opened the front door to talk to someone or get the mail or WHATEVER she would squirt out and run barreling up the block like a maniac. I was pretty fast at that age so I was usually the one who gave chase. She almost wandered up a crazy busy street one time. Reading stories like this take me right back to those days so I will say it as well: “you. little. SHIT.”

  • Jalima

    I feel your pain! Been there done that (ok, so I was NOT shaking a pain reliever out my window, that was a tad bizarre 😉

    Damn dogs.

  • val0552

    I am am so happy you found Coco! I get the panic you describe; I have a terrier and he is a total flight risk! My kids are grown but I have baby gates on the front prorch entrances and the back deck! I know, it may seem crazy to the non-dog/pet people, but I live in the city and do not have a fence around my yard and the gates keep me out of the psyc ward!

  • Honey

    What? No update on Chuck yet? For real.. He better be home by now.
    If you want to read a timely and true story of a dude (Rockabilly bassist of The Paladins, Thomas Yearsley) who just landed himself couple nights in the hospital, uninsured, for futilely trying to save his 13 year companion from a moving train, here is the latest.

  • latsyrcami

    I totally can relate. My puppy, Chewy, was hit by a car 2 years ago this month, and it was the most HORRIBLE experience I’ve ever gone thru. Having just gotten married the year before, he was our first and only baby at the time.

    We now have Lulu and I am crazy paranoid about her going outside. She never, EVER goes out w/o a leash. I heard about her escaping when someone left the door open for too long, and she ran out to the road. I wasnt home at the time, but my husband freaked out. She ended up turning and running back, but not w/o giving everyone involved a heart attack.

    I have a “magic word” that if/when she sneaks out thru the open door, its easy to get her back inside. She loves whip cream from a can, and I always keep some in the fridge. If I say “you want some whip cream?!” she runs to the fridge. So if she sneaks out when she knows she shouldn’t…its no use trying to get her cuz she thinks its a game and runs away. So I just tell her she can have whipped cream and she comes right back in.

  • echokx

    Yup, I’m with you. My husband drove home doing 80 in the HOV lane one afternoon because I had called him to tell him that our indoor cat had gotten out and I couldn’t find him. He couldn’t understand with all the sobbing, so he had no idea what was going on. Whoops.

    He chased him through 3 yards and only ended up getting him because he does triathlons and had more stamina than the cat. God bless that man.

  • Circe74

    My Max was adopted from the shelter at 10 months old, and I’m not sure if it’s fear of being lost again or just that I happened to train him well somehow, unintentionally, but if the backyard gate is opened, he won’t leave the yard. Period. He’ll lay in the middle of the backyard and stare at the gate as though he KNOWS something’s wrong, but he’s not quite sure how to fix it.

    But let me tell you, if I walk into the yard and see the gate open, my heart just jumps from my chest until I see Max is still there. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost him.

  • VickiG.

    I’m glad to know that I’m not the only person who first checks the street when a loved one goes missing.

  • Yellaphant

    The “I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS” feeling? That is the worst feeling I have ever experienced in my life, and it was also brought on by my dog. I read your brother’s story and it brought me to tears. My big, happy, mutt was fatally hit by a car a few years ago and I’m still not over it. Oohh ho ho ho no. That night (and subsequent weeks and months) was the night that I learned for the first time that you truly can physically feel your heart break in your chest. And all the relationships and break ups and other stuff that I had ever experienced before that I thought had hurt, couldn’t hold a candle to losing my pup. And I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous, but you are a bit changed after feeling hurt that bad. Even if it is just for a big, happy mutt.

  • naugfly

    I a definitely in the kids-and-dogs-are-not-the-same-thing camp, too, but when my dog died of sudden heart failure a few years ago (prior to having two children), my heart was shattered in a way that I didn’t know was possible. So every time my pain in the ass labrador retriever gets out now, I also panic remembering what it feels like to suddenly lose an beloved pet.

    Remembering what it was like coming back home without my dog and knowing she was never coming back, the house felt empty. I cannot imagine how devastating it would be to come home without your child. Now wasn’t that uplifting?

    Happy Friday everyone!

  • Norabloom

    I’m so glad you found Coco and I can imagine the panic and sense of dread that you must have felt when she was missing. One of my dogs – my avatar – briefly went missing and I was terrified.

    BTW, your post (and the one you wrote about your brother’s dog) is especially touching in light of the fact that the Bloggess just unexpectedly lost her young dog, Barnaby Jones, due to an allergic reaction. Can you imagine?

  • victoriasauce

    There’s nothing wrong with loving pets SO.MUCH.
    I got my first pets, ever, less than a month ago. I already feel such an attachment to them! They instantly became a part of my family and any member of my family is going to be adored to pieces!

  • ladybug97302

    Utility districts will often forgive an excessive part of a water bill if you show that you have subsequently made a repair. It’s worth a telephone call — my call saved me over $100.

  • southerngirl

    I know exactly what you mean. I would have been right there with you– driving the neighborhood all night if need be. My dogs are my kids and my heart. I suffer greatly if they go missing and my heart soars when they are safely back home.

  • la_bacque

    Sprinkler system issues? Rich people problems. Not feeling a lot of sympathy, sorry.

  • filmlady

    Saddest night of my life was when our sweet yellow lab took off for the woods across the street and didn’t come back. I walked the woods, drove around the neighborhood forever, it got dark, and I could hear him barking way off (a good owner-mom knows that sound anywhere), but couldn’t find him. Calling to him didn’t do any good. I finally went to bed and woke up to his far-off barking every once in a while, so at least I knew the coyotes hadn’t gotten him and he hadn’t been hit by the freight train traveling the tracks in those woods.

    Next morning I open the door to keep searching and there he is on the deck, looking dumb as a coffee mug and smiling at me. I kept my comments to myself and hugged him silly.

    I’m so glad Coco came back 🙂

  • Dogmom

    “I know this seems ridiculous to people who don’t have pets. It’s just a dog, right? And even though I have kids and know the difference between the love for kids and the love for pets, that difference in no way diminishes the love for pets.”

    So well put, Heather. The phrase “just a dog” implies that what we feel for them is diminished in some way because they’re animals. It does not. And when one of those lovely ones (whom, I would argue, do become children in a way, especially to those of us who are without children) gets lost, or hurt, or sick, or, God, dies, it’s like the world suddenly tilts, and nothing is quite right.

    So happy for you that Coco (and that fart Chuck) is safely home. She is your shit-eating child, hopefully the only one, and nothing is quite right when she’s away. So to speak.

  • gcostaki

    I don’t understand why there aren’t more nude pictures to go along with this post and water.

    If I had a sprinkler system I would get wet and naked and take pictures.

  • jan001

    First of all, I echo Erika from Canada — if you guys haven’t yet seen “The Money Pit”, YOU HAVE TO. My (now) ex and I remodeled three houses, including two we lived in throughout the process; I know you aren’t remodeling but you’re making enough changes that you’ll appreciate it. That one laugh Hanks has when it’s just all too much at one point is priceless.

    I had two cats get away from me at the same time one day. They were both indoor cats and, when I lay down on the sofa to read, I was “sure” the front door was shut. I was wrong. I fell asleep and woke up later to find it open and both cats gone.

    I found Minnie sitting in frozen terror in the driveway right by the porch, with a “Holy shit!” look on her face. She was so scared, she didn’t even realize she could have come back in on her own, so I took care of that for her. But I couldn’t find DooDah.

    Neither had ever been outside unfettered and I totally know that horrible feeling. I called and called and she just wasn’t there and I didn’t even know how long she’d been gone. I called my next door neighbor to keep an eye out. I was sobbing.

    Within about 10 minutes his wife called and said he had DooDah in his sight but was afraid to try to approach her since she didn’t know him and he didn’t want her to bolt. She was on the outside of another neighbor’s chain link fence. She could see our house but couldn’t figure out how to get there, and was pacing the fence. I held my breath and walked to her as casually and normally as I could, talking to her in a normal tone of voice, and then SWOOPED and got her.

    Another time, I had workers in the house and had given them my stock “no open doors, EVER!!” speech. They finished their job and as they left I realized I hadn’t seen Moxie around. Sure as hell, back door wide open. Those bastards. She was booking it across the back yard, and if she’d gotten to/through the hedge at the back of it, that would have been it. I did a flying tackle and got her.

    Ever since, I’m more than a little paranoid about making sure doors are closed.

    Kisses for Coco and Chuck from all of us at our house!

  • acaputa

    The 13-year-old boy in you would’ve loved my blog post today. In describing a Mediterranean-inspired pasta dish, I wrote the following line (before my coffee) “…this dish screams ‘eat me out on the veranda with a glass of cold white wine’…”

    When I re-read that line this afternoon, I felt my face turn 10 shades of red. I think I actually gasped and asked my husband for some smelling salts and a fan.

  • jetblack615

    I feel ya. You know how we were taught never to approach a strange dog? I am the one approaching every lone dog that I see, afraid that it is lost and going to get hit by a car. Coco’s disappearance must have been a nightmare.

    However. You did announce to the entire Internet that Chuck was trapped in your new fenced-in backyard. He owed you that one.

  • thesecondset

    I think poopy dogs do this on purpose to their humans. I have a love hate relationship with my dog Swiper…. He is one of the cutest yet the MOST annoying animal I have ever in my lifetime owned! It is like the Stockholm Syndrome or something only not quite…

    My dog eats poop, butter, I caught him red handed on video uses me as a launching pad amongst 1,000 other highly annoying things. Yet I love that little pill like no other pet I have had…. I think there is something wrong with me!

    I am so glad your dog came prouncing back all happy to be home!


    Maybe this is once and finally the advantage of a Great Dane: they would never think to run away because, gah, all of that dewy creepy grass to cross and, what’s this? An unknown leaf? It could suddenly blow up in the air and wouldn’t THAT be scary!

  • Bryony Boxer

    “I know this seems ridiculous to people who don’t have pets. It’s just a dog, right?” I don’t own a dog, and I used to feel this way, but then a friend’s dog had spent a week with us, and after just one week, I know how attached you get to a dog. I was heartbroken when I had to give that dog back after just one week!

  • tksinclair


    Am I nuts (rhetorical) but is Chuck wearing the keys to your house around his neck or have you purchased him a new sports car for his 16th birthday?

    My 15 year old wants to know.

  • girlplease

    “It wouldn’t be CoCo if she isn’t a shit.”

    Ah yes, the herding breeds. I know it well with a border collie who is absolutely sweet and beautiful. Alas, her “shitdom” hit the fan this week with:

    1. stealing a bagle out of the toaster
    2. intimidating a 20 mo old toddler to give her his snacks–ALL OF THEM
    3. stealing cherry pie off my plate
    4. eating cat poo
    5. eating another living being–not sure if it was a rabbit or mouse. All I know is I know the difference between a twig crunch and a skull crunch.

    oh scratch “week”. That was in one day.

    Good times. Good times.

  • Aidyl

    @tksinclair, you’re looking a Chuck’s tags sideways. They look like keys though from that angle.

  • HHP

    < >

    I recall chasing after my newly-adopted all-black dog through the dark neighborhood one night after a friend didn’t secure my gate. I was nearly breathless, but could see his image in an oncoming car’s headlights. The panic. The desperation. It was awful.

    Oh, and he was still recovering from having a front leg amputated…after being hit by a car while existing as a stray. Darn those 3 legged dogs can run fast!

    I now have a securely locking gate and am not shy about adding a padlock. I love that wonderfully nerdy dog.

  • KingBaby Dog

    Now my mom is training me with a bottle of pills to ‘come back’ to her. Thx!!

    Glad all the dogs are back home!

    Now about that squirrel !?!

  • winecat

    I know exactly how you feel. We recently adopted a new dog but we live WAY out in the country. Part of the fence is down and a gate is missing so he’s usually on a tie-out. People around here run sheep, shoot first ask questions later.

    He’s escaped 3 times, every time I’m convinced he’s going to wander into the woods and encounter the neighborhood mountain lion. I also count heads on the cats every morning for the same reason. Ted, Emme… SOPHIE WHERE IS SOPHIE. She usually comes sauntering in a few hours after we’ve been calling for her looking for all the world like she has no idea it drives us totally insane. Me?, oh you were calling me?

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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