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STEINBERG: When dogs disappear, they take a piece of our hearts

Sisters Ella and Dalya, left, are happy to have Teddy, center, home, held by their mother, Catherine, along with their other dog, Barnaby. | Neil Steinberg for the Sun-Times

Where do lost dogs go?

What lonely roads do they travel? What hardships endure?

Teddy is a mixed breed poodle who came to live with the Barrons in Northbrook. When they got him in early November, Teddy had already seen his share of woe — rescued from a breeder, he had never been outside the barn where he lived. The Barrons adopted him from a shelter to be a companion to their dog Barnaby. Teddy was timid. He startled easily.

On Nov. 27, Dalya Barron, 7, came home from school and walked Teddy. All it took was a loud noise — a roofer’s nail gun — to set Teddy running. He pulled the 2nd grader to the ground, she let go of the leash.

Teddy was gone.

The search started immediately. Dalya’s mother Catherine Barron started going door to door. When she finished that first day, she looked at her Fitbit: she had walked 15 miles.

Her husband, Dani, printed up 500 fliers, and they stuck them everywhere. Northbrook, Glenview, Highland Park.

Such publicity is considered key to getting your dog back, but there is a downside.

“With my cellphone number everywhere, we got pranked,” Catherine said. “Someone told us they found her; they didn’t. Another person told me they heard a coyote eating something in their yard and if I wanted to come and see if it was Teddy I could. A lot of weirdness.”

Even without the malice of strangers, losing a dog is traumatic.

“Oh my God,” said Susan Taney, director of Lost Dogs Illinois, which helps unite thousands of missing pets with their owners every year. “It’s a loved family member. It’s your baby. You’re desperate.”

The Barrons struggled with the absence.

“The day after we lost him, when I was walking at school, I was sorta crying, sort of not crying,” said Dalya, who felt the weight of losing Teddy. “All my friends were like, ‘What happened?’ I couldn’t even talk.”

At first they were hopeful. The beginning of December was mild, in the 50s. But the month wore on, and it started getting cold. Fellow dog owners went on patrol, searching. Every time I heard a dog bark, I’d drift over in that direction, looking for Teddy.

It got colder and colder. Neighbors traded speculation: maybe a coyote got him. We have coyotes, scruffy, yellow-eyed creatures padding their way hungrily through the backyards.

Cold weather really hit. The teens. Single digits. The posters with Teddy’s photo flapped forlornly in the killing wind.

“About three or four weeks, we thought: ‘What are the odds?”’ said Dani.

Dec. 27, exactly one month after Teddy disappeared, the temperature was 5 degrees. A few of the Herbst boys were looking to pass the time on Christmas break.

“What’s more fun that hitting stuff with hammers?” observed Max Herbst, 12. “There’s a creek by our house, that was completely frozen over. So we just go chip away.”

With him was his brother Patrick, 14, and their friend Reese Marquez, 12.

“Look, there’s a dog,” said Reese, who remembered the posters. “That’s the lost dog.”

They approached Teddy, who weakly tried to flee.

“He walked away from us onto the creek,” said Reese. “We didn’t want the ice to break. We carefully walked. He finally sat down and waited for us to come to him. Max picked him up.”

“He was shaking a ton,” said Max.

The boys took off their coats and covered the dog.

“I thought we should probably get him inside,” said Patrick.

A happy ending to a missing dog story. From left, Ella and Dalya Barron, their mother Catherine, holding Teddy (left) and Barnaby, plus the three boys who found him, Reese Marquz, Patrick and Max Herbst. | Neil Steinberg for the Sun-Times

They did. A call was placed. Catherine Barron started screaming. They hurried over.

“Total shock, total joy,” said the boys’ mother, Leslie Herbst, describing the reunion.

Teddy had gone from 24 to 14 pounds.

“You could see his spine,” said Dani. “Like a skeleton.”

Since then, Teddy’s putting on weight, and perhaps learned a lesson.

“He’s just become a different dog,” said Ella. “Before he got lost, he wouldn’t approach anyone, barked at everyone. But now we’ve got him back, he’s become more friendly, better with people.”

“The weirdest part of this whole thing is, in one month, nobody saw him, in densely populated Northbrook, there was not one sighting,” said Catherine Barron. “He somehow managed to stay out of everybody’s view.”

Which returns to our original question: Where do lost dogs go?