Most of its rugged paths lead to the rumbling Patuxent River. But first, we hike through the park proper, out the far gate, to a collection of farm fields owned by the state. There, I let Jet off leash so he can be a real hunting dog for a few minutes before re-entering the park, picking a trail and hiking down to the river.
On this day, we ran into a guy visiting from Michigan with his short-hair pointer. Its collar featured some type of GPS system just in case the fellow ran off.
Unleashed, Jet entered a small wooded area as I moved down a trail that eventually leads to a view of the stadium for the Bowie Baysox, the Orioles' AA team. Near left field, I turned around and headed back. I could hear Jet rustling through the brush. The wild fruit bramble smells of fox, deer, groundhog and wild turkey. As I said, paradise.
Back toward the gate, I called Jet. Waited. Called again. Nothing. No black, tongue-protruded creature emerging from the chopped corn stalks and huge Oaks. I walked back down the trail, this time yelling. Then back up, and then down a second trail that leads to several farms. "Don't do anything crazy," I told Jet, in absentia. "Don't get yourself shot or run over."
The guy and his pointer reappeared. The pair had not seen my boy. Back I went to the parking lot. He knows that spot. He might of gotten disoriented and hit a trail that took him there. No Jet along the way. No one had seen him. He was not standing by my trusty Buick.
Jet, I officially announced to the tall disapproving Oaks, was a lost dog.
I returned to the farm fields. Another hike down toward the ball park. Then, I went where there was no trail, stomping through the muted grass of winter as I followed a tree line around to the farm-side trail.
Back at the gate, I began thinking up a strategy to find Jet. I was distraught, but not panicked. Jet is chipped and collared——and friendly. That combination will bring him back.
My Plan: Light lasted until after six that time of year. I would stationed myself in the parking lot, and wait. Kicked out at sundown, I would park near the entrance and, every so often, train a flashlight into the lot. If no Jet by midnight, I would head home, get some sleep and reappear at first light to hunt again. I would notify Maryland Park Police. An officer visits the sprawling grounds each day.
As I turned toward the gate, my optimism parted a bit to let in thoughts of dogs who go missing—forever. Life without Jet was just not acceptable. He was only 2. We had really just started to strongly bond. Jet had been at several stops before me. A stray at six months, Jet was picked up by the D.C. Humane Society. The shelter found a home that did not work out, brought him back, and sent him to a foster owner in Fredericksburg, Va., where I found him. Count 'em. That's six separate stops. (The original owner; shelter; new owner; shelter; foster home; me.) A year later, Jet had finally realized I was the last one.
I moved down the trail to begin my Buick-based surveillance. Just then, my cell phone rang. Not a smart Internet-linked phone, but a link nonetheless. I did not recognize the number.
"Are you looking for a dog," the accented voice said. (It is a sentence whose syntax I will never forget.)
My blood and heart depressed. Dogs are not found that quickly, I thought, unless, God forbid, something bad has happened.
"Yes," I said.
"I have him," said the Latino. I learned Felix was in a wooded area clearing brush for a new home. Jet approached him. He read his tag, with my number, and called. I got directions and trotted back to the Buick. My plan had been to start praying after two days. Now, I just gave thanks that Jet had run into a good soul.
I drove down Rte. 301, a direction that takes people to Richmond and then the deep South. I found the life-line to Jet, a two lane winder, and then a muddy road that opened to a clearing and then a man and a chain saw, and, then, to Jet, on his haunches, tied to a backhoe, a thick rope around his sodden neck. I approached him. He had a look like, "What, you couldn't keep up?" I gave him a kiss on a glistening head, untied him, wiped his paws and coaxed him into the back seat.
Felix filled me in. As he was working, he looked up at a ridge line and there was a small herd of deer——and Jet.
"Jet was chasing them?"
"No. They were walking together."
"Jet is a dedicated hunter. Are you sure they were walking together?"
"Yes. He saw me. Came down the hill. Sat still and whimpered."
Jet is smart, I thought. He knew he was lost and needed help. He had to appear totally docile for this guy to approach. Jet's friendliness save him.
I got Felix's phone number. The next day, I called him, wrote down his address and mailed a reward. No amount of money could fully thank Felix for his kindness. Some might have thrown a rock at Jet and told him to keep moving. Some might have just kept him. Some might have driven off to let him fend for himself. But Felix decided to befriend a dog he did not know, read the tag and call me. I will always be grateful.
I looked at a map, tracing Jet's journey from farm field to construction site. It was over three miles, across several roads, creeks and ponds. No wonder he and the deer became pals. They had exhausted themselves into a traveling friendship.