I saw Ch Spring Fever de Sud in person for the first time at the AWC National Specialty in Denver. I had been trying to decide who to use as a sire with Poetry for a long time. I had always admired the smoothness of Kathy Armato’s dogs and he exemplified that trait. I made arrangements with Kathy and Poetry flew to Columbia, SC for the first time in February of 2002. There, she met a vet tech named Cresta Lee (remember the name) when brought in for an AI, since the natural breeding wasn’t happening. That breeding didn’t take, and for the second time, she flew to South Carolina on September 24th, 2002.
Monday, September 30th started with an early morning phone call at 7 a.m. This was early enough to be unusual, but not really alarming. It was Kathy calling to tell me that Poetry was missing. She described the efforts she and her family were doing or had already done.
I couldn’t believe my Poetry was gone. I couldn’t breathe.
I listened to Kathy and her plans and she offered to get me on a plane, whatever I wanted to do. I just couldn’t think. She thought I should wait a day – dogs often come back quickly and perhaps today would be the answer. I numbly agreed and we agreed to touch base later that day. I told an appalled Mark what had happened and went, zombie like, off to work. On the way to work the enormity of it hit me hard. She was not only missing, she was missing 1200 miles from home and most likely pregnant. Poetry, who was one of the softest, sweetest, gentlest dogs I have ever lived with was running loose all alone.
I went through the day, I don’t really know how. I accomplished nothing.
I told my supervisor, the president of the aquarium and a dog lover herself that Poetry was missing and I might be flying out tomorrow. She was supportive and by the end of the day I knew I had to go. Luckily, I had frequent flyer miles, which made it easy to arrange for an early flight the next morning. I arrived at Kathy’s house about 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
By then, she and her family had postered telephone poles in the area, faxed a copy of the poster to 30 vet offices, had an ad in the lost and found of the pet section of the paper and were working on radio stations. Kathy was convinced we wouldn’t find her ourselves – the area was too big – someone would see her or find her and call us if we had enough information out there.
Kathy showed me the side yard Poetry was in when she disappeared, I stood there, thoughtfully looking at the five foot high wrought iron fence, the plantings, the slope of the yard and just couldn’t believe it. It’s not that she couldn’t jump this fence if she so chose, but it was high enough and along with the slope of the yard that it didn’t make sense. Besides, that’s just not Po.
I had been having daydreams on the plane that I would walk into Kathy’s yard and find Poetry just casually lurking in the area. Not so. I walked, and then biked, calling and whistling around the neighborhood as Kathy did her early evening feeding. This part of Columbia is a lovely, established neighborhood with huge old trees. The front yards are groomed and most back yards are fenced, which would force a traveling dog out towards the front of the houses and into the street. This area is heavily populated with walkers, joggers, and bikers – anyone of these people might see an unusual dog and call the number on the posters. As I called and whistled, I realized Kathy was right – our efforts needed to concentrate on visibility, because someone else was going to find her for us.
I returned as dusk fell. I hoped that early evening might be a time to hear a dog moving. I wandered into the lower part of the yard and listened. I heard slight crashing in the heavy brush on the other side of the fence. I thought I would just hop over this four foot section and see if perhaps Po had come back. What I didn’t realize is that Kathy’s yard slopes heavily and just beyond the fence was a 6 foot drop to brush, rocks and some old bricks.
So I hopped. As I sat there semi-stunned amongst the bricks and the scratchy brush, I could only think what a stupid thing I had just done. I heard Kathy calling anxiously over my head “Kay, are you all right??”. The only way to salvage a little dignity was to simply say, “Ya, I’m fine” as I assessed the damage. My left hand was numb, I had slammed my left upper arm, my neck felt displaced, and I would undoubtedly have an enormous bruise on my hip, but didn’t seem to have broken anything. I scrambled back up the steep drop off and climbed back over the fence. When we later went to dinner I surreptitiously kept my damaged hand around my cold water glass, hoping to minimize the swelling. As the days passed, the bruises cover my entire palm, the backside of my hand, half my forearm, and a good deal of my upper arm, but I didn’t fess up to Kathy until months later.
Our days became a repetitive pattern – Kathy’s busy household got up, out the door and the dogs got cared for. We then figured out where we would look and poster that day. We talked to radio stations – several were willing to run public service announcements. We visited every animal shelter, public or private within 30 miles. The emergency vet clinic accepted and posted the flyer. The main post office for Columbia was generous enough to allow us to give them enough flyers so each mail carrier in the five corners area of Columbia would have them in their vehicles. Little did we know that it would be 22 more days before anyone would report seeing her. As time went by, we got more desperate and more creative. We tried both a psychic and a pet communicator/locator.
I have experience with someone who communicates with dogs – I wondered if there was anyone in the area with special talents that could help. Steve Armato, being open minded, got a name of a physic from a co-worker for us to try. We met with “Angel”. She gave us a detailed half hour reading, telling us that Poetry was with a single mother with several children, one of them very ill and the child already loved the dog. She said this happened for a reason – Poetry was destined to help this family and that Kathy and I were supposed to get to know each other, which was why I traveled to Columbia. The fence was opened; she didn’t jump it and she no longer had her collar. The woman described the house and yard in great detail and an impression of a direction Po may have taken. She said the posters would bring her home by Thursday night – the young mother would not know what to do with the dog and would finally call the pound to ask for advice. So, there we were the next day, looking for this house with children’s toys in the yard, a cracked sidewalk, a white front with green awnings and a green jeep parked nearby, and didn’t even think it was crazy. With no sightings to investigate, we just had to do something.
On Friday (notice she was supposed to return on Thursday), we called “Angel” back to see if she had any other thoughts. Again, she gave us a detailed description. Poetry had left the family with children and was a few miles further away and had a blue and red collar on. She was with a woman in he r60’s who realized she belonged to someone and she would call animal control by the end of the day. The woman’s house was in a 70’s style housing complex on the corner with an ugly swan planter in the garden and a red Toyota in the driveway. Well, we didn’t find that house, either, and no Po by the end of the day.
I had heard of animal communicators who could locate a pet. I went on the internet and found Mason Hulis. What he does is take a map of the area and does a “dowsing” to see if he had a sense of where she could be. When I called him, he was sure she was still alive. He described a warehouse style building with a loading dock. The building had green awnings and the area was surrounded by a chain link fence. She would be in or near this warehouse. We combed the industrial area he described, but didn’t find anything that seemed to match.
Late on Friday that first week, a woman called and said that she saw a dog that she thought was Poetry in the back of a Cayce (small town about twelve miles away) animal shelter truck. It was too late to investigate that lead, so we called as soon as possible on Saturday morning. The recording gave morning hours they were open on Saturday, so we drove out as soon as possible. We met Cresta Lee, (remember her?) who was in charge of this facility. We showed her Poetry’s picture and she knew exactly who she was and was positive she would recognize her if she saw her. She worked part time for a vet and had been the vet tech on duty when Kathy brought Poetry in six months before. She didn’t have Poetry at the shelter and tried to track down where the trucks were on Friday, but it was a dead end, at least until Monday. I was supposed to fly home Sunday, so I changed my ticket to Tuesday so we could follow through.
About nine that night we got a phone call, saying someone saw a brindle whippet in their neighborhood and gave directions. Kathy, Steve, Richard (their 15 year old son) and I all leaped into vehicles and went to search the area. An hour and a half later, nothing. We went back the next day to put posters in the area and talked with some joggers who told us there were two new rescue greyhounds in the neighborhood. Perhaps that was what the person saw. Very disappointing. Kathy’s whole family was invested in finding Poetry and was let down.
At times, there were moments of humor. Kathy and I were driving down yet another road, looking for yet another telephone pole when I realized that between the two of us, we had figured out what poles were worth “marking” faster than any whippet male! We had gotten so swift at postering – yes, postering is an action verb, that we could stop at a light, one of us leap out and staple four corners of a poster and leap back in before the light changed. Did you know a box of staples holds 1,250 staples? We used most of two boxes.
As a diversion, and to comfort ourselves that we would find her, we thought of puppy names; Northwind’s Runaway Bride topped the list. Other funny thoughts were “Don’t fence me in”, “On the lam”, and “Hide and seek”.
We checked out the lead to Cayce again on Monday; actually spoke with the man driving the truck described and nothing panned out. With no more leads to explore, I had to return home to work after spending 10 days looking for her in Columbia. Kathy and Steve would continue. Ads were running every day, public service announcements were being pursued, etc.
I flew home Tuesday, October 8th. This was one of the worst days for me. It was unimaginable to be leaving without her. It was a very early flight – still dark when I left Kathy’s house to drive to Charlotte. Reaching the airport, I took down the flyers taped to the windows of the rental car and boarded the bus to the airport. At the check in counter the woman asked where the dog was. I gulped and could barely speak; I had of course made a return reservation holding a space for a kennel. When I said quickly that the dog was lost and was not returning with me she was shocked and told me how sorry she was. There are people sympathetic to dogs everywhere in the world.
I was grateful the plane from Charlotte to Mpls. was fairly empty. I would have felt sorry for anyone who had to sit next to me with tears drizzling quietly. During the flight change in Mpls, I called a friend, Marilyn Rew, to let the whippet world know what had happened. She tried to be upbeat for me and described a number of instances where dogs she knew ran for a long period and people got them back. Once I got home, I e-mailed the whippet list to let people know and ask for help. I was amazed at the number of really terrific people out there; the information was cross posted to a number of lists and I received many great suggestions on ways to search. Most we had already tried, but some we had not. Many people e-mailed or called to say they were thinking of her, praying for her, and hoping for the best.
I called my friend who communicated with animals, John Siverson, who tried to get a sense of Poetry through his and our dogs. He usually worked with a dog one on one, not long distance. Between talking to his dogs and meeting with us and our household, we got a clear sense from them that she was alive, but alone. We couldn’t figure out a location.
I worked for an aquarium project at the time and we were very used to working with the media. My boss, the aquarium president, suggested that I write a letter to the editor in Columbia to get some visibility. She also called our local reporter that covered the aquarium to suggest his sister paper in Columbia might be interested in a canine/human interest story. This would be in addition to the 600+ posters and public service announcements running on a couple of radio stations willing to help. He gave her a reporter’s name in Columbia and she made the call to suggest the story.
For the next two weeks, Kathy and her family continued to look anywhere possible. One Sunday morning, 6:15 a.m., they received a phone call that got them scrambling to check out a sighting. A woman said she had a solid brindle female on her front porch. When Kathy and Steve arrived in this very dubious area, they found most of the neighborhood still awake from the night before, including several ladies of the evening. Kathy ran up onto the woman’s porch and quickly saw it was a brindle pit bull, or pit bull mix. She chatted briefly with her as Steve tried to hustle her back ino the car, since he observed much of the activities taking place around them and felt the neighborhood was closing in. As Kathy said, “We had a few wild-goose chases. It was hideously depressing.”
The phone call I had been waiting for finally came 22 days later, on October 21st, about 3 p.m. my time. I was in a meeting, but had carried my cell phone just in case. I saw it was Kathy’s number and left the room. Our offices were in the concrete basement of the aquarium, so reception was terrible. I could hear Kathy, but not clearly. I ran up the stairs to get outside, near the entrance to the aquarium. Kathy was telling me that Cresta Lee had called and was positive a dog reported was Poetry. She had been sighted at a trucking company freight yard and that she was on her way to meet Cresta. She would call me back when she got there.
I went back to my office to wait – shortly the phone rang again – I ran shouting up the stairs, my co-workers hoping against hope on my behalf and when I got outside, Kathy was asking me to call Poetry in her ear. SHE COULD SEE HER! So, there I was in a business suit, in front of the Aquarium, yelling into a cell phone. “Poetry, Poetry, come here honey girl” in the same voice I used to call her at home – a sort of sing-song, so Kathy could try to mimic it. It wasn’t until later I realized I had gotten a few strange looks from visitors entering the building. It didn’t seem to matter at the time.
Kathy was distraught – they could see Poetry, but when they simply stepped out of the vehicle, she began to move and skirted her way around the fenced in area, out the gate and was gone. They lost her in the neighborhood right next to the trucking company. She would call me back later.
Kathy, Steve and Cresta worked their way through the surrounding area. Cresta was walking, calling and whistling in a deserted area of scruffy pines, sand, and grass when she saw a man in white pants pushing a shopping cart. This was an awkward moment. As she got closer, she could see the contents of the shopping cart was a full load of Twinkies – probably stolen from the nearby grocery store loading dock. And, his pants weren’t white – those were his bare legs – there were no pants! He saw Cresta and quickly pulled a pair of pants from the cart, put them one and tried running, pushing the cart. It tipped over in the sandy path and Cretsa notified the police, who came to take this homeless man into custody.
I couldn’t stand waiting any longer, so I went to find Mark at his office. I was trying to decide to drive, fly, or stick it out. Cresta told Kathy that sometimes it takes a really long time – days or weeks – to recover a dog that has gone feral and that I shouldn’t rush to get there. I heard stories of people camping out in a familiar vehicle near where the dog was lost and successfully getting them back. If I flew, I could be there early the next afternoon. If I drove, I would have the van she knew and her father, Calvin, a familiar and welcoming dog and a way to camp out near the site if need be, but it was 22 hours of driving. If I stayed and waited it out…No, that just wasn’t an option. As I dithered in Mark’s office, he was not happy with the idea of me driving alone, but we didn’t know if it would be days or a week and he couldn’t be gone indefinitely. Finally we decided to wait until the next morning; (it was already 4 p.m.) and get prepared as if we were driving. If days ran into a week, Mark would fly home and fly back when we found her. I wasn’t coming home until we got her back safely. We packed the van and went to bed.
HA! Useless. We were both awake from 1 a.m. on and should have just started driving.
I called Paula Davidson to ask for help, who called two of our other friends, Irene and Doug Mullauer and Brenda and David Dallmann. They came to the house after we left and scooped up the other four dogs, figured out who would go where and took them home for however long we would be gone. It’s incredible to have friends you can count on when you need them.
Kathy and Cresta asked for clothing that smelled of me to use to lure Poetry in, so I slept in a T-shirt, sweatpants and socks that night. I bundled them up into a Ziploc and we stopped by FedX on the way out of town. As it turned out, when we arrived at Kathy’s house, the FedEx box was sitting on her front steps.
We live on the eastern border of Minnesota – Duluth is across the bay from Wisconsin. We began driving and I looked at the map printed off from one of the internet sites. We drove and drove and Kathy began calling us with updates. She and Cresta (on Cresta’s day off) arrived bright and early at the trucking company and were delighted to find that this was Poetry’s home away from home. There was a nest under the trees and signs that she had been eating from leftover fast food bags. They staked out the area and waited. Cresta arranged for a live trap to be brought in, stocked it with the stinkiest cat food they could find and settled down to wait. Poetry would not let them within 150 feet – if you walk that out, it seemed an amazing distance for her to react so skittishly. The black dot in the photo is Mark standing under the tree she called home. He is six foot four and the tree is 150 feet from where Kathy stepped out and Poetry would begin to move away.
About 11 a.m., they called us and asked where the heck were we? They now thought perhaps she would respond to me and could I get there any quicker? I explained we had only driven 250 miles in four hours and there was quite some distance left. They asked if I could get on a plane in Chicago, and get there now! I could, but trying to make connections last minute with no reservations might not work. What happened if Mark actually got there sooner than I did? We decided to simply press on as fast as we could. Wisconsin rolled into Illinois, which turned into Indiana, which became Ohio, then Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and finally South Carolina. Every couple of hours we would touch base. It had gotten dark, it was 10 p.m. in SC and the trucking company was going to shut and lock the gate for the night. They were not willing to allow Kathy to be inside the gate for liability reasons. She was planning to camp in her car to monitor the gap in the gate, hoping Poetry was settled for the evening, but if she went out wandering, she hoped to stop her at this gap.
It was interesting that the Old Dominion Trucking Company matched the description given by Mason Hulis. It is a warehouse with green awnings, a number of loading docks and is surrounded by an eight foot high, electrified fence. He accurately described where she was found, but it was 12 miles from the area he originally identified. Poetry’s story is included in his published book, “Animals Can Speak”.
Just before she left, she asked to go check the live trap one last time. As her flashlight skimmed over the trap, a pair of eyes glowed back. “Glorious eyes! I got goose bumps. I was screaming for my husband and running. I nearly broke my neck!” was how Kathy told the story. She called us to tell us they were on the way to the vet to be able to open the live trap in a safe place. I had been having a tough time throughout this, but mostly holding it together. When she called and said they had her, that it truly WAS her, she still had her collar on so there was no doubt, I just lost it and sobbed with relief as Mark drove on and on through the night. That collar had no less than four phone numbers on it, but no one ever got close enough to her to be able to make the phone call.
Poetry is one of those subtle “self-petting” dogs – if your hand is still, she will put her head under it and push gently. Before you realize it, you’re petting her. They released Po from the live trap in a contained area of the vet clinic. Kathy gathered her into her lap. She sat quietly. Then, Kathy knew she was back – her head was pushing gently under Kathy’s hand, expecting to be stroked. They went home, Steve carrying Po into the house with Kathy clutching the lead. She fed her every three hours throughout the night a mixture of bland, soaked kibble, something kind to her neglected stomach. The vet cautioned not to over feed or feed high fat or protein right away.
We arrived about 10 a.m. on Wednesday after 23 hours on the road. Kathy brought us to the quiet room where Po was crated – the same guest room where I stayed during the time we looked for her. As I opened the crate door and she scrambled into my arms, the first thought I had was that I knew what she would look like when she was very old. Emaciated, dull coat, no energy, but oh, so quietly happy to see us. She was too tired to really bounce, she just wanted to be held. In the 25 days she was missing, she dropped from 36 to 28 pounds, losing 25% of her body weight while carrying nine puppies. It’s hard to see on a brindle dog in the side photo, but the outline of her scapula was visible. Every rib, every bone, even her skull were all very pronounced. There were deep hollows in her neck. You can see how gaunt she was by looking at her from above.
Meanwhile, the local reporter who expressed an interest in the story caught up with us. Even though the search was over, we agreed to meet with her in hope that a little good publicity for the animal shelter staff would be helpful to their work. She said a lost dog story with a happy ending always appealed to readers. Pat B. interviewed us, took this photo and ran the story in the Columbia paper a few weeks later. The Duluth newspaper is a sister paper and ran a full page story with this photo on the front of the Sunday people section. They also ran an announcement when the nine healthy puppies were born.
At the time of this writing, these beautiful babies have become adults at four years old and are thriving. Some of them are named for participants in the story. Cresta – Am/Can Ch Northwind’s Cresta Run de Sud and Kitzy, Am/Can Ch Northwind’s Travel Kit de Sud live with us. Cresta is of course named for the wonderfully helpful Cayce animal control officer. Kitzy is a nickname for Kathy’s daughter, who handled endless telehpone calls for us and brought food to Kathy as she staked out the trucking company.
Ch Northwind’s Sojourn de Sud lives with Kathy and is a good buddy of Kathy’s son, Richard. She won Best In Futurity at the 2004 AWC National and finished 2005 as the #6 whippet in the US and 2006 as #7. Ch Northwind’s Travlin Man de Sud is co-owned with Paula Davidson, one of the friends who took care of the other dogs and Am/Can Ch Northwind’s Top Speed Travlr de Sud lives with Chris Foss-Tietz, a new person to whippets who wants to show and lure course. Northwind’s Lost Crystal Shard lives with a young doctor in Hudson, WI. Northwind’s Field Trip de Sud “Trip” lives in Kansas. Northwind’s D.B. Cooper de Sud lives in St. Louis and Northwind’s Savvy Travler de Sud is with a young woman in Charlotte, NC. Somehow, a traveling theme seemed appropriate for these puppies.
The newspaper quoted me as saying “When I wake up at night and she’s not on the bed, I have to go look for her.” Four years later, it’s true.
All of us – Kathy and her family, Mark and I, are grateful and feel very lucky at her safe return.
May, 2012. Nine and a half years later.
I was re-reading this story as I worked on my new website and Mark suggested we need to tell about the rest of her life. She had many accomplishments during the rest of her show career in the brood bitch class and as a veteran. She died in the summer of 2009 of cancer. She dropped weight over a period of time until she weighed less that she did when we found her when lost. Yet, to the end, terribly gaunt and ill, she was a kind, sweet, gracious dog that adored puppies. Glimmer had a litter during the last days of Poetry’s life and as sick as she was, she could not resist helping care for them, nuzzle them and lay with them. She was a wonderful mother.
I look around our house and think of how different life would have been without Poetry’s safe return. We have a daughter, a grandson, granddaughter, and two great granddaughters all living with us that are direct descendents from the litter she was carrying when lost. I have wonderful, close friends I’ve come to know through these puppies. I am struck at how much she enriched our lives.
In the photo below, you can see how terribly sharp her hipbones and tailbone had become, outlined by the the blanket.
Poetry sleeping during her last days among the little puppies.
This is an excerpt from the 2009 ad placed in the Whippet Annual as a memorium to Poetry:
“Most importantly, Poetry was amazing in touching lives. We are grateful for the rich, interesting and enduring friendships we are so lucky to have because of this lovely creature.
Poetry is no longer in motion. We grieve her loss.”
Kay and Mark