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Written by: Pam King

2010-Ellie-in-NOLAWarning: this story has a happy ending! It started out like any ordinary trip to New Orleans; I was looking forward to excitement, relaxation, and a chance to take ten steps back and just watch the world go by. The drive was always a bear, but the reward made it worth it. I always took my trusty Yorkie and sidekick, Ellie, with me to enjoy the time and visit my son Travis, but this trip was a bit different. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and while we usually spent Thanksgiving weekend in New Orleans with my son, this year we were moving him back to St Louis.

Ellie always seems to know when I am taking a trip. If I am leaving for work and I have a small overnight bag, she mopes and lies on the bed next to the bag with huge, sad eyes. If I am taking the larger bag AND food supplies, she knows something is up and that she will get to tag along! Thursday morning it started…the packing, the pacing, the jumping on the bed, the running from the bedroom to the front door. Finally the Jeep was loaded, the dog blanket was packed, and the new leash and collar, with matching harness, were in tow. You have to be stylin’ to walk the streets of New Orleans! Ahead of me was nine hours of driving with an eleven pound fur scarf with a heartbeat; Ellie rides on my shoulders everywhere I take her, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friday was spent loading the U-Haul with all of Travis’ ‘worldly possessions.’ At the time, Travis was managing the Magazine Perks coffee shop and living in the apartment above, which was convenient for him and convenient for our short visit. It was such an unusually warm day that I decided we should prop the shop door open to feel the breeze. I spent Saturday leisurely drinking coffee on a pew in the shop with Ellie by my side. Saturday I walked along Magazine Street, visiting the shops and enjoying the mild temperatures of November in the south. Then off I went, walking down Magazine Street into all the quaint little shops with Ellie walking proudly down the sidewalk. After lunching at a sidewalk café and buying antiques at the local shop, it was time to rest before taking Travis out for dinner with a couple of friends. Then I would say goodbye to New Orleans until likely the next year; with Travis moving back, there was nothing but the city itself to pull me there the usual four times a year.

We headed out, and I said goodbye to Ellie, explaining that I would be ‘right back’ like I always do. I pulled the apartment door closed (I thought) and headed down the stairs. Travis and I went through the coffee shop and said goodbye to the young man behind the counter as we walked through the shop to the front door. We headed out for a late dinner at a local Mexican restaurant which was about two miles away. It was probably 9:30 p.m. when Travis’ phone rang. It was the nice young man from the coffee shop explaining something that upset Travis: Ellie had just run out the front door of the shop! The same front door I had left propped open earlier that day. My heart sank. I was a mess. We immediately drove back to Magazine Street, and I set out on foot at 10:00 p.m. looking for my little girl. If you have never been to New Orleans, one street is as good as another. I walked alone along the streets until 3:00 a.m., a light drizzle falling and tears running down my face. At that time, I walked back, lay down, and cried on the same pew where, less than twenty-four hours earlier, I had sipped my morning coffee with Ellie at my side. I just knew that she would find her way back to the shop and would scratch on the door, but she didn’t.

I couldn’t leave New Orleans without her, so I stayed. My husband drove the Jeep and the U-Haul back to St Louis. Travis still had several more weeks of school; we would find her. I walked the streets, and I went to the library and read all the online local papers. I posted on Craigslist, PetFinder.com, and other sites. I hired a company to make five thousand marketing calls with information about Ellie along with my phone number. They called every land-line within a three mile radius of Magazine Street. I went to PetCo and posted her picture on the bulletin board. I went to the Humane Society to look for her myself, and I called every veterinarian around. I posted pictures in every shop window that would let me, which were most of them. Who would turn away a 40-something-year-old woman with tears running down her face? When I stopped at a local Verizon store to buy a charger for my phone, the nice young men gave it to me at no cost and hung my poster in their window. When I went to the local Pak Mail store to make copies, the nice woman who owned the shop saw my poster and insisted there was no charge for my three hundred copies and to come back when those were gone. I did, and I posted five hundred copies up and down Magazine Street and St Charles Avenue. Magazine Street runs all the way to the Quarter; I walked and biked the distance for three days until Travis told me he had to go to pick up my oldest daughter, Casey, from the airport. Although I didn’t know this at the time, he had called her and told her to come to New Orleans as he didn’t know what to do with me.

My friends told me that someone must have picked Ellie up; I knew better. I knew in my heart she was looking for me. The good and the bad was that she wouldn’t go to anyone. I was getting calls from people who saw the posters and then saw Ellie in the area; they said she wouldn’t come to them – she just ran away. After another two days of looking, Casey convinced me to come home. We rented a car and drove back; I cried for the entire six hundred and ninety-four miles. After I left, there was a freak snow storm and four inches of snow dropped in New Orleans. I couldn’t stop crying, and I lost ten pounds in two weeks. I was grief stricken. It was impossible to work or to eat; I sat on the couch and cried. Occasionally my phone would ring with someone telling me they had seen her. I even had one lady named Ginny call to tell me that she had changed her trolley and work schedule so that she could look for Ellie while the sun was up. Many wonderful people including Bayou Billy, a local musician, called to tell me they were looking for Ellie and praying for me. The local community couldn’t have been more supportive. Still, thirteen days later there was no sign of Ellie.

On a Saturday morning two weeks later, I resolved that I needed to fill the hole in my heart. I went to the Animal Protective Association (APA) to adopt another pet. However, I left without one. There was no way the hole in my heart could be filled with another animal. I tried to continue my life as normal, but the grief was overwhelming. I told my kids to be sure to take good care of each other; they saw what a wreck I was over Ellie, imagine if something awful ever happened to one of them!

I pulled myself together enough to go to the grocery store one day. I will never forget that day as long as I live. At 4:00 p.m. I got my cart and started to shop for produce. I was leaning on the handle of the cart for support when my cell phone rang; it was another 504 New Orleans area code. I almost didn’t answer the phone; I couldn’t bear to talk to one more person asking if I had found her yet. However, I did answer, and the young female voice on the other end said, “This is Jennifer from Marigney Animal Hospital. Is this Ellie’s mom? We have her here at our hospital. When might you be able to pick her up?” I almost collapsed in the middle of the produce aisle. All alone, I grabbed the arm of a young woman walking by me, and, through my tears, I told her, “They found my Ellie!” She, of course, quickly moved along! I asked Jennifer how late they were open and explained it would take me nine hours to get there. Jennifer seemed confused at first, but after I explained, she told me that they were a twenty-four hour emergency animal hospital. I abandoned my cart, and rushed home to pack my toothbrush, (no toothpaste, mind you), and clean underwear; I arrived at the hospital at 3:00 a.m.

2010-Ginny-reunion-in-NOLAEllie was found in the 17th Street Canal, the famous one that flooded during Hurricane Katrina. With the water level down, the sides were slick and slimy. A local resident named Wendy saw Ellie running through the canal with no way out and took it upon herself to gather rope, wading shoes for the mud, and a sheet. Along with a friend and some local kids playing in the street, she lowered herself into the canal and cornered Ellie. She threw the fitted sheet over Ellie, who got tangled in the elastic, and captured her. Wendy later told me that she never grabs a fitted sheet to rescue the many babies who find themselves in the canal; she always grabs a flat sheet. This time was an accident that paid off because Ellie got her little nose caught in the corner of that elastic sheet.

When I first saw Ellie again, she had lost twenty percent of her body weight, but she was freshly bathed and trimmed free of matted hair. She squirmed and struggled to get out of the vet tech’s arms to get to me; I have never had so many kisses bestowed upon my face! The tech said there was no question as to whether or not I was Ellie’s true owner. When asked how much I owed, the tech said there was no charge.

Pets are amazing. They curl up inside of our hearts and take over our lives. I believe they make a nest right there near the left chamber and become one with our hearts, so much so that it becomes nearly impossible to live without them. People really are amazing too. We go about our lives every day without much thought to our neighbors and coworkers and what they may be struggling with and trying to cope with. Or at least most of us do. Then there are the people like Bayou Billy, who found out Ellie had been found and called ahead to get me a reservation at a local hotel that night; people like Wendy, who will lower themselves into a canal to rescue a dog; people like Ginny, who changed her life to help a total stranger; and people like the Pak Mail shop owners who will make five hundred color copies for total blithering, crying, insane dog lovers. They’re out there: the good people. They are waiting to be needed. Who needs you?

Microsoft YorkshireFurther Links:

http://www.petfinder.com/

http://www.missingpetpartnership.org/recoverytips.php

http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/what_to_do_lost_pets.html

http://www.thecenterforlostpets.com/ To report lost and found pets

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