My dog was lost for three days. What came back wasn't my dog

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As a kid, I was raised in a small fishing community on the Eastern side of Canada, surrounded by the gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Boreal Forest. The entirety of the land was close to 4000 foot square with an even smaller number of residents sprawled out over "main street", the main road running straight through our little town, and farming houses spread widely between areas of trees that were changed to domestic residential homes when agriculture stopped being profitable. In total, our community is surrounded by a vast expanse of ocean, and a seemingly endless barrage of trees that's spread over 55% of Canada's entire country. I spent most of my life hunting in those woods, so you can imagine my joy when my parents got me a "hunting dog".

Sandy was a Shetland Sheepdog, and while they were more fit to be herding and tracking sheep over grassy plains rather than rabbits and deer through dense forest, it didn't stop me from taking him with me on every excursion I possibly could. Sandy had been by my side for enough hunting trips that he'd grown accustomed to waking up just before breaking daylight, and on a few occasions helped track down small game like squirrels and rabbits through considerably large areas of forest.

Sandy wasn't my property, and wasn't treated like he "belonged" to me. Sandy was a member of the family, my best companion, and my truest friend. I think fondly back on all the times he'd sit in the front seat of the truck without being told, ready to go for a walk in whatever part of the forest I took him to. I can honestly say that there will never be a dog that will fill the void Sandy left in my life. I find that dog lovers relate to that sentiment more than others.

It was October 30th, the first day of deer hunting season. I had been talking with my family about taking Sandy, my hunting gear, and some essentials to one of the cabins my Grandfather owned in his heyday off an unmarked road a few hundred miles into the wilderness for a few days. This was met with a lot of protesting, but nothing could stop me from getting in some time looking for wild game in an area that wasn't already picked clean by illegal hunters earlier on in the month. Everything was packed into the old blue ford, Sandy included, and a few hours of driving later we were setting up camp in one of my Grandfather's secluded old cabins.

Here's where things got fucked up. Sandy, I'm so, so sorry.

I had spent most of the time of my life being in the wilderness. There were only a handful of times that things had gotten weird for me, but usually everything can be explained with scientific reason. That's why I brushed off Sandy's weirdness on the first few nights, chalking it up to the nervousness of a dog that's capable of hearing the far off noises of various coyotes, wolves, bears, and moose. This was untouched territory, of course. There had been plenty of time for wildlife to set up camp here, too.

The first night was fairly normal. I had set up Sandy's bed in the corner of the living room, next to the T.V. that looked like it came out of the early 90's. I figured I'd give Sandy the option to have someplace to lay down for a while, despite the fact that he slept curled up with me nine times out of ten. Close to 10 at night, Sandy looked straight at the wooden door and whined. I figured he needed to piss, and opened the door to let him out, not worried about having my best friend stray too far from me. Instead he sat just inside the door, looking out at the forests edge beyond the path. I too stood and looked for a few minutes before deciding he had just heard an errant critter close to the cabin. The rest of the night was fairly normal, and Sandy slept with me fine.

The second night, I chalked the weirdness up to Sandy's stress. Earlier in the day, we had been walking a few miles through the woods beyond the house, and I thought I heard the sound of twigs cracking under something heavy. I hoped it wasn't a moose, because my shotgun wouldn't have stood a chance, but something changed in Sandy that I didn't pay close attention to at the time. He hunched himself on his hind legs, his front pressed close to the ground. His mouth pulled up over his teeth, and he growled towards nothingness. I figured we'd try hunting again later, if whatever it was had left and should he be feeling up to it, but once we were inside he didn't want to move. Even when I tried to get him to go outside and do his business, he sat at the door and cried, wailing at me to let me know he didn't want to go out there. I didn't pressure him. If he pissed on the floor, so be it. Sandy never acted up before. I could excuse an accident or two, if he really didn't want to be out there. It must've been a bear, I thought, before locking the door and calling it a night.

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