In all of my years sharing my life here and on my various social media sites, I have never lived through and shared an event that generated so much interest, so much outrage, and so much support for my family--until this bizarre story of how our dog was stolen and, miraculously, returned. The fact that so many people were so amazed and invested in it only proves how unbelievable it is. Yet every word I'm about to type is the truth.

It's complicated; all day long, I've tried to figure out a way to tell the details without boring you with minutia. However, if you know me at all, you're probably used to me including useless details in everything I discuss or write about. So....my plan is to just to start at the beginning and tell you it all. Feel free to skim to the end if you know the first part. (I'll never know.)

As I got into my car last night to leave work, my boyfriend called and said, "Henri is gone. He got out through the garage door when we got home. We ran out to get him. Troy had him for a second, but he got loose and bolted again. We quickly grabbed the leash and ran back outside, and he was gone. Brandie, it was less than 30 seconds. He completely disappeared."  He said that after calling his name and walking around a bit, he decided to drive around to look for him. They drove up and down the neighborhood streets for thirty minutes. No sight of him at all. This happened around 5:00.

Henri hasn't been with us very long, just a couple of months. I'm a horrible slacker, and although I did get him a new tag engraved, I never put it on him. (I did attempt once, but he wouldn't sit still and the key ring almost broke my nail, so I set it aside to have Tom do it for me, and I didn't follow through.) He still had his old tag on him with my friend's phone number. I immediately contacted her and let her know he had escaped, apologized for my slacking, and asked her to help connect the sure-to-be-coming Good Samaritan to me when he or she called. I also got on my Nextdoor app on my phone and posted a message, asking that if anyone found or saw him, to please let me know.

In the meantime, Tom and the kids drove around again before, eventually, giving up. When I arrived in the neighborhood after work and errands, I didn't go home. I slowly started driving the streets. As I drove, I got a Facebook message from my friend.

She said that a woman had called her to say that she had the dog.
This was around 7:45. My friend gave me the woman's name and phone number. I called her less than 30 seconds later. It rang and rang and rang and rang. There was no answer and no ability to leave a message. I attributed it to network error. I tried again. Same thing. I tried again, and it rang a couple of times but then gave me a busy signal. Network error, again, I assumed. I tried again. Busy signal.

I had been sitting in my car in front of a random person's house, making these calls, assuming I'd be given an address to go to. Sadly, I gave up and drove home. I still thought there was some technology error. I asked Tom if I could use his phone. I called the number. It rang and rang and rang and rang. No answer. I tried again--busy signal.

I began to think I had the wrong number. I asked my friend to verify it. She said it was correct. She called it herself to test it out...busy signal.

So, I looked up what that means. I had no idea before last night that a busy signal after a short ring indicated that she had blocked all of our phone numbers.

It sounded so bizarre and implausible though. Why would someone do that? Why would someone reach out to someone about a missing dog and then, seconds later, change his or her mind?! I still don't have a clue.
I told my sister. She tried it--rang the first time. Blocked on the second.

I sent her a friendly text message, suggesting that she must be having phone trouble, and asking her to contact me. I have no idea if text messages go through from blocked numbers. No response. My sister, however
, had the smart idea of texting her from my brother-in-law's phone, a phone number that hadn't been blocked yet. She pleaded with her to return the dog--she even threw in the fact that the kids have special needs. No response.

I downloaded an app to my phone to do a reverse number look-up. I paid the $3 charge for the name.  I called the non-emergency police number. I was afraid I sounded like a paranoid, insane person, but everything in my gut told me that this woman had decided to keep or sell my dog. There was no other explanation. If it had been phone problems, she could have found another phone to call from. She hadn't, and it had been several hours.
The phone screener took my name and told me that it would be a while, but a report taker would call me later.

In the meantime, I searched for the name on Facebook. Going on the information I had from the reverse number look up, my location, and the information my friend remembered from the phone call, I found a likely match.

I sent her a message. I received no response. I searched through her Facebook page and figured out who some of her family members were. I sent them messages. I hope you trust me and believe that my messages were friendly, very non-confrontational, and simply requests for help. Nobody responded, and I saw no indication that the messages had even been read.

Eventually, a police report taker called me (probably not their official title).
I gave her every single bit of information I knew. She gave me a report number, told me that the detectives really only work Monday through Friday, and they'd give me a call sometime. If I had any additional information to add, I should call back. That was that.

I felt like there was nothing more to do. I texted a friend. She and her husband both have background check apps. They both used them and sent me information for the name and phone number I gave them. They sent me the information. None of it seemed to be the right woman though.
(Today, knowing what I know now, I realize that there was one correct piece of information on it.)

I still assumed it had to be the woman on Facebook. With some coaxing, I shared her name, in the hopes that there would be someone with a friend with a mutual friend. No luck.


Eventually, I went to bed. Without Henri.

This morning, I learned that he has a microchip. My friend was able to give me the name of the company who implanted it. I called them and learned that they are only open Monday through Friday. Another closed door.

I shared the woman's name with more people. I asked for help on my author page. And then--my sister received word that she does have a friend who is a mutual friend. The woman swore it was not her. Others vouched that she would never do that. I had no choice but to believe her and try another avenue. It was another dead end.

Then, my friend, the original owner, texted me. She remembered the woman saying that the dog had jumped into her Car Name. Woah! What a clue, right?! So, I placed another call to the non-emergency police line to add it to the report. They put you at the bottom of the call list.

While waiting for the call, the kids and I got dressed, put sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses on, and water bottles in hand, set out for a door-to-door canvassing of the neighborhood. Tom told me to start across the street about three houses down. It was the last place he saw Henri.

So, the kids and I went up to the door and rang the doorbell. There was no answer, but a large dog's bark echoed behind it. I knew it was not Henri's.

We went on to the next house. A man answered. Before I could even say a word, Troy excitedly said, "Have you seen our dog? He's missing!"


I gave a friendly smile and told him that we were, in fact, looking for our dog and were wondering if he had seen a small, friendly, white dog since yesterday evening.

He said, "Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. It was last night around 5:00. My ex-wife was bringing my daughter to me, and the dog was in our yard. He jumped into her car."

My heart started racing! What are the odds? The second house we went to? The first person to open the door?

I knew I needed to walk carefully on the egg shells at my feet. "Is her name ******?" I asked. He was very obviously taken aback. "Well, it was when we were married," he said. He asked how I knew. I explained that I had looked it up.


He told me that he did not want to get involved, that this is his ex-wife. His discomfort was palpable. I smiled the entire time and used an overly friendly, sympathetic tone of voice. I explained that Henri is loved and missed, that he is important to our family, that my kids need him for therapeutic reasons, etc. His daughter stood behind him. I inquired about her, desperate to make him see me not only as a neighbor, but also a loving parent-like him.


He said he would try to call her later and ask her to bring the dog right back. She could bring it right away. I said I'd be so very appreciative of that, but I insisted that he do it right then. I pleaded, pleaded, and then pleaded for his help.
He said he wanted to make the call in private. I said, "Oh! I COMPLETELY understand that! Go inside, shut the door, and we'll just hang out here. We're in absolutely no rush!" He realized I was not giving up, and he closed the door.

A few moments later, he returned and said that she had not answered. He said he would send her a message. I asked for his name and phone number. He gave them both. I told him that I had found a woman on Facebook who claimed she was not the woman in question. I asked him to look at my phone to see if it was his ex-wife. He reluctantly took it, but he said he couldn't see well. By asking him several follow-up questions, I believed that the woman on Facebook was, in fact, innocent.

When I pressed even further for more information, he stopped me and said, "It's obvious you've done your homework." I smiled and said, "I have. This is our dog, and I want him back."

I thanked him profusely, and we went home. We never even needed to take a sip of those water bottles.

Moments after returning home, I received a phone call from an unfamiliar number. Of course, I assumed it was the woman! It was not, but it was someone even better: a person skilled in getting information that could help me. This individual was able to provide me much better information than I had before. I got the woman's new name and information on where she could be found.

I called the non-emergency police again-to give them some of the new information, the ex-husband's name, and
his phone number-and was sure to say that he told me that she had the dog.

Next, I grabbed the kids, and I went right back across the street. I told him that I wanted
to verify that the phone number I had for him was correct. I said, "Earlier, when we spoke, you mentioned that you could have her bring the dog here right away. Am I right to assume that means she lives very, very close to here? Maybe even within a minute or two?" He was very uncomfortable and said he didn't want to start trouble. I said, repeatedly, "I understand your position and situation. I am not looking for trouble. I'm not even interested in meeting or confronting her. That is not the person I am. I just want our dog back. You have the ability to help, and I am so very grateful to you for anything you can do to help us."

He said that he would keep trying to contact her. He also said that he was willing to speak to the police if necessary to tell them the information they needed. Again, I thanked him. At one point, though, I
said, "Oh, is your ex-wife's new last name *****?" His eyes about popped out of his head. He said, "Really, there's no need to even talk to me. It is clear that you know everything and have very good sources."

We went home.

And, very quickly, I received a call from a blocked number. When I answered, the woman introduced herself--she was the ex-wife.

You have no idea the passive aggressive, over the top friendly I was to the woman--at first. But her story became ridiculous, and it was obvious that every single thing she said was a lie.

Woman: I understand you tried to call me. My phone is messed up. I didn't get your calls.

Me: Really? That's awful! I know how frustrating technology can be.

Woman: Yes. It's still messed up. That's why I'm calling you from my husband's phone.
Your dog jumped into my car, but I don't have him anymore.

Me: Oh, no! Where is he?

Woman: I don't know. He jumped out of my car.

Me: He jumped OUT of your car?! Where?

Woman: The store.

Me: What store?

Woman: 7-11

Me: Which 7-11?

Woman: The one on the corner of X and Y streets.

Me: Hmmmm....
what time?

Woman: Last night.

Me: What time? I know they have security cameras. I can ask them to review them, and we can find out if he jumped into another car or ran off. If he ran, I can narrow down which neighborhood to search in.

Woman: It was late. Like after midnight.

Me: So--you're telling me that you had my dog for six or seven hours?

Woman: Yes. I wasn't trying to keep him. I tried to call.

Me: You had him for six or seven hours, never tried to call me from another phone, put him back into your car after midnight to take him to 7-11, and he jumped out?

Woman: Yes.

Me: Wow! Okay! Thank you SO much for your call! I'll go ahead and call to update the police report with the new information.

Woman: Okay.

I hung up, shaking in anger at the lies she told--but also, again, feeling like I was at a dead end. She knew that she had been found out. Who knew what her next move would be?

Just a few minutes later, I received a text message and a phone call! A Good Samaritan (Really! A good one this time!)
called the number on the tag. Henri had approached his family as they were loading themselves into a van to leave.

Guess where he lives! The exact same apartment complex as her! My theory: That vile woman knew she was caught, opened the door, and let him run!

Thank God he wasn't hit by a car or something!


Literally, two minutes later--just two minutes
later--I had Henri in my arms and peace of mind that he was safe.

His new tag with my phone number is on him. (Sorry I'm a slacker, Amanda!) Monday, I will call the microchip company to make sure that his registration is corrected as well.

What makes the story so bizarre is that had she never made that initial call, he would not be here right now. It makes no sense to me, but it got the ball rolling. Had her ex-husband not admitted to me that he knew she had the dog, the ball would, most likely, not continued to roll. And had I not received the anonymous help I did, I wouldn't have been able to, with a friendly smile on my face, convince my neighbor to convince her to do the right thing (sort of).

 
And that is the stranger than fiction story of how Henri came home.

 
 
Many years ago, when I was young and had no real responsibilities, I had quite the social life. Dinners, parties, shopping, and hanging out filled the hours when I wasn't working, sleeping, or studying. Yes, I'm talking about college.

Then, I became a high school English teacher. My free time was consumed with grading essays and working a second job to make ends meet. I barely had energy to pop a bag of popcorn for dinner, let alone reach out to my friends. On occasion, I did hang out with fellow teachers for a night of dinner and drinks. Those nights were few and far between, but when we had them, I loved spending time with people who totally got what I was going through.

Somewhere along the way, I got the crazy idea to become a foster parent. On my own. While teaching. And not just for one or two children at a time, but up to four. My house was a wreck. I was a wreck. And there was no time for socializing. 

Then, I decided to adopt three children! On my own. And continue to teach. And grade papers every night. Oh, and did I mention, the kids all have special needs? 

Things were tough. My life spiraled out of control, and I entered a deep depression. I was definitely not looking to spend time with anyone. 

But things got better. I got better. With the help of loving, knowledgeable professionals, my kids have gotten better. I left teaching for a job that is better suited for my very unique life circumstances. 

But still, something has been missing: Socialization.

With the challenges I brought on myself: a demanding job, the responsibility of taking on fostering and adopting on my own, the stress of having special needs children, I pulled away from friends. Not intentionally! It just happened. I neglected to make time for myself and to nurture those friendships. 

It did not make the hard times easier. It made them so much more difficult. I felt so alone.

One of my aunts researched support groups in my area. Did I mention that she lives in another state? She took it upon herself to do what I did not do for myself. She found a support group for parents of special needs children that met once a month and had free childcare. I started going, and I loved it! I was among people who understood my struggles, and I got so much out of the meetings. 

For some reason though, I stopped going. I think I may have felt like things were so much better that I didn't really need to get up early on a Saturday morning to attend the meetings. 

Facebook has also helped me believe I didn't need to spend time with people in person. No, I don't get to see my friends in person, but we could connect there at least. I can celebrate their happy life events and try to comfort them in their sad times. It also has been instrumental in both giving and receiving support and advice from people who are or who have been where I am. I love Facebook! 

Recently, though, I realized that social media is just not enough.

I am a very open person. I share my life with really anyone who will listen. So, at the only real places I socialize with humans face-to-face, work and family functions, everyone knows my business (more than any of them would like, I'm sure!). I have very kind people in my life, and they listen to me whine with patience and are kind enough to give me advice or to let me vent.  I appreciate them. They enrich my life and have helped me through some very difficult times.

Still, I'm starting to realize that it's not enough.

I attended a conference recently about living with disabilities. There was not a whole lot of time to socialize, but I loved being in a place filled to the brim with people who can truly understand what it's like to be me. The information I received at the conference was fantastic, but the experience of soaking in the material while sitting with parents who totally relate to me was powerful. 

Remember when I said I love Facebook? Here's one example why: Randomly, on a message board for buying and selling, I recently connected with another autism mom. She invited me to join a moms of special needs children's group. They were having an upcoming meeting. So, I agreed to go. I was nervous to go to a place where I knew nobody, but I went! I sat and visited with this amazing group of beautiful, strong women for a couple of hours. We shared our stories, we laughed, tears were shed, and we supported one another. Time flew, and it was time to go home. 

The entire way home that night, I felt like I was floating on a cloud! I suddenly realized just how important it is spend time with people who can totally relate to us.

Tonight, at our church life group meeting, we discussed relational health and the importance of spending time with people who will listen to you, accept you, support you, and who you can do the same for.  The church life group is one such group for me. They support my spiritual growth, and, hopefully, I also can support theirs. We relate to one another because we're all Christians who want to continue strengthening our relationship with Christ.

On our way home from tonight's meeting, I realized how much I have gotten out of my recent experiences spending time with people who can not just sympathize with me, but who can truly empathize with what I face day-to-day.

Reach out and connect with people! No matter your life circumstances, you are enriched by spending time with people who can relate to and empathize with you. If you like to knit, find a knitting club. If you like to garden find a gardening club. If you're a foster or adoptive parent, reach out to others in your shoes. 
If you're a special needs parent, find ways to connect with other special needs parents. 

I know it's hard. I know you're tired, and you don't know how you will find the time or energy, but find a way! Well-meaning friends, co-workers, and family members cannot give you the same support as those who are living or who have lived what you are going through. 

This is a lesson that has, sadly, taken me over a decade to learn. I still love social media and its ability to bring people together across the miles. Technology can be a beautiful thing, but I'm learning that it cannot be the only way I connect with others. I hope that you, too, will find ways to reach out to those who share your hobbies, passions, or life circumstances. I just know you'll be glad you did!