On Feb. 26, Angie Baasch and her Chihuahua, Stewart, were walking home from the dog groomer's in Stanwood. She crossed the street to get the mail, and her hand, still weak from a recent carpal-tunnel surgery, dropped Stewart's new retractable leash.
The thick plastic handle hit the ground with a thud. The noise scared Stewart, who took off.
He wasn't found for hours, and only then because a Stanwood police sergeant searched a field with his flashlight in the dark.
Except for walks and occasional sunbathing, Stewart is an inside dog, Baasch said. His family calls him "Stewy." He doesn't like the rain. She rescued him about 18 months ago from the N.O.A.H animal shelter in Stanwood. He'd been found wandering in Yakima.
Stewart's about 2.5 years old now. Baasch admits he's spoiled.
"Right now, he's a little pork chop," she said. "He's 14 and a half pounds."
Baasch, 38, is a cook at the Warm Beach Senior Community center. She grew up in Arlington and moved to Stanwood, off of 271st Street NW, about two years ago.
Stewart has escaped once or twice before, but he always comes right back, Baasch said. This time, he was attached to the leash attached to the plastic holder. As he ran, the holder kept banging on the ground, making more loud noises, and making him run faster, she said. She fell off the sidewalk chasing him.
That was about 2 p.m. For the next four hours, she walked around asking neighbors if they'd seen Stewart. She called local shelters in case he showed up.
Her mother told her to call animal control.
A Stanwood police officer came to the house. He asked what color Stewart was, what he was wearing. The police helped look for awhile, but then they got called out to other incidents, said Stanwood police Sgt. Ryan Gausman.
At some point that evening, Baasch locked up her house and left the keys inside, locking herself out. It happened because she was upset about Stewart.
"I was bawling," she said. "He is like my family. He wasn't just some dog I picked up. I really wanted him, and to know that he was out there, it was absolutely devastating for me to know he was going to be out there in the cold, in the rain. It was just horrible."
Baasch called six different locksmiths, and no one would come to Stanwood. She walked to the gas station and saw Gausman. She told him about her predicament.
Gausman tried to help her get into her house but he didn't want to damage the home by breaking in. He called deputy Tracy Peckham and deputy Robert Pilgrim, and they brought tools. They got the house back open about 8:30 p.m., Baasch said.
At that point, Baasch needed to go to sleep. Stewart's spot on the bed was empty.
The police officers decided to take another look for the missing pooch.
Gausman figured someone would have spotted Stewart if the dog was still loose in the neighborhood, he said. The only other direction the dog could have run was toward a field. Gausman saw a big ditch, the kind used for flood control, about 10 feet wide and several feet deep. There was water in the ditch. Gausman worried he'd find the dog drowned. He walked about a hundred yards along the ditch.
"I went over there, and there's a big deep ditch behind the houses there, like a canal, and he had fallen into that," Gausman said. "Luckily for him, he landed in a spot that had a dirt shelf."
The walls of the ditch were too steep for Stewart to climb out by himself. When Gausman shined his flashlight on him, Stewart got scared and hid his head underneath some berry bushes.
"His tail and his rear end was sticking out," Gausman said.
Peckham was able to climb into the ditch from the other side. She hoisted the dog up by his harness like a little suitcase, Gausman said.
"He was very happy to be found," Gausman said.
At 9 p.m., Peckham knocked on Baasch's door. She asked Baasch to come outside.
Baasch figured Stewart was dead, and the cops had brought back his body. She started crying again. The deputy motioned Baasch toward the patrol car, where Stewart was waiting.
"There he was sitting in the back seat like a criminal," Baasch said. "I crawled in the car and I sat down. We sat there for a couple of minutes. He was dirty from head to toe."
Coyotes often run through that neighborhood, Gausman said. He was worried Stewart would become a snack. Baasch had told the police that Stewart was unlikely to bite them if they found him. He was more likely to cower, she said.
"It was like a miracle that they found a little dog," Baasch said. "I can't say anything more besides that they brought back my family. They went well above what they are supposed to do. They were out there at night, in the dark, in the cold, looking for a little Chihuahua. I could thank them a hundred times."
Stewart had no injuries other than being dirty and cold. He got a nice warm bath, and he got wrapped up in his fur blanket.
Gausman took a photo of Stewart for the Stanwood Police Department Facebook page. The post got nearly 80 "likes."
Stewart also showed the sergeant some of his tricks, including one where he makes noises like a monkey.
"He's a really cute little guy, like a little football," Gausman said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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