(Here's a copy of my print column in Sunday's Daily Times. Someone requested making it available here. So here it is.)
LOOKING FOR LULU
Driving home from the grocery store one afternoon in late July, Ericka Hahn spotted something small moving in the middle of the street.
"There was this little white thing in the road," she recalled. "I thought it was a cat."
It wasn't. It was a beagle.
She stopped her car and then stopped traffic in both directions to keep the dog from getting killed.
The dog, a puppy, wanted to play. Ericka wanted to get it out of the road.
She waved her arms at it. The puppy zigged, then zagged and finally it ran through some bushes into a field.
In the field, Ericka lost track of the puppy. But she immediately spotted another beagle, a bigger one.
"I ran up to him and he cowered down and let me catch him. I didn't see the other one anywhere."
Holding the bigger beagle in her arms, she went up to the nearest house and asked the owners for help. The husband and wife said the two dogs had been hanging around all day.
It didn't take long for them to spot the littler beagle. The husband scooped her up and handed her to Ericka. She put both dogs in her car and headed home.
When her boyfriend, Mark Baylor, saw the dog in her arms, he smiled.
"What do you have there?" he asked.
"There's another one in the car," she replied.
Ericka and Mark had just moved to Chester county a few months earlier. They didn't know any of their neighbors but they set out to find the dogs' owners.
The dogs were "skinny and smelly and didn't have any tags or collars but we figured they belonged to somebody," Ericka said.
They spent three hours, driving down dirt roads, and going from house to house in the wooded countryside.
They met a lot of nice people that day, including an old man named Mr. Toonie and a high-spririted gal named Lulu, who told them that "whatever you do, don't take them to the SPCA."
Instead they made up posters and put them up all over the area. After a few days, when no one called to claim the dogs, Ericka and Mark decided to keep them.
They named the bigger one Toonie and the little one, Lulu.
A couple of weeks later, Mark came home from work to discover Lulu in the back yard, off her leash and barely moving.
Mark noticed blood on either side of her belly. At first he thought another animal had gotten to her or that she'd gotten loose and cut herself on a fence.
But upon closer inspection, it was worse than that. It was a bullet wound. Someone shot her.
He called Ericka. By the time she got home, Lulu was having real trouble breathing.
Leaving Toonie behind, they rushed her to the vet.
She was X-rayed and put on an IV. Both her lungs were collapsed. She was very weak from bleeding internally.
Early the next morning, Ericka was awakened by a low persistent howl. It was Toonie.
"It was," said Ericka, "the most heart-breaking sound I'd ever heard."
For a couple of days, it was touch and go whether Lulu would make it.
Ericka and Mark visited her every day.
The first day, "It was like all her puppy spirit had drained out of her," Ericka said.
But the next day she was a little better.
On the third day, Ericka and Mark brought Toonie along for the visit. That visit especially seemed to improve Lulu's spirits. The two dogs were excited to see each other and briefly played together in the visiting room.
It looked now like Lulu would survive.
As it happened Ericka and Mark were scheduled to go on a two-week trip to London a few days later.
They considered postponing their trip but then a very nice woman who worked for the vet, offered to take care of Lulu while they were away.
A dog walker was recommended for Toonie. Ericka's dad would stay at the house.
Leaving the dogs in good hands, they left for England the following Friday night.
They arrived in London Saturday morning and were still half asleep when they got an emergency phone call from their dog walker.
Toonie was gone.
The dog walker explained that she was taking him for his first walk when a noise startled them and she dropped the leash. Toonie took off.
He bolted through the woods, still in his harness his leash whipping behind him. He crossed a dirt road, shot through a meadow, and was gone.
The dog walker spent hours looking for the dog. She put up flyers and went from neighbor to neighbor asking if anyone had seen him.
Finally, she called Ericka and Mark to tell them what happened.
They were devastated. But there was nothing for them to do but hope for the best.
Of course, they knew what had happened. Toonie had gone looking for Lulu. Their biggest fear was his leash would get tangled and he'd get stuck somewhere where he might die of exposure or thirst.
For the rest of their trip Ericka and Mark waited for good news that never came.
Until their last day in England. That's when Ericka's father called to say a neighbor had spotted Toonie.
After almost two weeks, a family who lived about a mile and a half away stopped by to say they'd seen a beagle in a blue harness but they couldn't catch him.
Ericka and Mark returned to the states Sunday morning with renewed hope.
Their first order of business was to pick up Lulu.
During their absence, Lulu had been treated like a "princess" by the vets' assistant and her three doting daughters.
Healthy now, it was Lulu's turn to do a little work.
Ericka and Mark took her over and walked her around the property where Toonie had last been seen.
Excited, Lulu started sniffing around and wagging her tail. She had picked up Toonie's scent. But still, no Toonie.
After a half hour they took her home and walked her around their own three-acre wooded lot.
With their hopes up, they put Lulu on her running-line and went inside.
A little over two hours later, Mark looked out the window. He noticed something moving between the trees, perhaps 30 yards behind the house.
"It's Toonie," he called out to Ericka. "Toonie's back!"
He was sitting up in the woods, trying to get a better look at Lulu, when they came outside.
"He was skittish and wary," Ericka said.
But within minutes he came running up to be hugged and held and closer to Lulu.
"He was so skinny," Ericka said, and a little scraped up but other than that he was fine.
He'd spent 16 days in the wild, which included a week of the coldest, wettest
August weather in recent memory, doggedly looking.
And he didn't quit until he found her.