Anyone who's had a dog growing up knows they are more than just a pet.
They're more than man's best friend -- they're like a child. If you have children, the dog is even more a part of the family -- cleaning up "leftovers" from the floor, chasing the kids around the house -- even serving as a pretend horse.
So, as the Fourth of July approaches every year I worry about Rowdy.
Rowdy is an enormous dog -- a Labrador/retriever/Dane mix -- he weighs nearly 100 pounds and looks like a small horse.
And this year, my inaction repairing a dilapidated fence in my backyard, coupled with eager Fourth of July revelers who started a little too early, led to Rowdy plowing through a fenceboard and roaming the streets of my usually quiet community college neighborhood.
This wasn't the first time he'd found a way out, but the other times it was with his roommate, a German Shepherd named Huxley.
But Rowdy was alone on July 1; everyone who lives at my house was at a softball game and Huxley was visiting his second home (my roommates parent's house).
We won the softball game that night (go Partisan Longshots!) but came home to discover a broken fenceboard and an empty backyard.
Around the neighborhood we went, calling "ROWDY! Come here boy!"
Soon, others joined the search. By foot, bicycle and car we searched for Rowdy until 1:30 in the morning.
We didn't find Rowdy that night.
I wondered where he could be -- if he was with someone, if he had food and water, if he was scared, or worse -- if he'd been hit by a car.
So, the next day I started posting fliers throughout the neighborhood, I posted an ad on the Web site Craigslist, checked the Merced Count Animal Shelter and placed a "lost" notice in the Sun-Star's lost and found section (which is a free service and for a nominal fee you can even run a picture).
I thought for sure someone had Rowdy or he was on his way to the animal shelter.
I went to the animal shelter hoping he was there, but that his picture just hadn't been posted on the Web site yet. Our animal shelter is an amazing facility, though I was overwhelmed with sadness driving away.
No luck that day.
And I would have no luck for the next nine days.
I received phone calls from people who had seen one of the several ads, and had a dog that slightly resembled him, but none of them were Rowdy.
Then, on Saturday night, my phone rang at 9:30 and it was a number I didn't recognize.
I didn't answer the phone. I didn't want to think about it anymore. The person left a message.
I still have the message saved on my phone. "Hi Nathan? I think I have your dog Rowdy. If you'd like to come by and take a look, were in Mariposa," said an unfamiliar voice.
Mariposa? How in the world would he have gotten all the way up there?
I was skeptical if this was my boy.
I called the number back and spoke with Maggie Vilott, who works at UC Merced.
She told me she saw my ad in the Sun-Star and wanted to check if we'd found Rowdy. I told her we sure hadn't.
She said while at a coworkers house the day before near the UC she found "the tallest dog I've ever scene."
OK -- starting to sound like Rowdy.
The dog was across the street from her coworker's house with several children.
Sounds even more like Rowdy (he loves kids).
Evidently, there have been several foreclosures in the neighborhood and there had also been several "foreclosure dogs" wondering the neighborhood.
Soon this dog was on his way up to the Mariposa area to meet a new friend, Buddy, and stay at house with a huge yard.
Maggie said the dog she found was a picky eater.
If this isn't Rowdy, it's his doppleganger.
And the pads on his paws were scratched up. And his paw was infected. And he had a few ticks.
All I could think was "What has this dog been doing? Where the heck has he been?"
But I didn't get my hopes up.
We agreed on a time the next morning and I told my two daughters, Hannah and Gwyn, that I wasn't sure what we'd find in Mariposa, but I really hoped it was Rowdy.
So, the next morning -- 11 days after Rowdy ran off -- we headed up to Mariposa.
Forty-five minutes later we arrived near the house and from hundreds of feet away, I saw two dogs heading out of the garage to see who was driving up. Immediately, I knew one of them was Rowdy.
We found our boy!
I thanked Maggie for calling me and connecting Rowdy with his family. She said her family enjoyed Rowdy so much that anytime I needed a doggysitter, to give her a call.
Rowdy now has a second home in the foothills.
But I'll always wonder where he was for those nine days ...
Looking for your pet?
Make sure you utilize and check three very important and free places.
Merced County Animal Shelter: Located at 2150 Shuttle Drive at Castle Commerce Center, all of the animals at the shelter are shown online at www.co.merced.ca.us/index.asp?NID=163 and are updated every hour. Call (209) 385-7436.
Merced Sun-Star lost and found: Either call (209) 383-7777 or go to mercedsunstar.com, and click on place an ad. In that section there's an area for lost and found pets.
Craigslist: In the lost and found section at merced.craigslist.org, you can post a free ad with photos that will run for 30 days.