THE DAY OUR DOG WAS KIDNAPPED
While my father was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, our family’s loyal hound was kidnapped. We had to get him back— for his own sake, but also for my dad.
MMy dog, Trevi, had been gone for almost two weeks when I finally got the tip that would lead me to him. I was taping yet another “MISSING” sign to a lamppost when a young woman named Melissa approached.
We were standing outside a Tim Hortons in downtown Toronto—Trevi’s last known whereabouts. “I’ve seen him,” she told me. At this stage of the search I had gotten a lot of false leads, but something about her solemn eyes made me believe her.
If I wanted to find my dog, she said, I would first have to find Cat Man.
TREVI JOINED MY FAMILY twenty years ago—a Shih Tzu poodle mix the colour of fresh baked bread. In my house there were three girls and with two of us leaving for boarding school in Italy, my parents reasoned a puppy would help fill the void for my youngest sister. We named him after the fountain in Rome.
Cue the movie montage in which a pet becomes fully integrated into a family: birthdays, moving days, heartbreaks and holidays, Trevi was there for all of it. Except Christmas. For whatever reason he hated that day and would skulk around on the third floor, refusing to join in the fun and earning one of his many nicknames: the Grinch.
Trevi loved spending time at our cottage in Huntsville, Ont., where he was once almost captured by a hawk. Per my dad’s account, he walked out the front door one day to see a giant set of talons swooping down on our tiny pup, and hurled a laundry basket in the bird’s direction just in time. I am not 100 per cent sold on the particulars of this story, but it is now family lore.
After my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, the cottage became a sanctuary and the site of many happy memories along the way to goodbye. I often think of him driving his Jeep through the backwoods, blaring Frank Sinatra or John Denver, his “loyal hound” hanging out the back.
As my dad’s health declined, Trevi was a companion and a comfort, forever crooked in beside him on the couch. When he moved into a home, we would often bring Trevi along on our visits— his familiar pant made dark times a little brighter.
IT WAS ABOUT FIVE months later, in the spring of 2012, that Trevi went missing. My mom had tied him up
outside Tim Hortons while she popped in to order the usual (coffee for her, a plain Timbit for Trevi). When she returned, the dog was gone. She scanned up and down the block and across the street. Nothing. She spent the next several days searching.
By the time she finally told my sister Cynthia and me what happened, Trevi had been missing for 10 days. I was gutted. And dumbstruck. Why hadn’t she said something? But I also understood. My mom shouldered so much during my dad’s illness—an eternally brave face in spite of her private grief. At first she didn’t tell us Trevi was gone because she hoped to find him on her own. And then I think it was just too sad to say out loud.
Her daily check-ins with the city’s animal services department had produced one useful tip: the day after Trevi’s disappearance, someone had called to report a man walking a small dog on a red leash outside Jack Astor’s on Front Street. The anonymous tipster said it was odd to see a man who appeared to be living on the street with a pet who looked recently groomed.
It was our only clue, and we ran with it—“we” being me, my boyfriend, John, my sister Cynthia and her new boyfriend (now husband), Chris. If he had any reservations about joining our doggy detective hunt, he didn’t show it as we got to work plastering the area with signs promising a $500 reward, “No questions asked.”
We split up to canvass anyone who might have seen something. It wasn’t lost on me that these valuable potential witnesses were the same homeless people who faded into the background of my daily commute. Most were friendly and happy to talk—some a little too happy, pretending to know something about Trevi’s whereabouts just to continue the conversation.
I had just one really bad experience, when a group of men gathered in the entryway to a shelter looked at my posters and said my dog had probably been eaten. They laughed. I ran out onto the sidewalk and burst into tears.
Having a pet go missing is a horrible experience. All I could think about was who could be mistreating him. Trevi was old at this point—more than 100 in dog years—and mostly blind. He was also very much my dad’s dog, so from the start, his absence took on the weight of our greater loss.
The odds of success grew more dismal by the day, but hunting for Trevi
HAVING A PET GO MISSING IS HORRIBLE.
ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT WAS
WHO COULD BE MISTREATING HIM.
was something we could actually do. In that sense it was cathartic and also what my dad would have done. His diligence was another matter of family lore. He once rented a metal detector to track down one of my mom’s earrings when she lost it on the beach. (He found it.)
THE TURNING POINT came on day three, when I met Melissa outside Tim Hortons, where she sometimes held the door for change. Cat Man, she explained, often hung out by the heated grates outside the bank on the same block. He usually kept cats, which is why she remembered Trevi almost two weeks later. I left her my cell number and promised to check in.
Less than an hour later, an unfamiliar number came up on my phone.
“May I speak with Courtney?” asked a male voice.
“Is this Cat Man?” I replied, taking great pains to sound calm.
“My name,” he said with slight but detectable indignance, “is Matthew.”
Matthew told me that he thought Trevi had been abandoned—he had been “taking care” of him. The next day he was arrested (“on an unrelated matter,” he assured me). He spent the night in jail and Trevi was sent to Animal Services, where he was admitted into protective custody rather than as a missing pet, since Matthew had told the cops that the dog belonged to him.
I was furious, but also elated—this guy knew where my dog was. EVEN TODAY, WHEN I think about the reunion, I instantly hear doggy nails on linoleum flooring—the sound that came seconds before Trevi bounded around the corner. If his adventures had distressed him, he didn’t show it. I, on the other hand, was a mess, crying and laughing and rolling around on the ground.
Turns out Matthew had already been there, trying to claim Trevi so he could make the trade-off and get the reward. “I told him to get lost,” said the woman behind the desk, who had finally made the connection between her daily calls with my mom and the tiny tail-wagger in my arms. “You shouldn’t pay him a thing—the guy kidnapped your dog!”
Half an hour later, my mom nearly dropped to the floor when we arrived at her condo with Trevi in tow. We told her all about our epic quest and she told us we were truly our father’s daughters. We all pretended not to tear up.
AS A FAMILY WE MOURNED MY DAD WHILE HE WAS ALIVE.
WHEN HE WENT PEACEFULLY, IT WAS
A GIFT AND A RELIEF.
MY DAD DIED ABOUT a year later. Losing someone to a degenerative cognitive disease happens bit by bit. As a family we mourned him while he was alive. When he went peacefully, it was a gift and a relief. At the cemetery, Trevi ran around like a young pup.
But of course, he wasn’t. In the year that followed, his health declined quickly: he lost interest in eating and had trouble holding his legs up to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t a difficult decision to put him down; being in a position to alleviate his discomfort was a privilege and a no-brainer. On his final morning, my mom drove him to McDonald’s for a hamburger before taking him to the vet.
I don’t relate the loss of my dad and my dog to imply any sort of equivalency. They aren’t equal, but they are intertwined, which is a good word for the way our pets become part of our lives. They bear witness to all the moments— the ones that make the movie montage and the many that do not. We tell the story of Trevi’s disappearance often— and I realize now that I haven’t quite finished it.
My phone rang several times on that afternoon after we found him. I knew it was Matthew but wasn’t quite sure what to do. A part of me agreed with the woman at Animal Services—he kidnapped my dog!—but I also thought about “No questions asked.” I wanted those words to still mean something for anyone in the future who loses something precious.
When I met Matthew the next morning, we barely made eye contact as I handed over $100 in twenties. “You stole my dog,” I said. Not quite the verbal lashing I had imagined, but in the moment, it was all I could manage.
I gave a part of the reward to Melissa, too. If I could do it over, I think I would have given her all of it.
I’m not sure how my dad would have handled the situation. I do know it was the type of conundrum he would have loved to discuss. And of course, I wish we could have. He was a natural with advice and, as his kids got older, had enjoyed providing guidance for our adult problems.
That, and he absolutely loved a good caper.