By Sheri Levy
My stomach clinched. Kathy, sobbed on the phone. “Logan’s missing! My husband’s golfing and hasn’t returned my call.”
“I’m on my way. I have to get Sydney’s service vest.”
I filled my waist pouch with his favorite treats, located his water bottle, and snapped it onto my belt. “Let’s go, Syd.”
Kathy stood out front, waving her arms.
Sydney and I bolted from the car. I held one hand as she blubbered information in between blowing her nose and hiccupping. “Logan had a meltdown when his brothers left to play golf. With his autism, there’s no way Logan can sit in a golf cart all morning. He got angry, anyway.”
I clasped my hands together, easing my tension. “You need to know I’ve only played hide and seek with Sydney and other children. He’s a service dog in training, not a search and rescue dog. But Logan and Sydney have made such a strong connection on the beach, Syd may be able to find Logan. But you’ll need to stay here.”
Kathy’s eyes widened.
I touched her shoulder. “You have to be here in case he comes home or someone finds him.”
She sobbed. “I’m going to go crazy waiting.”
A load of gravel hit the pit of my stomach one stone at a time. “Will Logan get in the water?”
She shook her head. “Not without his life jacket. He may walk a long way and forget how to get home. He doesn’t know his phone number and can only say his first name.”
I blew out my breath, and smiled. “That’s good, he won’t get in the water. Can you give me an item he wears? Sydney needs his scent.”
I wrapped Syd’s vest around his back. He knew at once he was on duty. His amber eyes brightened and his lips spread into a grin.
Rushing back, Kathy carried Logan’s ball cap and spoke in spurts. “I’m surprised he…ran off without… this.” She gasped and choked. “He doesn’t like… the sun in his eyes.”
Syd and I jogged toward the sand dunes. I held Logan’s ball cap up to Sydney’s nose. “Find, Logan.”
He inhaled the scent, backed up, jiggled his stub, and shoved his nose again into the empty space inside the cap. That was his signal, “I know what you want me to do.”
“Good boy, Syd. Find, Logan.”
I let him run, getting his bearings. He lunged into the bushes behind Logan’s house, and then circled the sea grass in the dunes. As he dashed toward the water, his nostrils opened and closed level with the sand, and then he made a U-turn. Racing on dry sand, he sniffed his way up the coast. After each inspection, Sydney woofed. Logan would recognize Syd’s bark and come running.
If he heard. Or if he could? Those thoughts sent shivers up my neck.
I called Logan’s name. High tide moved down, leaving no foot-prints, no trail of food, and no way to know which way Logan might have gone.
Before heading up a wooden path, I returned the cap to Syd’s nose. “Find, Logan.”
We walked under another house and up to the front yard. Sydney lost interest and led me back to the sand. We repeated checking the dunes, and under each house, block after block. After an hour and a half, I said, “Down,” in someone’s empty carport. Syd panted heavily and rested. Once his breathing slowed, we shared a bottle of water.
What if he knocked at someone’s door, and they took him in. I shuddered inside. What if we can’t find him?” I wiped my damp face.
Kathy phoned. “My sons are going door to door. And Logan’s dad contacted the island police. One car is patrolling the streets.” She took a long breath. “This is the longest he’s ever been gone.”
My voice squeaked out. “So he’s done this before?”
“Twice. He’s never gone very far, but each time it’s happened, he’s walked a little farther. It’s been two years since the last time.”
“Did he have a special hiding spot?”
She whispered, “No.”
My chest tightened. “We’ll find him. He’s getting older. I bet he’s just found a better hiding place.”
I hung up and made eye contact. “Okay, Syd. Find, Logan.” He turned in circles, excited to be back on the job. When we reached the pier, hope shoved the pebbles in my stomach to the side. Maybe he’s up there watching the seagulls, or looking for dolphins.
As I looked left, despair swallowed my relief. On the other side of the pier, strangers camped in tents or in trailers at the State Park.
We scoured every corner of the pier and restaurant, and asked the manager if he’d seen a black-haired, little boy.
My stomach quivered. I swallowed the nausea. No sign of Logan.
I collapsed on the pier. Sitting crossed-legged, my hands covered my face, and I cried. Sydney put his nose under my arms, lifting my hands to lick my tears.
“You need a rest. Go play.” We walked down the stairs, I undid his vest.
Sydney dashed at the small waves, popping the white bubbles in the foam. I didn’t care if he got wet. He was free to relax.
The sun blazed, making the sand too hot for bare feet. I worried about Sydney’s feet and Logan’s. Would he look for shade?
Five minutes later, I strapped-on Syd’s vest and lifted Logan’s cap to his nose.
He turned in circles, wiggled his rear end, and darted to the dunes. Then he put his nose close to the sand, sniffing like a hound dog. Chills traveled up my body. He was onto something. It better not be a fish.
Sydney tramped up to a tree in someone’s backyard, turned around and circled me like he was saying, “Hurry up.”
“What do you smell, Syd.”
He barked and showed me foot prints. They were small, bare feet.
“Okay. Show me.”
Sydney sniffed the ground. His rear end pointed to the sky. I followed. He circled the dune once more and followed footprints from the ocean to the trees. He wouldn’t move forward.
“What is it Syd?”
I glanced between the dune and the trees. Steps to someone’s house, painted sky-blue, had disguised a three-sided outdoor shower under the wooden steps. An ocean blue plastic shower curtain decorated with colored fish closed the opening. Syd crept towards the shower stall.
I pressed my lips together. Could Logan be inside? Was he hurt?
Sydney stood at attention. “Good boy.”
Syd’s body squirmed, making an indention in the sand with his bottom.
I slid the curtain back, an inch at a time. There was a small bench on the back wall and shaded by the tree. Sleeping with one arm under his head and one arm hanging off the ledge, Logan breathed, peacefully. He had no idea of the ordeal he had begun.
My eyes overflowed. I bent face to face with Sydney and whispered, “Good Boy. You have the honor of waking him.”
Sydney’s eyes sparkled. He slinked in, put his nose under Logan’s limp arm, moved closer and licked his cheek.
Logan’s eyes opened. He squealed, “Syd-ney. Syd-ney. Want see.” Logan sat, lifting his beaming face, showing two missing teeth on the top and on the bottom.
I snatched Logan’s hand and said, “Sydney, home.”
After twenty-five years of teaching special education and training her own dogs in rally and agility, Sheri finds the subject of dogs and special needs children close to her heart.
Sheri S. Levy’s magazine article about a diabetic alert dog, “Scent with Love,” was published in Clubhouse Magazine in July 2010. This story was nominated for a Maxwell Medallion Award with the Dog Writers Association of America’s competition and received the Special Interest Award at their February 2011 awards banquet in New York.
In 2015, Sheri’s debut novel, Seven Days to Goodbye, won another Special Interest Award with DWAA. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Carolinas, teaches writing workshops, tutor’s students, and volunteers with an accredited, nonprofit service dog kennel, Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services (PAALS). www.sherislevy.com
A word from Kait Carson—when Sheri contacted me in response to MMO’s request for guest bloggers, I jumped at the chance. Animals have always been important in my life, and I was lucky enough to own and train a therapy dog. I’ve seen first-hand what service animals can do. I’m including all of Sheri’s pictures here on the blog for two reasons, first, they show the amazing bond between child and animal, second because these dogs train long and hard to do what they do, and they do it for a treat, a toy, or a pat on the head. The definition of unconditional love.