The Legend Of Pearl

An essay about Pearl, the free-roaming rescue dog.

By on May 2, 2017 | Comments

“Oh shit.” I was four-and-a-half hours into owning my first rescue dog when she slipped past my leg at the gate and stood in my driveway. For a second she hesitated, seemingly sizing me up. Then, in an instant, she turned and dashed down the road and into the Garden of the Gods, a 1,400-acre open space that is essentially my Colorado backyard. Instinctively, I ran after her, keeping pace about 20 yards behind and watching her slowly slip away. Full of adrenaline, I could sprint down trails in my local playground while Pearl simply went through the brush, bushwhack style. In the fading dusk of April 2, 2015, I stood on top of a ridge in a pair of jeans and Hokas, absolutely helpless to the fact that I’d adopted a dog and immediately lost her. My only task was to keep this desperate and lost dog safe and I was an absolute failure.

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Pearl on her day of adoption, before her escape. All photos courtesy of Tom Caughlan.

For the next nine hours straight, I pursued her on foot and by vehicle. When it got dark, I donned a headlamp. Cold, more layers. I stuffed my pockets with cold cuts, beef jerky, and packets of peanut butter. Anything I could think of to lure a dog back in. But, all I knew about Pearl–her pound name–is that she was a stray, from Corpus Christi, Texas, having only spent a couple of days at the Pikes Peak Humane Society, one of the busiest humane societies in the United States. Several hours earlier, I’d walked directly up to her holding pen, smitten with her unique looks and athletic frame, while an elderly volunteer told me, “Sometimes you can just tell when a dog is supposed to go home with you.” She slept on the front seat of my worn-out Subaru on the way to pick up a used crate to practice kennel training for the first several weeks. She fell asleep. I brought her home to the joy of my son and daughter who had lost their last dog to a genetic disease two years prior. My wife was less than overjoyed. I thought I could talk my way out of this one.

I did not find Pearl that night, the next day, or on any of the days to follow. I spent many of my runs retracing those initial sightings of her bolting off trail into the piñon, juniper, and prickly-pear cacti that make up the area. Friends would text that they’d seen her walking through their front yard and neighbors had seen her frequenting the local ranch around the chicken coop during their morning dog walks. I knew she had not gone far, and I hoped that she would soon be caught. 

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A sighting of Pearl while she was ‘lost.’ Or, rather, while she was seemingly choosing to roam.

For the next several months, I posted signs and practiced hyper-vigilance on my regular trail runs through the Garden of the Gods and beyond. I also had plenty of help from the Colorado Springs/Manitou Springs trail running collective, which simultaneously gave me unending amounts of shit for losing a dog while posting sentinel throughout the local hills. I became familiar with the sergeant of the local animal-control agency on a first-name basis and gained permission to rent a live trap to post throughout the foothills of my house. I baited this trap with Big Macs, raw beef liver, peanut butter, bacon, and I caught absolutely nothing. In disbelief, I routinely set the trap off with a trekking pole just to make sure it worked. My children started to doubt if Pearl actually existed.

Over the course of months, there would be flashes of hope. Pearl was seen on the mesa. Pearl was seen behind the elementary school. Employees at the local Domino’s Pizza were leaving out leftovers at night to feed the stray, scruffy looking enigma of a dog. I spent every run carrying a pack on with snacks inside, and my car was constantly stocked with cheap beef jerky. In June of 2015, I nearly hit her driving my car to the annual Ring the Peak group run held annually by the CRUD runners. A flash of her distinctive fur running across the road as I tried to take a sip of my coffee at 4 a.m. A month later, she sauntered past my car when I was taking my kids to a birthday party. Friends could get within 15 feet of her, only to have her skittishly sprint away at the last second. She was everywhere, petrified of humanity while at the same time seeming aloof and uncaring. She was wild.

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Another free-roaming Pearl sighting.

Come August of 2015, I’d had enough of being dog-less. I’d decided that I didn’t want to risk losing a dog ever again and I’d read a lot about the ‘velcro Vizsla breed.’ Looking at rescues led me to Beatrice, our three-yea-old Vizsla rescue. She has been everything I’ve ever wanted in a dog, attentive, inexhaustible in running upward of 20 trail miles with me on a regular basis, and a cuddle-bug indoors. Yet, I couldn’t get over this idea that Pearl was still out there, running free, seemingly truly in her element.

As months passed into years, Pearl had successfully made it through the winter… twice. She seemed to center on the mountain village of Manitou Springs, approximately two miles west of my home, as her preferred range. Correctly estimating the average citizen’s dog love in this area of the country is difficult, but let’s just say they’re rabid. Pearl had established a circuit of benevolent benefactors who’d tried to catch her at first, but settled instead for leaving food and water out for her when she would bolt away at the last minute. She started to appear rotund, chiding me with her absolute ability to survive despite the conditions. I started to resign myself to the fact that she was more than likely a Manitou community dog, and I fantasized that she was keeping company with a lonely old mountain recluse if only to relieve my guilt for losing her.

However, Pearl did underestimate the resiliency of my friends. Despite being interminable shit-givers most of the time, these men and women love dogs–to a fault. They would never let me live down losing a dog, nor could they rest on the laurels knowing a dog was out there in the cold. This is Colorado, the most dog-loving state, where the dog-to-human ratio is 2:1 for chrissake. About once a week I received texts around 7:30 a.m., Pearl’s witching hour, telling me of her latest sighting and how close one of them had gotten to catching her.

Pearl remained just out of arm’s reach for 22 months. On February 10, 2017, while out celebrating my 38th birthday with my wife at my favorite local brew pub, I received a text stating, “We found your number on Facebook and we think we have your dog.” Photo confirmation followed, and I rushed over to their home. Apparently, Pearl decided she’d been free long enough and followed their black lab in to the home and laid on the dog bed. It was only on her terms that she decided to live a domestic life.

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Pearl after returning home–and after three baths.

Pearl has been home for several months now and she seems to be absolutely relishing in domestication. Her Rumspringa over, she returned home healthy, happy, and fat, with her only injury being a dislocated toenail that healed poorly. Her running days seem mostly over, and a two-mile loop with her buddy, Beatrice, seems to be the best medicine. She has gotten progressively less skittish, only releasing the hark of a startled hound dog a couple of times daily, and she mostly just hogs the attention of anyone who is around her. While I’ll never really know what she was up to all this time, I continue to receive texts and messages from well-wishers wanting to know how she is doing, and telling me that they fed her for a time. For the help from these neighbors and friends, I am eternally grateful. Surely, she has decided to come home, to warmth and comfort, after witnessing hundreds of dogs having relationships with their people in the houses that dot these hills. We humans must not always look so bad on the outside, all the time.

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A now-domestic Pearl surveying her kingdom.

In a way, I am satisfied that Pearl had her time to roam free, and to ultimately decide to live a life with people and other dogs. While she had to have been scared, at least at times, she also gave off an aloof, even cavalier, air when she was seen roaming. Seemingly to say, “I don’t need you.” It is with a similar resolve, I think, that many of us leave civilization and the modern world behind, as much as possible, to disappear in the mountains and to experience self-sufficiency and frailty… simultaneously. To be confident and scared at the same time. To be absolutely wild.

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Pearl now seemingly happy as a domestic dog again.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you heard of the legend that is Pearl previously? Or did you get a glimpse of her during her nearly two years of roaming the hills around Manitou and Colorado Springs?
  • Have you ever heard of another pet with roaming tendencies like Pearl’s?
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Pearl at home, after choosing to be home.

Tom Caughlan

Tom Caughlan is a part of the iRunFar gear review team. Tom has been testing and reviewing trail running shoes and gear for over 10 years. Based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Tom has been running since middle school and enjoyed competing in college for the University of Michigan. Tom is a psychotherapist by trade and works for the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.