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He crawled through a hole in our fence; the one created by our former dog. The one we thought we had fixed.

The irony was not that Paco escaped using Andie’s old escape route, rather, it was that he bothered to use the hole at all. You see, the fence around our rectangular yard has been three-sided ever since we purposefully felled the two enormous pine trees that threatened to accidentally blow over onto our house.

Paco made his move when Liam took him out for a Q.P. (quick pee)–without the leash. Like the Pied Piper, he led Liam and Henry on a merry dance across our neighbors’ lawns, down the street and into the woods, while I washed dishes, blissfully unaware that half of my family had run off.

I rinsed the last plate, felt that small sense of accomplishment from completing a task, and opened the back door. My stomach lurched as the silence gripped me. I scanned the empty yard. Nora was standing on top of the bulkhead, next to the open gate. “Where are your brothers?”

She paused and let her arms relax from their ballet pose. “They’re off chasing the dog,” she said using the aggrieved tone she uses when one of us interrupts, plagues or otherwise annoys her.

I sprinted around the corner of the house. “Stay put!” I called to her over my shoulder. At the end of our driveway, I spotted Henry two houses away, his hands jammed in his pockets, trudging along the side of the road. I breathed a sigh of relief. In my mind, a loose four-year-old is a more combustible situation than a loose nine-year-old. I put Henry and Nora inside the house and went back out, armed with a leash and a bad temper.

I spotted Liam half a block later. I could not make out his face, as he was lit from behind by the late afternoon sun, but his small shoulders were slumped in self-castigation and defeat. He had chased the dog in his bare feet and when I got closer, I saw that tears were leaving tracks on his dirty face. My heart ached and my anger dissipated.

“He’s gone,” Liam hiccuped. “He ran away and now he’s lost in the woods and he won’t know his way home. It’s not fair! We’ve only had him a month! And he’s only five and he’s too young to survive on his own and it’s all my fault! I almost caught up with him but I’m not wearing shoes ’cause I didn’t know he’d run away from me and then he saw me and I was like, five yards away and he took off again and I couldn’t catch him and I was yelling ‘Paco! Paco!’ and then he went into the woods and when I got there, I didn’t know which way he went! It’s all my fault…” His words gave way to wrenching sobs. Gathering his slight little string bean body in my arms, I held him.

The pain a mother feels when her child is in pain is elemental. You become a sponge; you try and absorb the hurt the same way you wipe away their tears. You become a supporting beam; you attempt to transfer the weight of their burdens onto you. You become love itself and wrap them in it, hoping they will remember happiness. You are whatever your child needs, in that moment, to make the pain go away.

Gradually, he stopped crying, started hoping and making plans. We would find Paco or someone else would. We’d put up posters. We’d do that thing I learned to do when I was young and hardly ever do now: we’d pray.

We were talking with a neighbor who witnessed the whole scene when Paco came trotting towards us, tongue lolling, a sheepish look on his face. “See, he knows where he lives,” the neighbor consoled Liam.

The three of us turned and went to that place we call home. Together.

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Once upon a time, there was a boy. The boy owned a red dog with a curly tail. The dog was one of a kind—a mixed-breed stray found riding the “T” in Boston. This boy loved this dog more than anything in the world. Until the day the boy met the girl.

At first, the dog resented the girl for usurping his place in the car (among other places) but after many months, he grew to tolerate her. The trio moved to the suburbs. The dog was unhappy. He was no suburbanite; he was a city dweller. The boy and the girl tried to cheer him up. They got a puppy to keep him company. The dog thought this was a tremendously stupid idea but learned to tolerate the puppy at least as well as he did the girl. Life was good.

Time passed. Before they knew it, the boy and the girl grew up.

Babies were born, mortgages obtained, promotions earned. Bills were paid, child enrichment programs found, someone started preschool. And the red dog became sick and died. Diapers were changed, family vacations planned, the chimney was replaced. The twelve-year-old puppy passed away in her sleep. Home improvement projects were started, business trips taken, play dates scheduled. Season after season whirled by. Someone started fourth grade.

The girl was surprised when she turned the page of her hometown newspaper and found a dog with a curly tail staring out at her. He was advertised as the “pet of the week,” right next to the police blotter and an article about a car colliding with a moose. So surprised was she that she didn’t pause to consider the consequences before sharing the dog’s picture with the boy.

The boy and the girl debated the pros and cons of dog ownership for weeks. While they argued, the shelter accidentally burned to the ground. The boy called all the shelters in the surrounding area in hopes of locating the dog. He found him. He had heartworm and lyme disease, but he was alive.

The boy and the girl and their three children drove to the middle of nowhere to meet the dog. The girl griped about muddy paw prints, expensive diseases and additional responsibilities for most of the two hour drive.

When the shelter’s manager went to retrieve the dog from his kennel, the boy held his breath. The girl steeled herself to dislike him. The kids chased each other around the room like puppies. The dog trotted into the melee with his head held high and his cinnamon bun tail waving from side to side.

He was red. An unbelievably familiar red.

The girl felt the tears gathering, didn’t trust herself to speak. She looked at the boy and knew it was a done deal. He was in love with a red dog. Again.

Meet Paco.

This post is in memory of Rocko. (The irony? Paco came to us pre-named.)

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