The Day I Lost – and Found – Conall

Friday, July 10, 2020. I awoke at 6:30 am to the sound of birds singing, ushering in the day along with the rising sun. I looked outside. Clear skies. A thunderstorm had moved through overnight, waking me up, dropping a bit of rain, but by daybreak the weather was perfect.

On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, the boys and I ran trails. I hadn’t planned another run for Friday as I didn’t want Finn to overdo. But, given the perfect running conditions and the boys’ eagerness, I decided we’d go for an easy-paced five mile run in the forest close to the house.

Concerned about the free-ranging cattle now grazing in the forest (Finn likes to chase the skittish yearlings), I initially drove three miles up to a spot along a Forest Service road that is one of our regular places to run and walk in summer. Shady, cool, with water sources for the boys, the smooth, mostly-dirt surface with some small gravel is also nice underfoot, a rare find. Generally there are fewer cattle roaming there.

Alas, when we arrived, I saw that the Forest Service had graded our favorite road along with the main access road in preparation for logging. They’re removing dead fir trees decimated by beetles and other bugs to reduce fire hazard as well as spread of bugs, so I can’t complain about the logging despite the disruption it will cause this summer. Unfortunately, though, the Forest Service throws really large “gravel” onto the graded dirt surface so that the heavy logging trucks don’t create ruts or otherwise damage the underlying dirt road bed. The rocks comprising this gravel are anywhere from cherry to orange size. Big. They’re obnoxious to drive over in a standard vehicle, and a non-starter for walking or running. I almost cried when I realized one of our favorite stretches of road has been ruined for us for the foreseeable future.

I turned around – watched by four cattle enjoying two salt licks tossed out where I otherwise would have parked, getting the boys riled up – and headed back down to another of our usual access points, this one blocked by a gate and closed to motorized vehicles after being used for logging and a gravel pit long before I arrived in 2005. I figured we’d see cattle, so I was alert and ready to leash Finn if/when we did.

Parking just below the gate, the boys and I started running at about 7:30 am. The forest was peaceful, the temperature still nice and cool, and the sun was breaking through the trees from the ridges to the east. Our route was an out-and-back, going 2.5 miles north on an old spur road to its end and returning. This old road is relatively level, cutting across the face of a long, steep forested hillside. In early June the boys and I hiked here and, on that morning, for the first time in over a decade, I decided to push past our usual turnaround point at about two miles in, where the route briefly becomes very overgrown. Even though wildlife and cattle have created a faint path through this thicket of saplings and bent trees, for me, forging through required lots of pushing tree limbs aside or stooping to go under them, and climbing over the occasional fallen tree. At the far side of that bushwhacking section, though, we found a creek where the boys can drink, and the wildflowers were abundant. Beyond the creek we followed faint tracks on the old spur road for another half mile to its true end. That last half mile was so pretty, and quiet, that the bushwhacking was worth it. It felt like our own special world that no one else knew about.

With logging looming, and not knowing if this route would be “ruined” with heavy gravel as well, I thought the boys and I should run it while we still could.

Early in our run, Conall alerted to cattle on the spur road. I quickly leashed Finn, then we approached the cattle slowly. The two mama cows and their calves, spotting us, ran up into the trees, through the thick undergrowth, letting us pass. Safely by, I let Finn off leash again, relying on Conall to alert me to any more cattle, but we didn’t see any on the rest of the “out” portion of our run.

Right after we pushed through the overgrown section – me getting soaked as last night’s rain fell off the tree leaves whenever I pushed limbs aside – the boys had a drink in the creek. We then started running the last half mile to our turnaround point.

My left foot went into an old rodent hole and rolled forward and outward, painfully. I heard a snap. “Tendon,” I immediately thought.


A sharp pain ran through the upper, outside portion of my ankle. I had to make a choice: turn back immediately, or press on. I know from years of trail running experience that once you turn an ankle – a strain or sprain, not a break – you’d better keep moving because if you stop, even for a few minutes, the soft tissue around the ankle will instantly swell and you’ll have even more trouble moving on it. Turning back meant immediately navigating through the overgrown section again, over and under tree trunks and limbs. That wasn’t appealing because I would be moving slowly, with dicey footing, and might cause more damage to my ankle. I decided to continue running the last half mile to our turnaround, moving carefully but steadily to keep blood flowing through my ankle, preventing it from swelling. The first few walking steps were painful as I tested my ankle, but I started jogging and quickly it felt stable, the pain receding.

I’d made the right choice. Besides, the boys were having a blast and wanted to keep going. So did I.

As we trotted that last half mile, I remember thinking, “Well, good thing the weekend is here, when the boys and I stay off the trails and just walk the road in the valley.” In recent years, with the growing popularity of ATVs/UTVs, our bit of forest has become noisy and crowded with weekend warriors who need to twist throttles and hear engine exhaust to have fun. If we go into the forest at all on a weekend, we go very early in the morning. But now that the Forest Service has ruined one of our favorite places for those early walks and runs, it will be even easier to stay out on weekends. Besides, Conall had sported a slight limp in his right front leg the previous week. It had resolved and he was running normally and playfully this week, bouldering and showing off as always during our runs, but a couple days of short walks in the valley would do us all good now that I had strained my ankle.

That was me, trying to make lemonade from lemons. I didn’t realize, though, how much we would need some rest over the weekend, or that I wouldn’t be the only one leaving the forest that morning with an injury.

Cattle in the Forest

During the first half of our run I took several photos of the wild daisies growing in and alongside the old dirt road. I love seeing these wildflowers every summer.

wildflowers, forest
Running through the daisies on the out direction.

As the boys and I started our return leg of the run I took a few more photos of the scenery, then tucked my phone into my pack before pushing back through the wet, overgrown section again. Soon after we emerged from that second bushwhack and started running the spur road again, Conall noticed some cattle. I leashed Finn and we kept moving slowly toward them. This group of two adults and two calves initially ran ahead of us, along our path, Conall’s presence well behind them keeping them moving until finally they cut up into the trees and were quickly out of sight.

The thing about the cattle in the forest is you never know where you’ll see them. I have no idea how many are turned loose onto this particular allotment to graze for the summer, but I would guess a few hundred. They’re trucked in from lower elevation pastures in June and set loose onto the forest in small groups, spaced out over a couple of weeks. They quickly spread out, feeding, shitting and sleeping and doing it all over again the next day.

Usually I see the cattle in groups of four to eight. Most start their journey near this particular road. They slowly amble their way northeast toward a big lake eleven miles away. They go wherever they want, searching for food and water. Sometimes they follow Forest Service roads or well-worn paths they and wildlife have created, and ranchers put salt licks out for them in spots, but mostly they just wander as they munch on forest undergrowth, mooing loudly to each other. In an ideal world, these small groups include “seasoned” cattle who know the way to the lake and keep their group moving in the correct general direction to get to the lake, then guide them back along the same route on their return trip to their starting point where they’re taken off the forest and trucked back to lower elevations in autumn.

But this isn’t an ideal world, and some groups of cattle get “stuck” in the area near my subdivision, where the boys and I like to play in the forest. It’s frustrating and annoying because the ranchers who own these cattle? They couldn’t care less.

If I didn’t have a dog – Finn – who thinks he needs to chase anything running away from us, like black bears, deer, elk, squirrels, turkeys, grouse and cattle, I wouldn’t mind too much that there are cattle in the forest in summer. Conall doesn’t have the same urge to chase wildlife, especially if Finn isn’t with us. But Conall doesn’t like or trust cattle after regularly being taunted by the cattle in pastures alongside the road we regularly walk in the valley. He’s happy to “push” these forest cattle off our route and into the trees, but generally he doesn’t try to chase them like Finn wants to do.

dog, trees, cows
Conall alerting me to a cow and her calf grazing in the trees, July 4, 2020. This is the same spur road we ran on Friday, July 10, 2020.

Friday wasn’t my first rodeo with regard to cattle when the boys and I run in the forest. I know how both of my dogs react to cattle and wildlife in the forest. I’m on constant alert, especially for cattle. I rely on Conall’s body language to alert me to their presence – he often hears or sees them before I do – so I can leash Finn. But in a small number of cases, Finn – also watching Conall’s body language – is faster than I am.

Things Quickly Go Horribly Wrong.

My first mistake: after those four cattle left the road and disappeared into the trees, I let Finn off his leash.

Almost immediately, both dogs headed up the road at a quickened pace. I could tell they smelled or heard something worth finding, and I should have called Finn back and put him back on leash right then.

Ignoring that gut instinct to call Finn in that instant was my second mistake.

Next thing I knew, both dogs started running full out, up the road, egging each other on. A slight curve kept me from seeing exactly where – or how far – they ran.

I ran as fast as I could around the curve, hoping to see them on or near the road, having treed a squirrel.

But no. I saw…nothing. No sign of either dog.

I called, and called again. And again. More nothing, a hugely disconcerting nothing. Conall, especially, rarely leaves my sight. And yes, the undergrowth is thick now, in summer, so I can’t see far through the trees, but that same undergrowth should cause a lot of discernible movement and noise if the boys are chasing something through it. I always hear the crashing of large ungulates – elk, deer, cattle – if they’re running through the undergrowth to get away from us, even if I can’t always see them.

The only sound I could hear was song birds in the trees. It was otherwise eerily quiet.

I had no idea if the boys saw cattle, or a deer or elk? The latter would be far more enticing to them to chase, and to chase farther off road, especially Finn.

If they did see cattle – the most likely scenario, I thought – history suggested neither dog would go far from the road. The cattle are far better at crashing through the undergrowth and can easily get away. Finn’s short; he would quickly lose sight of anything he tried to chase.

But my dogs were nowhere to be seen. They weren’t on the road, which straightened out so I could see a significant distance. Nor could I hear them, anywhere. Just the damn birds singing as if everything’s fine. In their world, maybe, but nothing was fine in mine.

I called the boys’ names, over and over again.

“Finn, Conall, come! Finn! Conall!

Fear creeping into my voice made me sound angry as I shouted their names. I tried to sound happier as I kept calling.

Standing on the edge of the road looking down a steep slope, I heard what sounded like branches scratching on one of the dogs’ orange vests, several yards away. I called, and I looked, but I couldn’t see any orange or any movement of foliage. I heard the sound once more, briefly, moving down slope, then nothing. It could have been cattle moving through the undergrowth. I heard cattle – clearly quite upset – mooing to each other even farther down the slope. Were they upset because my dogs had chased them?

I convinced myself that if either dog was hurt, I would have heard a yelp or a howl. Even a growl or a bark if they were face-to-face with an angry cow or other animal and afraid to turn their back on it to return to me.

Calm down, calm down. Think.

I didn’t want to leave that spot, where I thought they left the road, because I know that dogs typically return to the same spot where they go off a trail. Eventually.

While it seemed like hours, within a few minutes Finn appeared on the road up ahead, not too far from where I heard that scratching sound. Was it Finn I heard? I don’t know if Finn came from below the road or above it. And honestly? I was expecting Conall to come back first. Finn’s the one that will chase deer well off trail if given the chance while Conall stays close to me, which is why I always leash Finn when we see cattle or wildlife while usually allowing Conall – who listens so much better – to remain off leash.

Okay, one dog safe. But where the hell is Conall?

I felt panic rise in my chest, my heart beating faster. Nothing about this scenario – especially after Finn came back – made sense. Conall is the ultimate pack dog; he always makes sure his “pack” – me, Finn, and anyone else who’s with us – is in sight and accounted for. He gets very upset when someone leaves the pack. I’ve never known him to separate visually from both me and Finn when we’re in the forest.

My gut told me that Conall was either seriously hurt, unconscious even, or dead. That’s the only reason I could imagine he wouldn’t return with Finn, the only explanation for why I never heard a howl, cry, growl or any other sound from him, why the forest was so horribly quiet. Conall has an unerring sense of direction and excellent hearing; he would respond to my constant calls if he could.

Horrible scenarios flashed through my mind: a cow, deer or elk kicked him in the head; he became impaled on a downed tree’s branch as he crashed blindly through the underbrush; he fell off a hidden cliff. Too many of these scenarios resulted in a seriously injured or dead dog.

Stay calm. Think. I have to find him. Where is he?


A few stressful experiences over the years with “lost” dogs belonging to friends have taught me that when a dog goes off trail chasing after something, they usually follow their own scent back. It can be an agonizing wait, but to leave that spot before they make their way back might mean you actually do lose them.

Alternatively, sometimes they return to the trailhead/car. One friend’s young Golden retriever did that to us twice; chased after something, disappearing down the mountain, leaving us searching the last place we saw him, only to be waiting for us several miles away at the car. (I was relieved when she admitted she shouldn’t bring her dog on our runs.)

All of those memories flashed through my mind. Finn had returned to the trail where he’d presumably left it, but where was Conall? Shouldn’t he come back the same way?

My instinct was to search down slope where I heard that scratching sound earlier, near where Finn reappeared on the road. Maybe Conall was immobilized in the shrubs and trees and physically couldn’t get back to the road. But if his vest caught on a tree limb, trapping him, he’d be crying for help by now. If he were alive.

I’m so glad I inherited my test pilot father’s ability to remain calm under stress because I was really feeling the stress at this point.

Finn is hopeless when it comes to searching for anything other than his favorite toy in the house. He’s in good shape, but could I rely on him to help me find Conall by following his nose or ears? No. But I could rely on him to stay close to me as I searched.

Finn and I dropped off the road, down into the undergrowth, searching. I was surprised at how easy it was to move through this forest in summer when there’s so much new growth. I noticed wildlife and cattle paths winding around trees and shrubs and I followed them when I could. Occasionally I slipped on loose soil and branches, or had to scramble over a downed tree. Finn was right with me, although I don’t think he understood what we were doing. Just another fun activity for him.

Wearing capri-length running tights and a short-sleeved shirt, I was grateful I didn’t have to worry about poisonous snakes or stinging plants as I pushed aside shrubs. My ankle protested at the uneven footing, but I ignored it. I called Conall’s name every few seconds. I tried to stifle the thought that I might have lost Conall for good.

Be strong. Stay positive. Keep looking. Find him.

As much as my fear took my mind to dark scenarios, I also told myself that if Conall was dead, I would instantly know. I would have felt it. That’s how strong our connection is. Sounds all new-age and woo-woo, I realize. But when my father died, I knew the exact moment, even though he was in an ambulance on the way to a hospital and I was stuck in traffic trying to get to him. I just…knew, as an overwhelming sense of loss flowed through me. I looked at the clock on my car dash, and later, I was able to verify the timing of that feeling with his time of death.

I set aside the thought that Conall was dead as best I could. He’s alive. Keep looking.

Pushing through the undergrowth, I willed myself to spot a flash of bright orange vest through the foliage. I didn’t.

My practical self noted that the day would soon grow hot. Finn needed water, as would Conall if I found him alive. I wasn’t carrying any water on this short run. After a lengthy internal debate, I decided to run back to the car with Finn, hoping that Conall would be waiting for us there. If not, I would drive Finn home, just two miles away, and quickly call the Forest Service and a couple neighbors for help before returning to search again. I knew that if Conall was injured, or if I found his body, at 100 pounds I couldn’t move him by myself. I would need help. And if someone from the Forest Service could unlock the gate where I’d parked, that would make it much easier to come back to this spot quickly, with help, to search where I’d last seen Conall.

Okay. I’ve got a plan. A plan provides focus and hope.

From the road I made a mental visual note of the location I’d heard that scratching sound – a tall, dead fir tree over there; lots of buckwheat flowers nearby, so pretty in the morning sunlight that on any other day I would have taken a photo – so that I could return to that exact spot. I resolved that whatever it took, I would find Conall. I would not leave the forest a second time until I found him.

I never checked my watch as all this played out. I have no idea how much time transpired while I called out for Conall, waiting, or as Finn and I searched along the slope below the road. It felt like forever, but I later realized it was probably 30 minutes.

Conall had never disappeared before. This was all so scarily new.

My emotions were at war. Stay, or go get help? I was reluctant to leave the area, in case Conall was making his way back to the road we were on, or was injured nearby. But if the latter, I needed help to find and move him.

I convinced myself that if Conall were fine, he would already have returned to me. I shouldn’t wait any longer to find help.

Seeking Help

Finn and I ran the remaining two miles back to the car. I called Conall’s name every few seconds the entire way. My hopeful self envisioned Conall waiting for us beside the car.

He wasn’t.

Finn and I drove the two miles home, where I have wi-fi cell phone reception. (There’s no cell signal where we were running, nor at my house for that matter.) I started placing calls for help. Neither neighbor I called answered. I felt rushed, because I wanted to get back up into the forest as quickly as I could, to continue looking while Finn remained safely at home. Placing these calls, leaving messages, I heard the despair in my voice.

The pandemic has made communicating with the Forest Service by phone challenging. No one answers the main number; you have to leave a voice mail, try another number and leave another voice mail. Everyone’s working from home. After several dead ends, leaving some quavering voice mails, I finally got a cell phone number for the person handling the local ranger district’s calls from her home.

I thought I was doing well handling the stress of losing Conall until I explained my predicament to that kind woman. “I don’t know if he’s lost, injured, or maybe…,” I explained, unable to bring myself to say the word “dead.” She understood and immediately started to see if someone could unlock the gate for me.

By some wonderful twist of fate, while I was speaking to her and she was typing an email to the district ranger who was also working from home, he – the ranger – was getting a text from one of his employees out in that section of forest about spotting a “big fluffy dog.”

It had to be Conall.

The ranger, Jeremy – also a runner who has a dog and with whom I have a good working relationship – called me directly and told me what he knew. “Did the dog have an orange vest?” I asked him. “Yes,” Jeremy responded, adding, “Mark says he’s howling, pacing, obviously distressed.” I was so relieved I didn’t ask a lot of questions. Jeremy didn’t know exactly where Mark spotted Conall, just from a road somewhere on that slope, but I got the sense it was higher up the mountain than where we’d been running. “I’ll get in my car and drive up there right away to look for Mark,” I told Jeremy, who said he’d ask Mark to see if he could get a hold of Conall in the meantime. After spelling Conall’s name and assuring Jeremy that he’s very friendly, and thanking him profusely for helping, I hung up and jumped in my car.

My new plan was to drive back up into the forest on the main access road until I found Mark, find out where he saw Conall, and go from there. Jeremy would let Mark know I was coming.

As I drove past the turn off to the gate where I had parked earlier that morning, just 1.5 miles up in the forest, I turned my head to look at the gate and saw…orange! A brief flash of orange! I hit the brakes, backed up, and there was Conall, sitting a few yards beyond the gate, neck stretched, mouth open to the sky, letting out a long, mournful howl.

I’ve never seen a happier, more welcome sight.

I backed up some more, then turned and drove up to our usual parking spot below the gate. Conall watched me warily, not moving, as if he didn’t recognize it was our vehicle.

forest road and gate
Conall waiting anxiously beyond the gate as I drove up, photo shot through my windshield.

I parked and got out. Conall recognized me and came around the gate, tail swaying low, ears back in happy submission, almost as if embarrassed. He let me welcome him in a close embrace. Having gotten pretty wet during his ordeal in the foliage, he stunk from a direct skunk hit a couple weeks ago, but I couldn’t have cared less. He was in my arms.

Safe. Sound. Alive.

Conall happily jumped into the car. I poured fresh water into the dogs’ bowl and he drank. And drank. His ordeal made him thirsty.

Oh, to be able to talk with that dog! I wanted to know where he’d been! Why couldn’t he find me and Finn? Had he returned to the gate just after we’d driven away? Did he hear us leaving? Was he terrified, thinking we’d abandoned him? Is that why he was howling?

Relieved to find Conall safe, I decided to continue driving up into the forest to find Mark, to thank him personally for spotting Conall and relaying that information to his supervisor. I wanted him to know we’d been reunited. A half mile farther up the road I saw a Forest Service vehicle coming down. We stopped beside each other, rolled down our windows, and established who we were and that Conall was now safe. I realized Mark was returning to where he’d seen Conall, at the gate, after Jeremy told him I was heading up.

Mark said Conall had been pacing and howling every couple of minutes when he saw him. I don’t know if Mark tried to approach Conall when he first noticed him. And I honestly don’t know if Conall would willingly approach let alone go anywhere with a stranger. I don’t think he would; he’d be too scared. At any rate, I’m grateful Mark thought to mention seeing the big fluffy dog to Jeremy as he drove up into the forest to start his day’s work.

I must have said thank you to Mark thirty times.

After a last thank you, Mark continued driving down the road. I had to go uphill to find a place to turn around. Eventually, just before exiting the forest, I saw Mark’s vehicle pulled off the side of the road. He was standing nearby and walked toward the road when he saw me approaching, so I stopped. (This is when I noticed Mark is a fit and handsome guy, not all that much younger than me.) I thanked him yet again. “Is he a Malamute?” Mark asked. “He seemed small.” I assured him Conall is indeed a Malamute – internally thinking, He’s not small; he weighs 100 pounds! – and asked if he’d like to meet Conall. Mark nodded yes, so I let Conall out of the car to thank his rescuer in dog/person.

That’s when Mark and I both noticed Conall was limping, favoring the same right front leg as the previous week. Mark mentioned the newly graveled road probably didn’t feel good to his feet. Rather than explain that wasn’t the cause, that we had run on a much smoother, older road without gravel, I simply said, “It’s been a rough day.” I was too tired to get into explanations that didn’t matter.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Back at the house, Finn enthusiastically greeted me and Conall, a happy reunion for all. Such a relief.

I called Jeremy with the good news and thanked him for his help, and for Mark’s as well. He was happy to hear the good news.

I showered the dirt and sweat off of me. After, I ate my usual post-run sandwich. That when I noticed that Conall’s limp was more pronounced. Severe, even. I couldn’t tell if it was his shoulder, elbow, or wrist/foot. His shoulder, I think. But it was clear that the earlier injury had been exacerbated. Conall didn’t complain when I massaged and squeezed, making sure there were no lumps or scrapes, but he didn’t want to put much weight on that leg. I gave him a dose of Rimadyl, left over from his anal gland surgery back in March. Then we all took a well-deserved nap.

That morning’s unusual and intense stress had been heaped onto all of the work- and life-related stressors of the past few months. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.

A tired and dirty Conall resting at home after his “walkabout.”

I had also noticed that Conall was far dirtier – especially his belly and legs – than he would normally have been on that route.

Where had he gone? And why?

That will have to remain a mystery.

Oh, if only our dogs could tell us their tales.

Lessons Learned

The knowledge that Conall knows this area of forest intimately was one of my few comforts during the ordeal. I knew he’d know where he was, and where I might likely be, which is why I was determined to go back up to the gated road to search for him as quickly as I could. I didn’t think he would wander aimlessly, or leave the area. My worst fears were that he was injured – or dead – and couldn’t make his way to a place where I could find him, or that someone would steal him.

The entire episode lasted about an hour. Conall made it back to the gate even sooner. I was impatient. If there’s ever another disappearance I will wait longer, practicing patience. But I don’t think there will be. I’m betting Conall never lets me out of his sight again.

I know many who read this account will chastise me for allowing my dogs to be off leash in the forest, pointing out that if they were always on-leash they couldn’t get chase wildlife, go off trail and get lost.

But here’s the thing.

It’s legal for dogs to be off-leash in this national forest. So there’s that.

But I also believe in living life fully, taking calculated risks. Always playing it safe isn’t living, in my opinion. Some people are drawn to mountain or rock climbing, running rapids, parachuting or other risky activities. I’m drawn to trail running, which is risky only because it’s often remote.

Turns out my dogs also love trail running. From the moment I got them, we trained to run trails responsibly, together.

Rain-soaked daisies along the trail, July 10, 2020.

My goal with my dogs is to give them the best possible life, to allow them to do the activities they love, what they’re designed to do, in a reasonably safe way. Ever trip into the forest is a training session, me bonding with them. We worked hard, gaining skill and trust incrementally, before I let them off leash in the forest. The boys and I share the same risks when we’re out there, risks that are minimized with all that training (and lots of treats), experience, and awareness. We’re a pack; we have the others’ backs. I’ve been running/hiking in forests with my dogs off leash since 1990 without incident. Well, except for skunk encounters.

Honestly, in our current pack, I’m the weakest link. I’m the one who trips and falls, gets scrapes and bruises, or turns an ankle.

Can something go wrong with one of the dogs? Of course. Conall’s brief disappearance proves that. But statistically, lost dogs are reunited with their people 93% of the time. A generalized fear that something might go wrong is no reason to assume my dogs will fall into that 7%, or to fear living our lives fully. Dogs are far more likely to be injured in a car accident than running trails off leash, yet people take their dogs on car rides without a second thought because their dogs enjoy it so much.

I wrote this long post in an effort to remember and review what happened that morning while it was fresh in my mind, to note and admit where I made errors and figure out how I can improve in the future.

The biggest mistake I made was not quickly leashing Finn the third time Conall alerted to something chase-worthy up ahead. I’d leashed Finn the first two times Conall alerted and everything was fine. I was too slow the third time. Conall wouldn’t have run off if Finn hadn’t lead the charge.

I can and will do better next time. We’ll keep doing what we love, running in the forest, of course, but in this particular section, until the cattle are gone, Finn will be on leash.


The day after losing and finding Conall in the forest, I celebrated Finn’s “gotcha” day. On July 11, 2008, I adopted Finn from a rescue in Idaho. He’s been my trail running companion for the past twelve years, and is still going strong.

With the help of the anti-inflammatory, Conall’s limp disappeared the next day (Saturday). In fact, he was dashing about the yard Saturday evening, trying to entice Finn into a game a chase. But without a dose this morning (Sunday), the limp – while much less – returned. So, more meds and rest on the schedule for Conall, but he’s moving well this evening.

My ankle has minor swelling and bruising. Likely a stretched tendon. It’s a little painful to walk on, especially when I get out of bed, but whatever snapped or popped when I stepped in that rodent hole didn’t cause as much damage as I feared. It will heal quickly.

After a little time off for rest and repair, we’ll all three return to our happy place: mountain trails. That’s where we do our best living, even if some days are a little more – ahem – exciting than others. As my father always advised: get right back up on the horse.

Feature image: Finn and Conall in the daisies, early in our run, July 10, 2020.

27 thoughts on “The Day I Lost – and Found – Conall”

  1. Oh my what a scary story. I was panicking as I was reading along even though I knew things turned out right. I’m so relieved all ended well for all three of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my, that wait must have been agonizing! I used to have to beagles that were brothers and when they set off together, there was no stopping them. They just egged each other on, running faster and faster. I am sure they were having fun in the moment, but trying to catch them was hard! I am glad everyone is safe and sound and I hope the injuries continue to heal!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you understand, Robyn! When you’ve got two dogs, they egg each other on, becoming braver and more reckless together than either would be alone. A lot like teenagers, I guess 😉 In fact, when I’m running with just Conall, he’s a different dog altogether, staying much closer to me, never chasing anything, even squirrels, but still paying attention and alerting me to wildlife. But with Finn along? A different dynamic, with both of them more willing to take risks together. I’m far more relaxed with it’s just me and Conall running together.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my. This turned out to be quite a day for you. I could feel the anxiety and drama as this trip into the woods became more and more unreal. I am so happy you found your dog and everything turned out well. I felt like I was reading a book and I was anxious to get to the end to know that all was well.

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    1. Thanks, Peggy. It was a very long morning. I didn’t want to put readers though similar anxiety, so I chose a title that gave away the ending. If this story ends up as part of a book someday – and it might – I won’t give the ending away 😉

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  4. It’s great that the Forest Service was so responsive and helpful. It’s also reassuring to know that Conall knew to wait for you at the parking area, even though your car wasn’t there. He howled and you came–as a pack should–and he knew it was wrong to run away from the pack!

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    1. Yes, I’m a fan of our local Forest Service people! They are dedicated, friendly, good people, many of them trail runners and dog people, so we have that in common. And they put their lives on the line for the rest of us when there’s a forest fire, which happens regularly around here and is why there’s a smokejumper base nearby.

      I hadn’t thought about Conall’s howling as him calling for his pack (me, and Finn), but you’re right – I’m sure that’s exactly what he was doing! I just hope he remembers his ordeal and never lets me out of his sight again, even if Finn tempts him.

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  5. So glad he wasn’t hurt and he’s back gone safe and sound. Bad doggie for worrying your momma! Leashes are the age old question… while I love seeing animals running free there are definite drawbacks. Here it’s the neighbors golden chasing our visiting deer. I’m not a fan.

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    1. That’s just rude that your neighbor’s dog roams, chasing wildlife, including your deer. That would drive me nuts. Leashes are one thing; letting dogs roam away from home unsupervised is another, and I hate it. Happens here all too often. When I built my house, I also built a fenced yard. I got a lot of strange looks; I was the only homeowner in the subdivision to do that. It not only keeps my dogs safe, but it’s the neighborly thing to do, keeping one’s dogs from annoying neighbors and their animals (and leaving unwelcome, smelly piles of you-know-what).

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      1. The daughter walks him up the driveway every day to get the mail, and while he’s a sweet pooch, instinct takes over. He’s chased deer, ducks and woodchucks on our property. You hate to start a neighbor war, but the dog runs across our yard and barks at me to leave. That’s just rude.


      2. There’s that saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” That dog needs his own yard fence! If he weren’t a Golden that probably loves water, I’d say spray him with a garden hose next time he ventures onto your property.

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  6. I’m glad that I knew from the title that you found Conall because my heart was in my mouth as I read your account. I’m glad that all was well in the end, though I’d also like to know where he was and what he was up to during his disappearance!

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  7. Conall was calling YOU and wondering why YOU didn’t come when he called! I was about to cry when you didn’t find him and then when the ranger had heard him howling for you. Bear got loose once and Dusty and I were terrified. Fortunately, she wanted to find us and Dusty found her. It’s awful. It’s the worst thing. Molly used to run off and have adventures all the time but always found me. I wish she could have told me her experiences… I know she ran with coyotes from time to time.

    I used to let my dogs run off leash all the time. Now I wouldn’t. Why? Well, huskies (I had six over the years) have no loyalty to their person at all and they will run away. It’s a breed liability. We ran all the time; they were leashed. It was new for me to live with dogs like that, but I got used to it. I think a lot depends on how dependable a dog’s recall is.

    Bear would not come back — like huskies, livestock guardian dogs are born to wander. They come home, though, which is one big difference. These dogs are loyal and love their people, but it’s a big world out there. I could let Teddy run without a leash; he would come back, but he would also harass the animals at the wildlife refuge. In bear country, I leash my dogs because I don’t want them to bring a bear back to me. I never leashed them (except the huskies) in lion country. For me, now, leash/not leash depends on the dog, the circumstances and where we are.

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    1. Every dog’s personality is different, as is their bond with their person, and in my view, those two factors determine whether it’s (generally) safe to let them be off leash or not. I never venture out without leashes, but because of where I live and the dogs I live with, I rarely need them. When I lived just outside Seattle? My dogs were on leash 95% of the time unless (except dog parks). One of the reasons I moved to Idaho’s mountains, and love living here, is the ability to let my dogs be with me, off leash, in the forest.

      Pretty kooky for me to create an entire lifestyle around that one aspect, but it’s working for me/us 🙂

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  8. My God that is frightening. Thank you for the title or I would have had to scroll down when you lost him to make sure you found him. And our minds, they go right to the worst case scenario even as we attempt to stay calm. So glad your story ended this way.

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    1. I tried to avoid unnecessary alarm with the title!

      Yes, that morning was a reminder that if left unchecked our minds do go to the darkest, worst case scenario. I think I spent as much emotional energy keeping my thoughts in line as physical energy spent searching.

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  9. When I was a boy, my father took our dachshund for a walk a few miles into the woods. His name was Big Daddy because he was the biggest dachshund we’d ever seen. He was 35 lbs of ripped muscle on short little legs, a throwback to the time when they tackled badgers in their dens.

    When he got to where he was going to turn around, Big Daddy took off after something. Probably a rabbit. Hopefully not a skunk or porcupine. He called and looked for him for an hour and gave up as it was getting dark. When he got back to the car there was the dog, howling mournfully. So it happened that way. The dog figured it was time to go home but didn’t understand why master didn’t follow.

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  10. Wow! I was stressing out the whole time I was reading that! Losing one of my dogs on the trail is one of my biggest fears. For one, because it would be bad for them, and for two, it would be bad for me when my wife found out. I have a new trail fail story coming soon that includes a little jail break episode by Sawyer on the Appalachian Trail a few weeks ago. I’m currently editing some of the video I’ll be posting with it. Glad all of you are safe and sound now and I know you’ll be back up there soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose one upside of my situation is there’s no one else at home to blame me if one of the dogs is lost or hurt, but I’m hard enough on myself for two people! We’ve been out running trails since, including one very near where Conall went AWOL; I reminded myself that, as my father always advised, I needed to “get back up on the horse” and not avoid returning to the scene of the crime. The run was peaceful, fun, and no dogs went missing!

      Looking forward to your trail fail/Appalachian Trail story.


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