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home : people : people
August 23, 2019


8/2/2013 4:41:00 PM
Tragedy, hope, and then hope runs away
By Mary Matsumoto
The Traveling Pen

(First of two parts)
We named our Shiba Inu puppy Nozomi-"hope" in Japanese-because we looked to her to fill a hole left in our heart by the sudden death of our Sadie, also a Shiba Inu.
Six-year-old Sadie was a rescue. Her owners had three Shibas, and the dogs weren't getting along. We would be taking Sadie into a home without dogs.
From the start, we fell hopelessly in love with Sadie. She loved to go on long walks, and we love walking. On the average, we walked her three miles in the morning and three at night. Her delight in her new surroundings made us view the world in a fresh way, much the way parents of small children learn to see how wonderful and interesting the world is from the eyes of their youngsters. Even when the weather was less than desirable-drenching downpours while gripping umbrellas; bitter cold (which delighted Sadie-the Shiba Inu is an old Japanese breed related to the husky); pelting snow. Sadie loved climbing monstrous snow banks, almost as much as she liked to play with snowballs, jumping straight up as if on a pogo stick and doing somersaults in the air. She was a happy dog, and her happiness was contagious.
One Sunday evening in June, we had gotten home later than we planned because we stopped to do grocery shopping on the way. My husband was worried the sun would set before we got Sadie's walk in, and I had to change clothes and put the groceries away. He would start without me, and I would catch up. I almost said, "Maybe we should drive to a less traveled road in case the sun sets before we get back," but they were gone before the words left my mouth.

Going for a walk
When I got the food put away and clothes changed, I laced up my walking shoes and made my way down the driveway. Danny and Sadie were standing not far away on the opposite shoulder of the road when I appeared. They had gone a ways down but had come back, thinking I wouldn't know which way they went.
A car had stopped in the opposite lane from them to turn into a driveway as a van approached. The last thing I saw was Danny and Sadie waiting about four feet from each other on the gravel shoulder.
When I heard the crack, it didn't occur to me it could be Sadie. She was leashed and on the shoulder, wasn't she? And then, as the van sped on its way, I heard my husband shout Sadie's name. It seems the driver had swerved onto the shoulder to allow extra clearance for the stopped car, narrowly missing my husband. But he hadn't seen the dog, he would say later when he came back to pick up the piece of his bumper that lay in the driveway next to our lifeless dog, her eyes still open. Bumper in hand, he returned to his car and left. We were in shock.
The following days were unbearable. We felt inconsolable grief and guilt. If only we had not gone shopping, if only I hadn't taken time to put away the groceries, if only I hadn't spoken up about walking a different road. If only, if only, if only....
We put away Sadie's bed and toys, friends came over and sat with us while we cried, and we continued to go for daily walks-carefully avoiding the roads we had traversed with Sadie.
But after a couple of days, we found ourselves looking at Web sites featuring Shiba Inu rescues and puppies, and it wasn't long before we decided we had to take another dog into our home-a cream female Shiba Inu, just like our Sadie.

Resemble small Akitas
Shibas are more commonly red than cream and weigh between 17 to 23 pounds. Like Sadie, they resemble a small Akita with pointed ears, a wooly coat and curly tail. The Akita was made famous in the 2009 movie "Hachi" with Richard Gere. In fact, Shiba Inu puppies were used for Hachi's baby scenes. I had bought the movie after we adopted Sadie so we could watch it again and see what she looked like as a puppy.
In some ways, Shibas seem to be more related to cats than dogs. Not only are they as fastidious in cleaning themselves, but they are independent and don't live for the sole purpose of pleasing humans. Because of that, Sadie often reminded me of a small child-natural and spontaneous. She had the wonderful ability to surprise me and make me laugh.
But Shibas have to be watched constantly, never let loose without a leash unless confined by a secure fence. On their own, they bolt and are not likely to come back when a frantic owner chases them down. In fact, chasing will only send them farther away (try chasing a cat on the loose). We were always very careful not to let Sadie out unleashed.
Our search for an available dog matching our requirements took us all the way down to Arkansas to meet Tammy Ball at Fancywood Farms. She had offered to deliver, but we wanted to meet our puppy personally before taking her home.

Formerly called Marshmallow
Marshmallow was a cream female Shiba four months old. The video showed her chasing around her fenced-in yard, playing with another dog. Though Shiba Inus don't normally get along with other dogs, Marshmallow didn't seem to abide by those rules. The breeder had taken care to socialize her with her other puppies, a factor that would save her life later on.
We had discussed a new name for the puppy on the way down to Rogers, Arkansas, and decided on Nozomi. I didn't want a puppy to replace Sadie because Sadie would always hold a special place in my heart, but I liked the idea of having "hope" that the pain would somehow, someday subside.
Nozomi turned out to be a gentle dog without the quirky attitude Sadie had. She liked to be petted, head held in my hands and eyes looking up into mine. If hope is a peaceful, quiet feeling, the name suited her.
We decided to return to Wisconsin via a different route. We stopped first in Rogers to see the original five and dime that grew into the Wal-Mart enterprise and then continued on through the Ozarks to the other side of the state, stopping in parks along the way to walk Nozomi, who turned out to be doing quite well with her potty training and walking on a leash.


Two days after we picked her up, on a Monday at 6 p.m., we drove into Mammoth Spring, population 977, a charming town across the highway from a state park by the same name. The park is built around an azure lake, the largest spring in the Ozarks. It supplies water to the Spring River, which continues to twist leisurely from Mammoth Spring through the rock and forest-covered Ozarks. The park path around the quiet lake seemed to be the perfect place to walk our dog.
At the far end of the park is an old depot-turned museum, and we stopped to investigate, not really noticing the tracks on the other side of a chain-link fence. All of a sudden, a train whipped through at a dizzying speed, blowing its ear-splitting horn. We turned toward Nozomi just in time to see her slip out of her harness and bolt in the opposite direction toward the thick forest. We ran after her, but she soon disappeared from our sight.
Knowing Shiba Inus, I knew we were in trouble, and even more so in this case. Nozomi hadn't had time to get to know and trust us. We were strangers to her. Besides, where to look? The park encompasses 70 acres, not to mention the surrounding forests.
I ran a straight line to the woods, thick with prickly bushes and wood ticks, rotted logs and tangled branches and pushed, ducked and climbed my way along, spider webs sticking to my face. I called, first in a frantic voice, and then, reconsidering, in a gentle and what I hoped would be inviting voice, the voice I had used to play hide and seek with her in our hotel rooms.
No sign of her.
So while my husband searched the paths and talked to the park ranger and some of the neighbors across the street, I combed back and forth, back and forth on hillside forests and under the overlook deck. I continued as daylight turned to dusk and dusk to night, long after the park closed. The only encouragement was the search light from the park ranger's truck, far in the distance. Dave and Lisa Jackson. They, too, had not given up.
Finally, well after 10, I realized how hopeless my search was, so I sat down at a picnic table, limp with discouragement, and called my husband. It was impossible to see any longer.

Have a shake
We stopped at the Police Station on the way to our motel and found the officer sipping on a thick shake. He mentioned, in an off-hand way, that bobcats had been sighted in the area but that I could be glad the dog had slipped out of her harness.
"If she had a collar or harness on, she could get hung up on something and starve," he said. "Having nothing on increases her chances quite a bit."
"What you ought to do now is to get yourself a shake at the Sonic Drive-In," he said.
I knew he meant well, knew he was saying there was nothing more I could do that late, so I should seek comfort. But for me, a shake just wasn't going to do it.
Early the next day, literally hoarse from calling our puppy for hours the night before, I joined my husband as we started our search at City Hall, which consisted of two small rooms in a building shared by the tiny library that was only open on designated days. The woman at the desk suggested I ask the area's radio station to announce our lost dog.
"They do that as a service," she said.
KALM, 1290 AM, a gospel station, is based in a town called Thayer, population 2,270, two miles away from Mammoth Spring but in the adjoining state of Missouri. All the locals listen to it. I called and asked the station if they would make the announcement. They graciously obliged.
I knew I'd have to distribute fliers, but where to have them printed? In a town of 977, there aren't any Office Maxes or Kinkos. The lady at City Hall kindly printed a photo we had taken of our dog just before she bolted, but without any information, I didn't see how it would help get our Nozomi back.

Park manager does his best
Next, we stopped at the park office where the park manager, a young man by the name of Adam, offered his sympathy and also to print up fliers for us. He had me text Nozomi's photo to him and asked me to fill out a form. In minutes, he had printed up a stack of beautiful fliers, complete with photo, description, contact details, where last seen and offering a $100 reward. I peeled one sheet from the top and offered it to him to post in the park office, but he assured me he had already kept three for himself and would see to it that they would be seen by everyone entering the center.
Next, I took off to walk store to store, asking the kind people of this small community to put my fliers up in their windows. Four people I contacted asked me if I was referring to the little lost dog they had heard about on the radio that morning, which was encouraging because that told me word was getting out.
The florist told me in her southern drawl that she would gladly let me put a flier in her window and as she offered me tape, she told me she would watch for my dog as she made deliveries.
At the Police Station, the same officer from the night before greeted me. When I asked if he would display a flier, a woman working at the desk told me she was a member of a sizeable Facebook group who advertised garage sales, and she would post a photo of the flier in the online group. As we drove away, she was outside, hand stretched high in the air, trying to get enough reception to upload it.

"Have you seen my dog?"
When we got back to the park, I tackled every park visitor in sight with the photo of Nozomi on my phone.
"I lost my dog. She bolted out of her harness, spooked by the train. Have you seen her?"
No one had.
Then it was back through the pickers, the wood ticks and the spider webs calling for my puppy.
When I was satisfied I had combed every square inch of the thick forest, I crossed the road and combed the forests on the other side. I hit the gas station and the diner as well.
One plot of land had a no trespassing sign posted. I hesitated for a second, then continued. My puppy couldn't read signs, and I sure wasn't going to abide by it either.
The property had several dilapidated buildings on it and two tire ruts between the tall grass. I followed the ruts, thinking Nozomi might be tempted by a trail. Then I noticed a mown path that followed a fence. I continued on this for what was probably a mile or more, passing long stretches of forest. At that point, a feeling started to ooze in-the search was hopeless. If Nozomi was inside those woods, how would I ever find her? They ran on forever.
(Continued next week...)

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