Abby bounced up beside her mother who was making spaghetti in the kitchen.
“Mom, can we go play at Alice?”
“Play at Alice? Who’s Alice?” Mom asked.
“Wonderland… you know… the statue… The Mad Hatter… Alice.”
“Oh… that Alice… Why Alice?” Mom asked stirring the sauce.
“I like to sit in Alice’s lap and read my book… Phoebe likes to rest under the toadstools. You could climb up and sit by the Rabbit… lots of old people do.”
Phoebe’s ears shot up. Anything to do with Central Park was music to her ears. She could be happy living all the time there. She scampered over and onto Abby’s lap.
Mother chuckled, “Old people, is it?”
“You know what I mean,” Abby said.
“We can go, but I’m ‘too old’ to be climbing on a sculpture of Alice in Wonderland… I’ll sit on the bench in the shade and read my book while you and Phoebe read yours.”
“That’s silly Mom, Phoebe can’t read.”
“Sometimes I wonder…” Mom said adding, “Let me get this sauce in the fridge.”
‘I can read lots of things…. People frowns and laughs…’ Phoebe wanted to tell them.
Minutes later Mom, Abby and Phoebe entered Central Park at Terrace Drive and headed east across the park toward the Alice in Wonderland Sculpture.
Almost immediately, Phoebe tested Abby’s grip on the leash by pushing toward Rustic Overlook on The Lake.
“No!” Abby scolded, “You stop it!”
Of course, Phoebe didn’t stop. She spotted a huge dog loping toward them dragging an elderly lady.
Phoebe dashed toward the big dog. She hit the end of the leash jerking it from Abby’s hand. Without even glancing back she went scampering toward him.
‘Oh, scratch under my chin, there’s a Newfoundland hulk… gotta check him out,’ Phoebe said to herself.
The big dog sauntered past Phoebe paying no attention to her friendly sniffs.
‘An uppity,’ Phoebe growled loud enough for the big dog to hear.
The big dog ignored her insulting words and lumbered on.
Abby dashed after Phoebe, but before she could retrieve the leash she had disappeared over a little hill and into a grove of trees. Abby ran after her.
“Abby!” Mom shouted. “Don’t…” She didn’t finish. She ran after the pair.
‘Wow! I smell water nearby and the scents of dogs,’ Phoebe thought. ‘Dogs I’ve never smelled before. I’ll find them for sure…’
She quickly came to a black top road. She checked out the markings many dogs had left on the shrubs along their paths… ‘Nothing of interest,’ she thought. She moved on into another stand of trees and on to the water’s edge. North along the lake’s western shore she spotted two dogs lounging on their bellies near the water. She headed for them, but by the time she got there their handler and they were gone.
Phoebe dashed out into the open toward Strawberry Field Memorial.
“Phoebe!” Abby shouted stifling a catch in her throat. She’d never lost Phoebe before. “Phoebe!” she cried.
A lady walking a Maltese, stopped, picked up her fluffy dog and called to Abby, “There are dogs by The Lake,” she said pointing.
“Thanks,” Abby said heading for The Lake hoping that Phoebe knew enough not to get in the water.
“Abby!” the distraught girl heard her mother call. “Wait for me.”
Mom and Abby scooted through another grove of trees to a road that snaked through the park.
“I don’t see her,” Abby cried. “Where would she have gone?”
“The Lake…” Mom said. “Let’s go there.”
There was no sign of the errant dog… only several pesky swans guarding the lake shore.
“Oh! Mom,” Abby moaned, “Where’d she go?”
“Well, she didn’t go in the water,” Mom said scanning the lake surface in all directions.
“Then, which way did she go? It had to be this way, “Abby said pointing north, “or that way,” she continued nodding east.
“Bethesda Fountain’s that way,” Mom said. Doesn’t she like to play there?”
“Mom!” Abby said with an edge of exasperation, “She likes to play everywhere.”
“I know,” Mom agreed. “Let’s check the fountain,” she said leading the way. Abby followed.
Phoebe trotted north along The Lake shore sniffing every tuft of grass along the way. Several times her leash caught on limbs or branches jerking her head. ‘Quit it!’ she barked at one stubborn twig. It took her a while to shake loose.
She moved onto the blacktop of West Drive where she could easily drag her leash along. Soon she came to a trail that led to Rustic Overlook. She crouched at the water’s edge lapping her fill of water. Across the way at Hernshead she spotted several dogs exploring a large rock jutting out into the lake. Abby had taught her about the various kinds of dogs. She’d seen all different families of dogs in Abby’s picture books but had only met a few.
Phoebe skirted the tiny harbor and approached them. The dogs began straining at their leashes to get at her. Their handler, who had been lying in the grass near the lounging rock, jumped to his feet attempting to calm his dogs. “Get away!” he shouted at Phoebe and stomped his feet.
‘I wanted to talk with the dogs,’ Phoebe thought. ‘I like the looks of the Dalmatian… I’ll move closer and talk with him…’
But a snarling Doberman pinscher crouched beside the Dalmatian caused Abby to hesitate.
Near the Doberman squatted a pudgy bulldog. He didn’t look very friendly either. Near the bulldog barked a nervous Chihuahua. It had alert ears and cute eyes…
‘She’d be fun,’ Phoebe thought.
But, Phoebe would not find out. The handler was not going to let his charges get contaminated by a mongrel terrier.
Phoebe hitched up her leash and trotted away from the captive dogs and on toward Oak Bridge at Bank Rock Bay.
Abby and Mom found no sign of Phoebe at Bethesda Fountain… only a couple of geese squatting on the deck near the water.
“Mom, Phoebe’s lost… let’s call the police,” Abby pleaded.
“She’s here somewhere. We don’t need to panic.”
“Well, let’s at least call dad,” Abby insisted, “He could help us look.”
“Lot’s of places we haven’t tried yet. Let’s go check out the Naumburg Bandshell.”
The pair headed through the trees toward the bandshell. There were lots of owners and handlers walking leashed dogs along the roads and pathways.
There were lots of dogs… but no Phoebe.
Abby kept calling, “Phoebe!” A Basset Hound tried to come to her but her master restrained her. Abby asked the Basset handler if he’d seen a friendly terrier.
“No!” the stranger said emphatically, “I keep Slugger away from other dogs.”
Abby kept asking everyone she saw if they’d seen Phoebe… None had… Golden Retrievers, yes, and Irish Setters, Border Collies, Great Danes, lanky Greyhounds, and many others… but none fit Abby’s description of Phoebe.
People were playing tennis on the courts. One player had tied his St. Bernard to park bench.
Abby felt sorry for the big dog and wanted to scold its owner for leaving him unattended. But she brought herself short by remembering that she had let her dog… her Phoebe… get away to be lost in the big park… She started to tear up.
Mom could tell by the look in her eyes that her caring daughter needed to move on, “Come on,” she said. “Phoebe likes the Hans Christian Andersen statue, doesn’t she? You and dad always go there, don’t you?”
Abby didn’t answer. Instead she headed off toward the famous statue.
Phoebe trotted north along the west side of The Lake sniffing the most inviting things along the way. She recognized the smells of other dogs like herself… But she didn’t see any.
She turned east and headed into the Ramble where there were lots of trees and shrubs. At one point her leash snagged on the limb of an oak. She pulled and pulled trying to get away from the bossy root. Suddenly, the sound of several dogs caught her attention. A handler was walking a pack of dogs for their owners. It was a funny thing to watch a Rottweiler, Pekingese Pointer, Pomeranian, Pug, Old English sheepdog, Norwegian elkhound and a Siberian husky drag the skinny handler through the woods. The ungainly pack of dogs trotted, scooted and ran past Phoebe.
She wanted to join them, but her leash prevented her. She watched the pack of dogs disappear into the woods. She was hungry. She wondered if she would ever be free. ‘A liver cake sure would taste good,’ she thought. ‘Will I ever get to eat again?’
She turned her attention to the snagged leash, grabbed the looped end between her teeth and pulled. After a series of strong tugs it popped loose. Phoebe was free. She barked to celebrate. From somewhere in the Ramble a bark answered. Phoebe headed toward it.
On their way to Hans Christian Andersen’s statue, Abby and Mom passed the Pilgrim, then, on to the Trefoil Arch. Abby asked everyone along the way if they’d seen Phoebe. Of course, they didn’t know what Phoebe looked like, but most said they’d seen lots of dogs and that Phoebe was likely among them… but they didn’t know for sure.
Phoebe tried to find the dog that had returned her celebration bark… she encountered dozens of dogs trotting faithfully alongside their masters. They all wanted to dog-whiff with Phoebe, but their masters jerked them away.
‘Why are masters so bossy… dogs have rights, too,’ she thought as she trotted through the woods.
She passed Still Hunt and Glade Arch.
At Sophie Loeb Fountain, she stopped to rest for while. The struggle with her leash had tired her and she was getting more and more hungry.
She wondered why Abby and Mom hadn’t come with her. They always did. They would have food in their bag or pocket.
She headed south toward the Alice in Wonderland Sculpture a favorite playing place for Abby and her. If there weren’t children in the way… running over and under… everywhere, she could rest under the big toadstools out of the sun.
‘I don’t mind children playing on top of the smooth stools… don’t mind, unless they are screaming and scampering in and out of the spaces under the stools… like they often do,’ she thought. ‘If it is too noisy, I’ll move on to Tisch Children’s Zoo… hope I can find a place to rest and maybe some scraps of food.’
When she arrived at the Alice sculpture, no one was there. She crawled into a quiet spot beneath the toadstools. She settled into the darkness, stretched out, and was soon asleep.
“Mom, I’m scared,” Abby said. Sitting at the base of the Andersen Statue and fighting back tears “We’ll never find Phoebe… I know it… we’ll never find her.”
“We will find her,” Mom comforted. “It’s early in the day. She has to be in the park. We’ll find her! I think it’s time to ask the park police for help,” she said reaching for her cell. “They’ll help us find her… you know they will.”
Mom reached them on her cell.
“We’ll help,” the officer on the other end of the line said, “as long as an emergency doesn’t call us away… you understand that?”
“They’ll help,” Mom said to Abby.
“Of course we understand,” mother said into the phone.
“Where are you located now?” the policeman asked.
“We’re at the Han Christian Andersen Statue.”
“We’ll meet you at the Alice sculpture… It’s not far from you.”
Mom hung up. “They’ll meet us at Alice.”
Abby scampered off in the direction of the famous sculpture. Mom followed trying to keep up.
When Abby and Mom reached Alice, they found a lone policeman standing in the shade of a tree.
“Where do we start?” Abby asked jumping up and down.
The policeman nervously shifted his weight before answering, “I’m sorry but our crew was called away and I must go help too…” With that, he mounted his bike and headed south through the trees toward Trump Towers.
Abby stood speechless. Mom tried to hug her, but Abby dashed away. She climbed on the sculpture and into Alice’s lap and began to cry.
Suddenly, there was a stirring from under the toadstools. Something was coming out of the shadows.
Mom saw Phoebe first. She cried for joy, “Phoebe.”
Abby jumped from Alice’s lap and landed on the ground near the toadstools. Quickly, she dropped to her knees and threw her arms around Phoebe crying all the while, “PHOEBE, PHOEBE. You’re safe! I love you.”
Phoebe was happy to see Abby… She crawled all over her licking her face between round of doing her favorite dance.
Of course, she didn’t know why Abby was crying… she nuzzled her nose into Abby’s pocket and retrieved a bit of dog food.
“How’d it go in the park?” Dad asked when the trio arrived home.
“We played lost and found,” Mom said grinning at Abby.
“Yes!” Abby said happily hugging Phoebe. “We played lost and found.”