Thursday, February 24, 2005

Gustav: Lost and Found...

Two days ago, Vanessa and I had a bit of a scare. Monday night at about 9:30, we had just finished closing up the school and were heading towards our car. Vanessa was waiting for Gustav to pee on his usual patch of grass by the intersection, and I went on ahead as I had no umbrella and it was raining hard. We usually unleash him so he can pee in relative privacy, and after he had finished his "business", Gustav for some reason thought he should hang out with me, and he darted after me before V could clip his leash on him. I turned to tell him to stay put, just in time to see a garbage truck roll over him. I can't describe what I was feeling when I saw that - I was horrified, to say the least. I was worried that Gustav was trapped underneath, so I jumped up on the truck and screamed at the drivers to stay put. They didn't understand, so I had to explain that they had just run over my dog. I then looked under the truck - no Gustav.

In the meantime, V saw him take off like a bat out of hell. She ran after him, but lost him after running a couple of blocks. I had no idea where either of them were, until I saw V's dropped umbrella halfway down the street. We finally met up, and looked around, with no success. I was wearing glasses which were of very little use in the pouring rain and I had no rain jacket, so I got wet and cold pretty fast. I called my good friend Sandy, and he put out the call to arms on the Internet. (God bless you Sandy!) Within minutes, calls came pouring in with offers of assistance. Vanessa drove back home to get raingear, flashlights, batteries for my phone and contact lenses. By the time she was back, we had almost twenty volunteers out looking. What an incredible thing! I was amazed, and moved.

Just after midnight, I was out walking along the side of Heping East Road, next to a parking lot, and I called out for the thousandth time that evening, "Gustav - come!" He answered with a short bark. He was inside the fenced-in lot, and there was no way for him to get out. I hopped the chain link fence, and was welcomed by a wet, slightly cut, somewhat bruised, and very messed up Labrador Retriever. His tail was wagging like crazy, and despite the cut on his face, he was licking mine. Pure elation, let me tell you! I called Vanessa first, and she was on the scene in a flash. Then the others got notified, and my good friend Michael Botti, who drove in to Taipei all the way from Yangmei, helped me lift Gustav back over the fence. V took him to the animal hospital where it was determined that he had no serious injuries. ~whew~

While V was doing that, I was back in my buxiban with the volunteer searchers. What a great bunch of folks! It goes without saying that I'm thankful almost beyond words for their help and concern. We drank hot coffee/cocoa and tea and dried off a bit, and then everyone headed home, heartened by the happy ending.

The value of the expat community here has again risen considerably in my estimation, which is saying something, because I have always felt it to be a great community. Last night proved it to me beyond any measure of doubt.

Today Gustav is sore - he's walking around like he got hit by a garbage truck, but he'll be ok. Vanessa has a sore knee - she ran so hard after him that she pulled something, and her knee is quite swollen today... Gustav also suffered the indiginity of a good shearing, as a lot of his fur was matted with tar and axle grease. That's ok, fur grows back. The important thing is he's safe and sound. He's going to have to get used to peeing while being leashed, however. I've learned my lesson!

It's already two days after the even, and I'm still feeling relieved. I'm a little shocked to realize how much I love that dog, and how much a part of the family he is. I know Vanessa feels the same way. She would have been inconsolable if the worst had happened. Thank God, we got off lightly.

From "Stray Dog", a regular poster and a good friend:
I was at home with three ladies last night when I got the call: The Seek is On! Like a surfer hearing that the surf is up, I abandoned my activities, grabbed my equipment, and headed out to the hunt. This was the night I had been training for my whole life.

I grew up playing hide-n-seek. Growing up as I did, the only grammar school boy on a council estate, it was a skill honed out of necessity—a means to survive. The watered-down version you see played around the world today is a faint echo of the tough version I was forced to play as a kid. In my neighborhood, it was called Run-away-N-Beat-‘I'm-Up. You had to hide. If you didn’t know how, you had to learn fast. Pain was a great teacher.

Memories of those days streamed through my mind like a bitter-sweet highlight video as I drove through the night to meet my fellow seekers. As I approached, the other competitors sized me up. They knew they were dealing with a pro. I said nothing, just giving a cursory nod before heading to H-N-S HQ for a briefing.

The rules were familiar: we were playing pro-H-N-S—just the way I like it. My poker face gave nothing away, but this was gonna be my night. The game was explained to all present: The hider, Gustav, a wily, dark-chocolate Lab, had already gone to ground with a considerable head start, cunningly propelling himself with the aid of a speeding garbage truck. A map was drawn on a whiteboard, showing point of impact and trajectory.

Several X’s marked potential hiding places—an aid I immediately despised, as this would only serve to help the less experiences seekers. I began sizing up my fellow competitors: as is the way in any Pro-H-N-S event, different seekers bring different tools for the job in hand. Some—traditionalists like myself—brought only a raincoat, a flashlight, and a passion to win; others brought trucks equipped with high-powered searchlights; ex-military types wore camouflage jackets and chose night-vision goggles as their weapons; those from more rural areas, strangely, came carrying pitchforks and roman candles—as the game began, they soon formed a mob and roamed the streets shouting “Burn him! Burn him!” Amateurs. They were never going to win. Some came carrying strange contraptions with flashing lights and buzzers. A few came with dogs. Some, obviously jocks, came sporting lycra shorts and wife-beater vests. One came driving what looked like a junk heap. It was like a scene from Wacky Racers.

As the rules meeting came to a close, some of the competitors began to form pairs or teams. I’m a purist; I was going alone. I jumped into my racing-green Opel Corsa and headed off to the far end of the playing field. The hunt was on, and my nostrils began to flare. I knew the game. I knew the hider. I knew his psychology. I headed to where he would have gone to ground, windows open to pick up a scent or a giveaway pant—and also to stop my windscreen fogging up for lack of air-con.

Reports were coming over the cell phone of other seekers’ progress. I laughed a knowing laugh as we were informed that some of the greener seekers, obviously out of practice since high school, had immediately begun searching in kitchen cupboards and laundry baskets. I maintained radio silence. I was giving nothing away. I parked the car at the east end of the hiding zone, and pulled out the flashlight from under the seat. I paused, momentarily running my fingers over the engraving at the base of the handle: “British Hide-N-Seek Champion 1999”. The best hide of my life. But now I was the seeker, and there would be no empathy for my prey. As I drove toward my quarry, I could hear the other seekers crying out the dog’s name. I was among peers; I had to respect the fact that some of my fellow finders had made the same assumptions as I.

I parked by the roadside, the car quietly ticking over. I closed the door and shone the light into the zone. A cat ran across the path; an owl hooted. On bended knee, I ran my fingers across the ground before putting them to my nose. It was a familiar smell. I ran a finger across my tongue. Cat piss! It means nothing to a non-seeker, but to me, this feline expulsion told a telling tale. The cat must have been disturbed by the dark-choc Lab. I was surely on the right track.

The smell of the dank night reminded me of the 1994 U.S. Open World H-N-S finals. The weather refused to let up, hampering my attempts to locate my prey. But a seeker never gives up until he corners his quarry. That’s what my father taught me. I returned to the UK as world champion. I had tried to put the trophy with all the others, but, as usual, I couldn’t find where I’d put them.

Some way in the distance, a fenced-off car park emerged from the darkness. I’m a dog, I’m hurt, and I’m cunning—if I’m gonna go to ground, this would be the place. My nostrils flared. I pawed the ground with my foot. I sensed fear. Crouching, I approached the chain-link fence and shone my light into the compound. “Gustav! Gustav!” Nothing. Nothing? How come? I knew this game better than anyone. This was certainly the place. The rules dictate that a light shone in the hider's general direction, accompanied by an announcement of his or her name, compels that hider to show himself to his captor—the victor of the game. But nothing came out of the shadows.

I knelt and surveyed the ground. The light from my torch lit up the glistening, telltale droplets of saliva laying tracks into the corner of the car park. It was Gustav. I was certain. But this was a clear violation of the rules. Could I be wrong? That was out of the question. I was born to Hide-N-Seek. He was here; I knew it. I began to smell a rat.

“Hey, there!”

It was one of the guys with a dog. I pulled away from my quarry.

“Hi,” I replied.

“Find anything?” he asked.

“Nothin’.” I looked him straight in the eyes.

“Well, good luck.” His statement lacked sincerity.

“You too.” His dog began to sniff at my legs. I backed off, pushing the dog’s muzzle away from my crotch.

Like a bobwhite quail feigning injury when the hidden nest is threatened, I drew the seeker away from the lot. I walked back to the car, my blood boiling at such a violation of tradition and gamesmanship. The dog was in there. I knew it. The dog knew I knew it. I knew the dog knew I knew it knew. And it certainly knew that I knew it knew I knew. I had no other recourse than to return to headquarters and file a report.

As I entered HQ, Penelope Pitstop and Rufus Ruffcut were analyzing the board, sporting hot mugs of coffees. I asked who was in charge, but they were giving nothing away. I looked around for an office, but only found a room with tiny toilets and pictures of Hello Kitty washing her hands. I decided to break one of my own rules. I called a fellow seeker.

“Hey, 914. Where’s the organizer?” I asked, not wanting to waste time with idle chitchat.

“He’s out here somewhere,” she responded, guardedly. “I think he . . . oh, wait! He's been found! The dog's been found! Gustav’s here!”

The words hit me like a bad bout of the flu. My head dizzying, I demanded to know: “Where was he? WHERE?”

“In a fenced-off car park.”

I slumped to the ground, numb at the news. All thoughts of proudly raising the H-N-S trophy began to evaporate from my mind.

“Who found him,” I muttered in a dejected whisper.


My eyes widened. My nostrils flared. The dog was out of the compound, but the cat was also out of the bag”

“That’s impossible! He can’t have found the dog!” I exclaimed.

“Why not?” 914, a newbie to the game, was oblivious to article 9.12 of the rules.

“Because Maoman is the organizer. It’s HIS dog!” I yelled.

Penelope and Rufus stared at me in seeming disbelief. They didn’t understand. They just seemed glad that the dog was found. They would never make it on the tough streets where I grew up.

Soon the room was filled with elated searchers. Moments later the dog was carried in, like a hunted deer hanging from a pole. Maoman entered, elated. I pushed past him, but not before spitting at his feet. I turned before I left.

“The H-N-S Association will be getting a full report from me about this.” I declared angrily. “You know the rules Maoman. We’ve met in competition before. Back in Paris, for the 1996 ‘Ide ‘n’ Sick All-Star Championships. You never forgave me for beating you then, did you? Yeah, you got the trophy today, but I’ll see to it you never seek in this town again!”

He smiled knowingly, and was obviously enjoying the moment. He said nothing. I turned to the other competitors.

“You know nothing. You’re all losers! How are we going to make Hide-n-Seek an Olympic sport when you condone this kind of . . . malpractice! We’ll never draw big H-N-S names to Taiwan if this is how you want to play the game. Do you think Lord Lucan would want anything to do with this appalling staining of the beautiful game?”

The crowd stood silent, except for Gustav who was now romping happily with Muttley.

“Well, one thing’s for sure, hide-n-seekers: You’ve lost me!” I waved my hand in a dramatic, salutary good-bye. “You will never see me again! This world seeking champion wants no part of this! Farewell.”

I turned and tried to slam the door behind me. How was I to know it was a sliding door? I stormed defiantly down the street. Then I stopped. I looked left. I looked right. I raised my torch to my ear and shone it all around. I repeated the action more frantically.

I had no choice. I returned and knocked quietly on the HQ door.

I cast my eyes to the ground. “Can you guys help me?” I asked in a hushed voice. “I can’t seem to find my car.”

Stray Dog
1999 British Hiding Champion—six years and still unfound

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