Family Stories

Lost Dogs and Mom & Pop Shops


We lost our dog the other day. He just never came back. It was completely traumatic, even for a non-dog person like me. But nothing will make you realize faster just how much of a dog person you have become than losing your dog.


That unconditional love gets under your skin.


We let Woody out the door in the morning for a simple pee; just like he has done every morning for the past two years. An hour later, Woody still wasn’t home.


“He’ll come home,” I said to my husband, who was frustrated and talking through his teeth because he needed to get to work. “He always does.” I had already left for the airport, confident that Woody would show up momentarily. And it’s true. If our other dog, Tucker, is a mama’s boy who sticks right near my ankles, Woody has the soul of a wanderer. He likes to take his own route. He is mellow and not a very good listener. He might turn when you call his name. He might not. He is a dog on his own time, and he likes to sniff and lick and check stuff out. My sister calls him aloof. If he was a human, he’d probably smoke lots of pot.


Hours later, Woody still hadn’t returned. Panic set in. But still, I assured my children, who had been out tearfully searching for him with the babysitter, that I was hopeful. I reminded them that well meaning neighbors had returned him on occasion when he was sniffing across the street at the school, or too close to the road. He isn’t the brightest pup in the dog house when it comes to cars.


Across our town, neighbors began to mobilize in that way neighbors do when wagons need to be circled and there is action that can be taken. My kids made posters with “big reward” and stapled them to telephone poles. Three of my girlfriends went to delis, the pharmacy and restaurants, places of business on the edges of our village to sound the alarm. Another friend took off to the town golf course with her dog, calling Woody’s name. How far could a little fluffy white dog get?


By nightfall my kids were panicked and I was in Nashville, ready to speak at a conference. Their pain was physically hurting me. My husband had left work early to drive the streets around our home. The groomer called, concerned. The kids called me crying. Alone in my hotel room I felt helpless and small. Unspoken between us all was the fact that there were frequently coyote sightings in our town. Woody was appetizer-size. When I closed my eyes to sleep I envisioned them circling, licking their chops with yellow eyes like the hyenas in “The Lion King” movie.


By day two, everyone was on the look out for the little white dog. But we had all come up empty. Coming back home from Nashville and walking into our one-dog house was sad. The kids were sad. The one dog was sad. We all tried to imagine what Woody was doing. How had he made it through the cold night? Had he?


At 6:30 the next morning when the phone rang, I just knew. He was found. A kind man had seen him chugging along on a highway overpass and stopped his truck to retrieve him. He’d wandered 8.6 miles away. As I sobbed into the phone and scribbled down the man’s information, I silently said a prayer of thanks. Woody’s good outcome would help shape my kid’s world view. It would mean that my words to them, about hope and about keeping the faith, which sounded so hollow yesterday, had proven me to be right. They could tell this story to their own kids some day, or use it to comfort another friend whose dog was lost.


Our journey to find Woody, however, had another interesting consequence. It reaffirmed my commitment to the importance of neighborhood; of supporting the local stores and merchants and businesses who make up a town.


My friend Karen, who had given up a morning to go into the businesses in the surrounding area, reported to me just how concerned the local shopkeepers were.


“Did they find the little white dog?” they’d ask her as she did her shopping or picked up a prescription. And the patrons would all look up hopefully, connected, for the moment, by one family’s overarching loss.


But here was the thing. When she went to the family-owned pharmacy and the paint store, the bagel shop, the book store and the deli, all of them eagerly encouraged her to post the notices.


In the giant chain stores, however, the big marquee pharmacy, the local Starbucks, the office store, there were “policies” in place about these notices. Sorry as the managers were to tell her no, and Karen could see it in their eyes, they had to stick to the rules.


I tend to shop local. I try to buy from the family store whenever I can. I’m willing to pay a few extra bucks to keep the small town stores and businesses alive in the face of so much national cookie cutter competition.


I like the fact that my local pharmacy has a salesman who always wants to talk to me about a homeopathic option, or that they will order anything for me—or ask if I want generic. I love the fact that my local bookstore owner, Patrick, knows when my book readings are and recommends an upcoming book he thinks I might like.


Losing Woody was scary and sad. But everything has an upside if you tip it just right. The way that my town and the shopkeepers in particular pulled together and offered their windows to help, it just renewed my conviction to community.


As I just put the polishing touches on this piece, the phone rang and the pharmacy was calling. “Was Woody found?” the lady at the other side of the line asked. “We’ve all been so worried.” It really does take a village.







  1. Corey Coolman

    March 9, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I found this post while searching for music videos. Thanks for sharing I’ll be back regularly.

  2. Wendy Love

    March 9, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Lee –

    That is just what I needed to read this morning! What a sweet heartwarming…and precious story about a little family treasure. I am so happy…it was a very happy ending! Thank you for sharing!


  3. Joan Beaudoin

    March 9, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Well, it’s not the children’s story I mentioned, but that can still come. I so enjoy reading your writing, find so many ways to connect even though I live alone and have never owned a dog. The connection to buying locally and being part of (and supporting) a community touched me – it’s what’s below the surface of the Woody story. It connects, to me, with my belief in smaller schools (retired teacher here) in which children spend more than 2 years – which is difficult in these times when it’s more fiscally responsible to have centralized K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8, and 9-12 configurations, even in smaller towns. In the end, we need to get to know each other, rely on each other, help each other…and in schools, that’s a difficult community to build when you’re only together for two years. Oh well – thanks for the opportunity to connect MY belief with your story! I must remember to check your blog more often – the Yellow Boat story resonated as well.

  4. Beth Gaffney

    March 9, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly. I also shop as local as I can. We go to a small health food store that is not part of a chain. I buy coffee from Mr. Bagel as my kids call him, I call him George. My pharmacist is Dan and he is at my small pharmacy. We live in a mid-size city–so feeling at home in a shop, where they know you by name is so warm. It is so needed in todays environment.

    I am glad for you and your family that you found Woody safe. There are great people out there who do the right thing. Another quality lesson to be learned.

    Have a wonderful Tuesday…thanks for sharing. 🙂

  5. Tina Harford

    March 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    One has to wonder if people would do the same if it weren’t a local celeb family, I really would like to believe they would. The great news is that woody is home and faith has been restored.

  6. Eli

    March 9, 2010 at 8:25 pm


    First of all, I’m so happy Woody returned after his Cheech and Chong vagabond vacation. And thanks for sharing your harrowing (though delightful) story. My family always had English Bulldogs, and I distinctly remember when our first one, the always regal and dignified, “”Little Ceaser,” first decided to waddle his way down Oakshire Drive in search of the great unknown. Like Woody, Ceaser always marched to the beat of his own drummer…forgetting his name, eating whole watermelons, and confusing his head for a battering ram. But unlike Woody, Little Ceaser’s drum always beat slowly, got winded, and passed out in a gassy snoring heap. After a few hours of panicked searching throughout the neighborhood, we got a call from a neighbor whose Pomeranian was tiring of Ceasar’s persistent company. We arrived to find our valiant king only a few doors down, exhausted and confused, fervently attempting to hump a tree stump.

    But I remember the walk back home and feeling an unmistakable sense of relief–our family member was back home. I am so happy you got your little guy back, and I had a very nice coffee with your older guy the other day.

    I hope you’re well, and please keep writing. It brightens my day.


  7. Catherine

    March 9, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    This is so beautiful!! Wow. I can imagine how you and your family must have felt…I had a dog for most of my life (I’m only 21) and you become so attached and it’s heartbreaking if something happens to them. I love the town you live in…my town in Vermont is like that, everyone knows everyone and everyone cares. I’m so glad you have such a good support group around you and your family!

  8. Dorian Mcclusky

    March 10, 2010 at 12:34 am

    I like the layout of your blog and I’m going to do the same thing for mine. Do you have any tips? Please PM ME on yahoo @ AmandaLovesYou702 6 6 2


    March 10, 2010 at 5:11 am

    LEE, so happy dog was found.


  10. Rebecca Lindenmeyr

    March 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Lee, this story really rings true to me about the value of cultivating community and also the increasing need to help children find hope in a world where they are so acutely aware of the enormous challenges they have inherited. Thanks for such a grounded and insightful story.

  11. Kathy Reilly Lee

    March 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Hi Lee,

    So glad you found your little buddy Woody! We just got a little white Bichon Frise names Jake for Maddie– he runs like the wind so we are always a split-second away from a bolt out the door. Glad you had a happy ending. Say hi to Bob…. Kathy and Erik Lee

  12. Susie

    March 10, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    You have an incredible way of making all of us feel apart of your village. So glad Woody was found.

  13. Deb Woerpel

    March 11, 2010 at 4:29 am

    Wonderful words! First – so happy for Woody and your family! As a former animal shelter employee, and now shelter volunteer, I know that this is not always the happy ending. And I agree completely about the need to be invested in one’s community, on all levels. Thank you, again, for your insight and wisdom.

  14. Lethan Candlish

    March 14, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Hello Lee Woodruff,

    This is Lethan Candlish, a brain injury survivor who saw you speak at the Nashville Brain Injury Association conference. We met briefly at the end of your book signing.

    I’m glad to hear about your found dog. I know that it is nerve racking to have any member of the family missing.

    I am a storyteller and I have looked at brain injury through the medium of story – I performed my piece at the last session of the Nashville conference. This piece looks at the stories of survivors as well as the stories of friends and family. I have created what I term a verbal collage of stories about Brain Injury.

    I am writing because I am interested in finding more ways to present this story with the world. I am continuing to work through Brain Injury support groups and through the National Brain Injury groups, but I was wondering if you could point toward where I might find funding to travel with this performance (being a recent graduate student, I can’t self fund a tour).

    If you would like to see some brief clips of the first performance of this piece, please visit the video section of my website:

    As a young performance artist seeking to raise national awareness of TBI, any information you could pass my way would be greatly appreciated.

    Once more, thank you for you discussion at the Nashville conference, and I’m glad to hear the good news about your pooch.

    All the best,
    Lethan Candlish

  15. Mari

    March 27, 2010 at 1:50 am

    Lee, I am amazed that you would be so irresponsible as to let your dog out to pee unfenced and unsupervised. I was hoping to see something abot posting flyers, offering rewards, calling pounds, putting an ad in the paper. Your laisse faire , hopeful attitude isn’t enough. This dog is counting on you to parent intelligently. The ending could easily have been different.

  16. Val

    March 29, 2010 at 2:57 am

    I love this, Lee…and you are right–it is SOOOO worth the wait!
    I had a tremendous blessing just this week, and my daughter is 20! She spent 8 months in Uganda last year, and her interpreter during her mission work was just her age, named Glory. Well, I get a chance to chat with this sweet Ugandan girl now and then on facebook chat, and I caught up with her just this week. As we were messaging back and forth, she said to me “Mum, Katy told me that if I ever have a problem, or need to talk to someone, YOU are the one I should talk to!”
    Well, in that moment, as I sat staring at the computer screen, I realized that my time had come–the waiting..the tears (yes, I cried many a time when my daughter was not so kind–just not in front of her)…the fruition of all the “Monk” moments that you mentioned. My daughter is such an amazing person, and I know yours must be too. We are privileged to get to see these complicated creatures grow into who they are going to be. It’s like an onion..when you are peeling it, it sure does sting the eyes! But fully cooked, it is a sweet and savory delight!
    It is SO worth the wait….

  17. Liz

    March 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Enjoyed this story, and like others said, it rings true to me too- When my children were growing up, with always had a big golden retriever- he was always with the kids, and sometimes, he too, went on an unexpected adventures- I remember driving around our neighborhood calling and looking for him with kids in the car- often neighbors would later call, saying they “had” him-
    The sense of community is something we can not take for granted- Even though both my children are young adults now- age 26 and 23, they grew up in a small town in CNY – not too far from Hamilton- and often reflect about how nice that was- growing up in a small town, it was safe, and everyone knew them and their parents and grandparents, and my daugter could even get a discount on her running shoes at the local shoe store- The have since both moved away from their small home town, saying they craved life in a bigger city- but I think their hometown roots will guide them for the rest of their lives…I often craved that myself, but did not act on it until recently… I am now that my children have had that as part of their childhood, along with the dog , messy as he was some times..

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