Kate Spicer: ‘I lost my dog and nearly lost my mind’

When author Kate Spicer’s rescue dog Wolfy went missing, she became a woman obsessed. Every hour was spent pounding the streets, drumming up celebrity support on social media and pursuing every sighting. But would her dogged determination pay off?

Kate Spicer
Gerrard Gethings

My mouth is open but no sound comes out. Every cell in my body screams. As I climb into the car I imagine that we have brought Wolfy with us and his little sleeping form is curled in the back, inside the old pink and white wool blanket. As I start the engine, I begin to cry, big open-jawed, slobbery, salivary bawling. This is the most acutely terrifying thing that has ever happened to me. I drive hunched over the wheel calling both verbally and telepathically, ‘Wolfy, please be OK. Wolfy, I am coming.’

We drive to meet my brother Will in the dark of North London and I’m hit by the massiveness of the city. The feeling of hope leaving my body is so strong, so visceral, it is dizzying. There are a billion hidden places and eight million human beings whose interest in the dog will be either nonexistent, possibly covetous, even murderous. The keening returns. This is hell.

‘How did he get out?’

‘Bay [Will’s daughter] opened the door. I told the kids not to open the door.’ His voice switches from stern to compassionate and defensive. ‘She’s only three, she was excited about Halloween.’

As we talk herds of kids dressed as ghosts and witches pass by trick or treating. Will has met several people over the past two hours who have seen Wolfy since he left the main road he bolted down – we patch together his movements, take separate streets and then the trail goes cold. I imagine Wolfy running deeper into an area I don’t know, further and further from home. I’m crouched on the kerb, crying and panicking, and my boyfriend Charlie can’t find any words to reassure.

Back at home the air is suffocating without a tail whipping it, without 16 claws ticking back and forth over the floorboards. The way he raised the energy and brought love, humour and fur into every room was vast. His absence is present, the empty spot by the wall in the hall where he comes to watch us cook, the indent on his favourite spot on the sofa.

There are things you have to do when you lose a dog. Partly for your own sanity, partly because it’s genuinely helpful. The first is to make an attention-grabbing poster. I also attach a photo of Wolfy to a tweet. ‘I’ve lost my beautiful dog. Last seen belting towards Finsbury Park. Please Twitter, and God if you’re there, help me find him.’

Kate with Wolfy today. Image: Gerrard Gethings

By 9am the following morning that tweet has been retweeted by Jeremy Clarkson and a thousand other times. Wolfy has also made it to the website Doglost.co.uk, a charity that calls on volunteers to help ramp up local interest in finding lost dogs and cats. Resuming my search, I bang on Will’s front door like I have so many times before and hear the erratic footsteps of a small person getting nearer. I do my usual thing and look through the letterbox shouting, ‘Aunty Kate!’ As I walk into the house, Bay looks up at me but says nothing. Any other time she would have run to the door and been there for hugs, kisses, silly voices and being picked up and turned upside down.

‘Bay,’ I put my arms out and she reluctantly lets me hold her. ‘I am not cross about Wolfy. Aunty Kate loves you and it’s not your fault.’ She nods and backs away with her eyes down. I caused this, I think. Will is cheerful but the dynamic is unfamiliar and strained. I have to find Wolfy. If I don’t, how will anything ever be normal again between us?

I walk through the streets, calling Wolfy’s name, putting posters through letterboxes and asking people if they have seen my dog. People are kind. ‘No, sorry, but good luck.’

Every retweet generates more people telling me that I am a terrible dog owner, that they hope I find him, that they are putting up posters and looking for him, or with news of sightings. Kay Burley, Ricky Gervais, Amanda Holden – the celebrity retweets are piling up but Jeremy’s fans are the easiest to spot, copying Jeremy in about seeing Wolfy in a kebab. They’re so desperate to impress him. I create a Find Wolfy Facebook page and pay to boost its first post. It soon has hundreds of followers. At any point in the day when I am not trudging the pavements of Finsbury Park looking for him, my neck is hunched over the screen. Every so often I hear the squeaky floorboard at the door to my study. That’s Wolfy – I hope he comes to his nest under my desk. I ready my toes for the wriggle under his smooth pink belly – breathing deep and pulling the tears back inside, I let the ghost of my dog leave the room.

Charlie calls on his way home from delivering flyers and putting up more posters. His voice is weary. In bed, his warm body is reassuring and I curve around his back.

Her ‘missing’ poster

‘I can’t stop thinking about him, it’s so painful,’ I say in a whimper.

‘I know. We can’t crack up, though. How was it down on the travellers’ site? Were they any help?’ I had been told that travellers love lurchers and might know something.

‘Singularly unsatisfying but I’m still going to try some of the North London sites.’

I lie on my back listening to the Wolfy-less silence. Don’t cry. Two hours later, I sit bolt upright, crying and choking on my breath, and now that I’m awake the tears turn to out-of-control bawling.

‘Get a grip, Kate.’

I hadn’t expected Charlie to be so cold. I get up and put on my grandmother’s old ragged Chinese dressing gown, snot still running down my face, and go to the dog’s nest under my desk and climb inside, covering myself in his blankets where I howl until I’m exhausted. Wrung out, I pull down my laptop, check Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Check, check, check. Soothe, soothe, soothe. Numb it all down to nothing but a blank sadness.

Every day we spend a lot of time discussing different theories about Wolfy’s whereabouts. I relay them on Twitter; Charlie deals with more tangible authorities and rescue centres. In between, we both work. Sometimes I cry; he doesn’t. With no sightings later than Sunday, the day after he ran away, we’re drifting further into the realms of the hypothetical. Or in my case, the metaphysical when I consult a psychic who says he’s with a man with a bad leg. I’m running out of money and I’ve put up the reward. ‘This is costing us a lot. I notice you’ve got another parking ticket,’ says Charlie.

‘Can we put a price on his life?’

‘Look, Kate, I feel as bad as you but I can’t help thinking it’s pointless to look any more. He is alive or dead and we may never find out which. To hunt on constantly is a kind of madness. We aren’t going to turn a corner one day and see him waiting for us with his waggy tail. He’s gone. He may well turn up but he may well not.

Gerrard Gethings

His tone is not uncaring, it is defeated, pragmatic and as close to tears as it gets with Charlie. The thing is, I don’t disagree with him. In solid, grounded moments, I know that hunting all over London is irrational. ‘But to do nothing is an impossible ask and there are people on there…’ I say, dipping my head towards the laptop. I have it open on Twitter, typing my latest post on Charlie’s plans to check the Parkland Walk, ’…who spend their free time searching for a dog they don’t even know, who don’t think we’re doing enough.’

‘This isn’t about them, we don’t even know them. It’s about you, me and Wolfy. We’re exhausting ourselves running around London. He’s an animal, Kate, not a child; they live and die by different laws. We have to expect that he may be gone for good.’

‘I want him back. Every minute he isn’t home I want to be out there looking for him.’

So I continue, walking daily round streets alone, following sightings sent to me on social media, distributing Lost Dog posters, stopping passers-by. Like a chugger or a politician, I am recruiting people to the cause. Charlie texts me: ‘Dog seen on Hampstead Heath again’ and inserts an emoji rolling its eyeballs. By the time I call him he is already jogging across the heath and talking to me with that mix of excitement and cynicism that only someone hunting for a dog will understand.

Nine days after Wolfy went missing, I start filling the streets around Will’s house with scents that could draw him back to me, tying our smelly socks to a cane that I drag along behind me. He’s near here. I know it. At 10.30am Charlie calls. Someone has rung him to say they have the dog. ‘It’s probably a con but I’m on my way there now. Do you want to come, too, and check it out with me.’ He gives me the address, a garage, no more than a mile from where I am now. My heart is beating so weirdly I am almost nauseous. The air is suddenly sharp and clean. I drop the stick, the socks, the Evian bottle full of pee [that Kate was planning to use to spread her scent].

The garage is in a series of railway arches and it’s not clear where we should go. There are Porsches everywhere, packed in small spaces like cattle in a truck. We walk to the back of the first arch to a reception desk with two suited ladies sitting by a telephone. I stand with my hands in my pockets turning over a small bone-shaped biscuit in my pocket. ‘You have our dog here. A man rang us.’

‘You’re here to see a man about a dog,’ says the elder of the two, cynical about our intentions.

‘No dogs here, you’ve got the wrong place.’ It’s a wind-up. I can’t take it. I should have known after all the hoaxes and false alarms.

Then a man emerges from a doorway leading to the next arch. ‘Yeah, come with me, I think it’s this way.’ Charlie and I follow. Over and over I turn the biscuit in my pocket.

We walk into a garage and turn left. There sitting in the corner with electric flex tied round his scuffed brown collar is a grubby, wide-eyed, polite shaggy lurcher. It is Wolfy.

The dog limps over and Charlie and I both fall to our knees. Wolfy burrows deep into my body, making tiny bleeping squeaks. I fold around him, my forehead on the top of his skull. He smells deeply, richly terrible. What is time now? I can’t feel it moving. I can only feel relief and love. I move back on my heels and Wolfy goes to Charlie, his whole emaciated body moving in a ripple of physical delight. After a few minutes Wolfy walks over to one of the guys in overalls and leans very firmly against his leg.

‘Did you find him?’ I ask.

‘Yeah,’ he is stroking the sides of the dog’s ears.

‘He’s saying thank-you to you.’ I want to bark, scream and cry with happiness.

Another of the mechanics says: ‘Don’t think we need to check whether they’re the owners. I’ve never seen a dog so happy.’

Wolfy is not strong enough to leap into the car, so Charlie puts his arms under his hindquarters and lifts him up. I climb in with him and he collapses down, using my thigh as a pillow. I pull the biscuit from my pocket. His mouth nuzzles it from my hand like he’s done a thousand times before, only this time the crunching is cautious. He has ravaged his mouth trying to chew through the steel fence of the railway line where the mechanic found him.

As we drive back to West London I call everyone to tell them the news. And while we wait at the vet I take a photo and share it to every corner of the social media we turned to for help. ‘Wolfy is found.’ The reams and reams of responses are overwhelming.

Back home, after a shower to wash off the dirt of Wolfy’s adventures, Charlie and I open a bottle of champagne. There’s no more fitting time to drink it.

This is an edited extract from Lost Dog by Kate Spicer, to be published by Ebury Press on 4 April, price £16.99. To order a copy for £13.59 until 7 April, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.