When Dee Dee went missing, I turned to God.
Dee Dee, my Jack Russell Terrier, raced after her tennis ball, her legs pumping. I’m a long-haul trucker and Dee Dee rides shotgun on my road trips. We’d been playing fetch for half an hour, relaxing midday at my company’s trucking center outside of Atlanta while we waited for my next load. It had everything a trucker could need—fuel bays, shops, a lounge, even a wooded area near the edge of the property. The entire complex was bordered by an electric fence, then a chain-link barrier beyond, protection from the rough neighborhood. That’s why I was comfortable having my dog off leash.
It felt good to stretch our legs near the woods. Some days Dee Dee and I never got much beyond the inside of my cab. She’d been my traveling companion ever since my wife and daughter gave her to me seven years ago. She was good company, always there for me to talk to, her tail constantly wagging. All those miles on the road never seemed that long with Dee Dee beside me.
Jack Russells are smart, curious, high-energy dogs. Intense. Something caught Dee Dee’s eye by the fence. Before I could react, she let out a yelp and shot into the woods. I rushed over, but a briar thicket kept me from following. She must have been spooked to run in there! She wasn’t normally skittish. “Dee Dee!” I called. No answering bark. Outside the fences, I could see cars hurtling down the road. At least there was no way Dee Dee could have gotten beyond the barriers. I’ll find her, if I have to search every inch of the complex, I thought. She has to be close.
I paced the perimeter of the trees calling her name. Nothing. I alerted some of the other truckers. They volunteered to help. We searched until it was pitch black. One by one the other truckers left. “I’ll pray for you,” some of them said. I wasn’t so sure God was listening. I’d been praying for hours and hadn’t been rewarded with even a faint bark. I was exhausted. But when I collapsed onto the bed in my cab I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was my little dog: hungry, scared, maybe hurt. Alone.
The next morning the first thing I saw was the empty spot at the foot of the bed where Dee Dee usually slept. My heart ached. I wanted to spend the day looking for her, but there was no time. I had to load the truck and be on the road by 10 to get to Virginia. Saying goodbye was part of being a trucker. But I’d never had to say goodbye to Dee Dee.
I called my wife, Rena. I’d been delaying the call, hoping to have better news. “Why don’t you put up posters and I’ll get something on your Facebook page? You and Dee Dee have so many people who care about you,” she said. I hung up, sad. Dee Dee needed people on the ground searching for her, not somewhere off in cyberspace. Besides, it’s not like I’d friended 1,000 people. I used Facebook to stay connected to a few friends while Dee Dee and I were on the road. She probably had more friends than I did.
I pulled up a picture of Dee Dee on the laptop in my cab and quickly made a “Lost Dog” poster, with my phone number. I went to the office to print it and plastered copies on the walls, by the fuel bays, everywhere I could think of. As I was leaving, I spied Russ, the maintenance supervisor. “I’ll keep an eye out,” he said.
“I appreciate it,” I said. But I knew he had his own busy job to do. We all had our hands full. Who had time for a lost dog?
I drove up I-75, the interstate rolling by in a gray haze, and reached my destination, Abingdon, Virginia, just before 5:00 p.m. After everything was unloaded, I sat alone in my truck and stared out into the empty parking lot, wishing I were 350 miles south of there. Usually Dee Dee would be sitting in my lap, licking my hand. I’d scratch her behind the ears and…. I couldn’t bear to think about it.
I reached over to my laptop and pulled up my Facebook page to see what Rena had written. At first I thought maybe I’d clicked on someone else’s page by mistake. It was filled with postings: “We’re praying for you and Dee Dee.” “Hang in there.” “Trust in God.” For the first time since Dee Dee disappeared I felt comforted. Someone besides me was worried about my little dog. If only I could get back to Atlanta soon! I thought of typing that in a prayer and posting it: “Lord, get me an assignment back in Atlanta…NOW!” But I knew it could take weeks before I was routed through there again.
I clicked over to my company’s website to find my next job. There at the top of the list was a morning pick up in Bristol, Tennessee, less than a half hour away. I scanned over to the destination. Atlanta! Could the prayers really be working?
Stay safe, Dee Dee, I thought that night as I tried to fall asleep, back at home in my own bed. She must be so hungry. Was she able to find water? Shelter? I thought of how her whole body shivered when she was cold. If only there were some way for me to know she was okay!
My ringing cell phone the next morning woke me. It was Russ. “I saw your dog on my way to work about two blocks from here.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Dee Dee was alive! Then I replayed his words. Two blocks from the trucking center.… She was outside the fences! I thought about all that traffic, the run-down buildings. The guard dogs trained to attack. A little dog like Dee Dee wouldn’t survive five minutes out there.
I picked up the load and headed south. I hadn’t gone 10 miles when my cell phone rang again. A text from a friend wanting an update. A few minutes later another text. A trucker letting me know he was still praying for me. The phone hardly ever stopped ringing. I couldn’t look at them all. I had to focus on the road and getting to Atlanta.
Around 2:00 p.m. I pulled into the trucking center. Russ came out. “Let me get my car and I’ll show you where I saw her,” he said. When we reached the spot, there were all the things I’d feared—heavy traffic, abandoned buildings—but no trace of Dee Dee. We called for her. Drove down block after block. Nothing. After an hour Russ had to get back.
At the trucking center I borrowed a company loaner car from Cindy, the drivers’ service rep, and headed out again. But as the afternoon wore on I could feel my hopes fading with the light. Was there any place I hadn’t looked?
I saw a gleaming white Baptist church with a cross out front, across the street from a row of brick houses. I’d driven by the church several times, but never stopped. There were woods behind it. I pulled up in front and walked to the trees. “Dee Dee!” I called. It was eerily quiet. I stood there for a minute, listening. Silence. Dejected, I trudged back to the car. All those prayers. Not one of them answered. Looking up to the sky, I said, “Lord, please just show her to me.”
In the car I glanced over my shoulder for traffic. And there on the doorstep of one of the houses sat Dee Dee! I sped the car across the street and into the driveway then got out slowly, not wanting to startle her. I tried to calm myself. Don’t spook her… “Dee Dee,” I said softly, “let’s go home.”
She stared, as if trying to recognize me. I crept closer. All of a sudden her tail started wagging like crazy. She bolted over to me and licked my hand. I picked her up and squeezed her tight. Thank you, God. Other than a coating of Georgia clay, she was the same healthy, energetic Dee Dee.
We got in the car, and I called Rena. I was so happy I could barely talk. After we hung up I scrolled through all of the text and voice-mail messages. There were dozens! An entire convoy of prayer warriors. Then there was Russ and Cindy back at the center. So many people, all lifting Dee Dee and me up to God. It would take hours to thank them all. But I didn’t mind.
Who knows what goes on in the mind of a dog? I’ll never know why Dee Dee ran off or how she got outside the fences or what her adventure was. One thing I do know is this: We are never alone. Prayer is with us always, and God always answers prayer.