Joyce’s dog, Bob, had been with the family for six years. From the time he saved Joyce’s life when she was five, he had become an integral family member. But one morning, right after they had finished harvest, Joyce called for Bob, but he never came.
She had never had that happen before. Sometimes, he might take a few minutes getting there. He might be far out in the pasture or finishing getting the cows in for milking, but he always came. She called many times. She went to all his favorite places and the ones they liked to visit together.
The last spot she checked was under the old apple tree. She and Bob spent hours there. Once she learned to read, she would read stories to him. He would lie with his head in her lap, and she would gently stroke his fur as she read.
But he was at none of these spots. Joyce went to find her father. He called the family together, and they made an exhaustive search Her brothers even rode horses to ask the neighbors, but no one had seen Bob.
Joyce was heartbroken. “He wouldn’t just leave.”
“Maybe he decided his job was done here,” her father said. “Perhaps he decided it was time to move on. After all, he just wandered in here when he came.”
Joyce shook her head. “That doesn’t sound like Bob.”
It wasn’t until later that she learned her father assumed coyotes had killed Bob, as they had many other dogs in the area. But he said what he did because he felt it would be more comforting.
For a couple of weeks, Joyce went out every morning and called for Bob, hoping beyond hope that he had come home. But finally, she quit, sure he would never return.
Then, almost a month after he disappeared, the family was eating breakfast when they heard a scratch at the back door and a whimper. Joyce almost knocked her food to the floor in her haste to get to the door. She opened it, and there lay Bob. He was emaciated, could hardly move, and was covered with blood. Joyce hugged him. Her father patted her to have her move aside, then he gently took Bob in his arms and carried him inside. Joyce’s mother got an old blanket and made a bed by the fireplace.
Joyce got Bob some milk and warmed it at her mother’s suggestion. The temperature outside was below freezing, and Bob was shivering, though he didn’t seem to have the energy even to do that. When Joyce gave him the milk, he tried to stand to drink but couldn’t. Her mother got a cloth, soaked it in milk, then drizzled it into Bob’s mouth. Joyce saw how and soon took over Bob’s feeding.
Joyce’s father checked Bob for wounds and found that the blood was coming from his feet, which were blistered and lacerated. They were cleaned and bandaged. It was days before anyone was sure Bob would live, and it was more than a week before he could stand. But within a month, he was again running with Joyce up the lane to the mailbox.
The next fall, when the immigrant crew that helped with the harvest came, Bob suddenly blocked their path, growling and baring his teeth at them. The men started backing away as Bob approached, looking like he would attack. Joyce’s father called Bob back.
The men seemed confused and were babbling in their language. Luckily, one of Joyce’s brothers understood them. The family learned that the men had admired Bob’s ability with cattle and had stolen him the last fall. They had taken him nearly 2,000 miles away to their next harvest area. Bob had disappeared the minute the men let him go.
Once the harvest crew’s leader realized the family knew what they had done, he begged forgiveness and asked that they still be allowed to work. Joyce’s father was angry, but the family needed the help. However, they kept an eye on everything, and Bob slept in the house at night.
Joyce considered the distance and the time Bob was gone, and realized Bob must have traveled over seventy miles a day. But he did it to make his way home—his home and his family, and that made her love him even more.
(To be continued)