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I haven’t said anything about this for a while now, because I kept hoping there’d be a happy ending to the story. But after two weeks, that feels less and less likely.

For our big summer vacation this year, we went to Country Pond, a spot in New Hampshire where Courtney’s family has a house. We’ve been there before, and it’s one of those vacation destinations where it’s easy to bring the family dog with us. We’ve brought both Sherlock and Meatball along to Country Pond over the years without incident.

But this year, early on the morning of July 2, Meatball ran away.

Courtney let him outside to pee, something must have caught his nose, and he bolted. Immediately we set out to find him, fanning out in every direction. We walked, hiked, drove. We yelled and screamed his name. But no luck.

Every day for the rest of our trip we tried to find him. I went hiking in the woods and got eaten alive by every kind of insect that was hiding in the brush. We called every animal control and police department we could think of. We reached out to an amazing Facebook group whose sole purpose is helping lost animals find their way home. I organized search parties with some unbelievably kind people who were willing to give up their free time to help search and put up signs for Meatball.

And, in between all of this madness, we also tried to maintain some sense of normalcy by giving the kids a fun vacation.

After over a week of fruitless searches, we made the painful decision to head back to New York without Meatball. Then as we were driving back, we got a tip. Someone had heard a dog (that sounded like a beagle) barking incessantly, then they saw one of our signs and gave me a call. The kids were asleep and we were halfway home, but we turned around and went back to New Hampshire to investigate, hoping that our best and only lead might actually help us find our missing pup. Sadly, we once again came up empty handed.

The house feels empty without Meatball. We all miss him, but no one more than Grace. He was her doggy, and suddenly he’s not around for her to run up and hug. The other day, the very first thing she said to me when she woke up was, “I miss Meatball.” That felt like a punch in the heart. Sometimes she says that Meatball doesn’t know how to get home but the birds will help him. Who knows—maybe she’s right.

The way I see it, there are three possibilities:

1) Meatball is a far more resourceful pup than we realized and he’s living off the land, eating bunnies and drinking pond water, and trying to find his way back to a friendly face.

2) Someone picked him up and has decided to keep him. I don’t know why someone would do that, but he’s friendly enough to probably go along with it. If he’s being taken care of, I suppose that isn’t the worst thing.

3) He didn’t make it.

I’m fighting to keep some optimism because yes, the area he ran off in is remote, but there are plenty of people around. We have signs everywhere. Every dog catcher in the county has his picture. And he is microchipped, so we should get a call if someone turns him in. The Facebook page I mentioned earlier regularly has stories about dogs who have reunited with their people after weeks and months of being gone, so maybe that will happen with Meatball.

I truly hope so.