The Return of Coal

Straight off the Graveyard Shift the 6-foot 200 lb. guy on my back steps was at the point of tears. The contrast between him and me at now less than 5-foot 7-inches and about 165 pounds was striking as I opened my back door in response to his rap. I appreciated that he had come around noon, because I had a lawnmower tire to get repaired and a trip to Macon to the Georgia Board of State Registrations to make before their office close to renew my license as a Professional Geologist.

Shortly after dark the previous evening I had let my mixed breed Lab out before we went to bed and was surprised that he instantly started barking at something on the back porch that was eating his food. I got a flashlight and looked, expecting to see an opossum, but instead glimpsed a black animal scurry through the doorway off the porch being chased by Hector. I have both coyotes and bear, and thinking it might be one of these, I grabbed a pistol and ventured out into the yard to see what was going on.

The animal turned out to be a solid black Lab wearing a faded orange collar and link for a rabies tag. As a breed, Labs are generally friendly, gregarious dogs who respond well to their own kind and to people. This dog was one of those. He came up to me when I whistled, and let me pet him. He and Hector did some mutual sniffing, posturing, and chasing. The new arrival very much wanted to go into the house after he had scarfed up the dried dog food that was in Hector’s bowl beside the back steps.

The dog appeared to be all Labrador retriever without any specks of white on his body or on his feet. From its teeth, statue and lack of any white on his muzzle it appeared to be about a year old – the equivalent of a rambunctious teenager in dog years. It is not unusual for such dogs to go off on a rambling episode, loose their scent trails back home in wet weather, and get lost. This is apparently what happened to this poor fellow. His reach had extended his grasp. He could easily be miles away from home.

I knew my neighbor’s dogs which included a small Lab, but that Lab was smaller and older. My next nearest neighbor also had dogs, but I did not know them. Even though it was dark by then and I was in my P.J.s, I drove him over and was greeted by three dogs who barked at my truck and the dog on the seat responded in kind. Obviously, this was not his home.

I keep a bit of old rug, food and water on my back porch for half-dog Fred who occasionally comes and visits Hector during bad weather. Fred runs from thunder and for whatever reason feels more comfortable at my house with Hector that with his owners three miles away. When the storm is over I typically take him home or his owners come and get him. This relationship has been going on for more than three years, although he comes less frequently now that he is getting older. Dogs are, after all, social animals and like company.

As Hector and the new arrival seemed to get along, we all passed the night with Hector sleeping in the house and the other dog sleeping on the back porch, except when I went out to start work at 2:00 AM as I usually do. As a writer, I keep my own hours and often work through the early morning and then start my “activities of daily living” after breakfast.

The following daily activities including calling the county animal shelter and posting a sign on my mailbox - “Found Black Lab Call --- --- ----.” I would try this and see if it worked before placing an ad in the local newspaper or on the local radio stations. Such events are not uncommon in rural areas, and each paper and broadcast day very often has a lost-pet section, where people are hoping to be reunited with their lost animals.

Certainly my visitor was glad to see his dog again, which he called Coal, obviously named for his coal-black coat. This dog had been mostly an indoor house dog, but adapted reasonably well to spending the night outdoors on the back porch. Being still young and rambunctious I did not trust him in the house for fear than he and Hector would continue their play and chasing game and literally destroy two rooms by morning.

A few hours after my call to the shelter I received a call back saying that someone had reported a lost Lab that fit the description of the dog that I had described and asked for permission to provide that party with my telephone number. This being granted, a message was obviously left and I received the follow-up call about an hour later. Indeed, his description of the lost Lab precisely matched that of the dog I had, and he responded that he would be over in a few minutes.

It seemed like Coal had an appointment at the vet’s the previous day to get fixed. The guy’s wife had let him out before they were to go to their appointment and he had taken off. For whatever reason the dog obviously traveled into unfamiliar territory, had his own adventures, and found his way to my house some four-miles away at dark. There were many other houses he likely passed along the way, and why he selected mine is completely unknown. Maybe it was because he could smell that another dog lived there.

The man at my back door described how his wife would be so glad to get the dog back and that it was safe, but from his expression it was apparent that his wife was not the only one who had become deeply attached to their dog. I was happy to return the dog, and have every expectation that they had a heart-felt reunion when he got home. As it turned out the fellow and I had once shared a shoot on a dove field where he remembered me blazing away with my black-powder shotgun at the fleeting targets. We were somewhat distant neighbors, and caring for each other’s pets is just something neighbors do. Coal had been returned home, and his adventures had a successful outcome. Hopefully he has learned to keep his travels closer to home as Labs usually do after their initial run-away episodes.

Author's Bio: 

Wm. Hovey Smith is a Writer, Professional Geologist, and outdoorsman who lives in Central Georgia. He has published 18 books on business topics with his most recent being "Create Your Own Job: Plan to Start Your Own Business at Midlife." This concept has now been expanded in a new book "Make Your Own Job: Anytime, Anywhere, At Any Age" that will be published by Stratton Press in the Winter of 2019-20.