Written by Anneke van Zyl. Photographs supplied by the author.
Little Lulu, an 11-year-old black-and-tan rescued dog, disappeared from her new home on the West Coast of South Africa in the middle of lockdown. It would be 213 days before she was reunited with her loving owner…
She was nowhere to be found
We arrived in Strandfontein (Matzikama District) on Thursday the 18th of June 2020; two days later, on Saturday the 20th, we had four workmen moving furniture around, so I closed my two little dogs, Nina and Lulu, in the laundry and backyard to keep them safe. We were confident that they wouldn’t get out from there.
Around 10h00, I realised that Lulu was missing. Heart in my throat, I ran around the house calling her. One of the workers mentioned that she’d been in the garage a while ago. Everyone started looking for her – it was obvious that she couldn’t be far as she didn’t know the area. Talk about wishful thinking!
Lulu was nowhere to be found. I left her blanket in front of the garage in case she came walking past. The nights here are not as cold as in Johannesburg, but these little ones get tucked in at night with warm blankets. I hope to never again experience the stress and anxiety I felt at that time, especially as it was getting dark and not knowing where she was.
Hunting high and low
Lulu’s picture was posted on the local WhatsApp group; a friend made some flyers which we stuck up at the café and handed out to whomever we saw, offering a reward.
We received a call from someone who saw a dog looking “like a little jackal” running next to the main road to Doringbaai, a neighbouring town some 8km away. But I dismissed this, as Lulu “would never, ever run that far” – she wouldn’t go to big, unknown open spaces; she must be between the houses…
With hindsight, I’m sure it was her! I realised later that one only knows your animal’s behaviour in your own safe environment, not when they’re stressed out, lost and in survival mode.
I contacted two animal communicators and then a third one. I followed up every lead, phoned people to ask for certain landmarks, and, after about a week, everyone in the area knew about the missing dog named Lulu. We even handed out flyers in Doringbaai. Daily, I walked the streets in Strandfontein, checked every house (mostly locked up as it’s mainly a holiday town), calling Lulu’s name all the time. I also gave flyers to SAPS (South African Police Service) patrol vans as they service both Doringbaai and Strandfontein.
Twice I put advertisements in the local newspaper – no response.
Running in the veldt
Four weeks after going missing, on the 20th of July, someone saw her running in the veldt in Doringbaai. We went straight there, and I saw her! I called her and started running towards her, but she just kept on running away, totally traumatised and very scared. We eventually had a whole search party going with kids from the neighbourhood. But she’d disappeared into thin air. One of the kids mentioned that she was at someone’s house in the township, so I hoped that someone was feeding her and that she had a dry warm bed at night.
I kept on looking in both towns (both are very small!) and, later on, I didn’t have to ask anything, people just started with “soek jy nog jou hond?”. I always answered that, yes, I will get her, and she will be home at some stage.
An indescribable sadness
Walking with Nina on the beach every day, wondering where Lulu was, was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had. Tears would just run down my cheeks for no reason. I was so sad and angry at the same time. Almost every night I’d wake up around 3AM and sit in the lounge, thinking about my lost little girl. Carol Mulrooney, the animal communicator I spoke to regularly, kept me sane, telling me to not lose hope, saying that she did see Lulu back in my arms again.
I tried to “connect” with Lulu during these hours. I was talking to her, telling her that I love and miss her, and that she must come home. Carol was also doing distant Reiki on Lulu. Deep down I was convinced that, when the time was right, Lulu would be returned to me. I didn’t have a clue when this “right time” would be; I just believed it. Some days I was even angry at Lulu for what she was putting me through!
At some stage I even wished to just find her body; then I’d know that it was all over, and I’d have closure. Not knowing where she was, whether she had shelter and food, was driving me into a state of depression. I have so much empathy with parents whose children have gone missing – how do they ever cope? The feeling of “not knowing” is terrible as well as terrifying.
Lulu is a CLAWbie that I bottle raised from when she was a few days old. She loved her bottle so much that, up to three months, she still got a bottle at night – and this little one was now 11 years old and somewhere out there during the cold, wet and stormy winter months. The stormy sea was small in comparison to what was going on inside me where an indescribable sadness came to live, while on the outside life just went on around me.
She continued running
Christmas and then New Year came and went, we were in 2021, and Lulu still wasn’t home. Then, early one morning, a friend phoned: she’d seen Lulu next to the road on the outskirts of Doringbaai. I immediately went to look and befriended David, one of the local guys who lives with his family quite remotely from the rest of the town. He showed me where he’d seen her under the bushes next to the road.
While we were standing there, Lulu herself came running right across the road and into the veldt! Overjoyed, I called her. She stood looking at me for a while… and then continued running. My heart plummeted.
David mentioned that he’d seen her closer to his house as well. I had a food bowl and extra pellets in the car, so we decided that David would put food and water out at night, hoping that Lulu would come and eat. The next morning, I received an early call from David: “Onse kind het kom eet.” (Our child came to eat.) David kept on saying we would catch her; he was praying and was very sure of this. We fed Lulu for four nights.
My husband borrowed a rather large trap from one of the farmers in the vicinity, and we set up the trap next to David’s house. On the 19th of January, at 21h30, David called: “Ons het mevrou se hondjie, ons het haar!” (We have your dog, we have her.)
I phoned the SAPS office in Doringbaai to tell them we’d be on the road in an open Land Rover to collect my dog and the trap (we were still in lockdown and had a curfew of 21h00)! They said it was ok and we headed off.
At David’s house, Lulu was very angry and barking at the “strangers”... until I started talking to her. She looked at me, and then started crying and jumping. We moved her with the trap onto the back of the Land Rover and only opened the trap once we were safely inside our garage at home. I was not going to take any chances of her running away again.
We got home around 23h00, and I then gave her a nice warm bath, as I was convinced that she must be full of ticks and fleas (but not one!). I couldn’t sleep, so I sat in the lounge with her and Nina the entire night, just gazing at her, taking in that I no longer had to worry about where she was. She was home.
All’s well that ends well
Lulu ran away on the 20th of June 2020, and on the 19th of January 2021 she returned, exactly seven months – 213 days and 213 nights – which felt like a lifetime. If I knew during the first days that I was going to look for her for this long, I would’ve totally gone out of my mind. Every new day I was hoping to be “the day”.
I took her to the vet for a check-up, because one of her feet must’ve been injured at some stage as it appeared as if someone had stood on it: skew and flat. She’d lost just over a kilogram in weight and, apart from having some mites in one ear, she was just fine. She had a few little sores that might have been caused by the thorn bushes she ran through, but nothing serious.
She acts as if she was never gone, picks up her soft toy and ball and plays with it, and, of course, follows me around all the time. I still believe that somewhere she was being looked after by someone, and I’ll still ask around. The reward money I gave to David – he believed that we’d get her when I wasn’t so sure myself, and he helped because he cared about a lost little dog and her worried Mom.
All’s well that ends well! Our "Liewe Lulu" is home, safe and warm.