When Nala went missing from her Schaumburg, Ill., home in late November 2015, well-meaning people told her family that the 13-year-old Golden Retriever had likely just “gone off to die.”
“We had had her from the time she was eight weeks old, and I didn’t want to hear that,” said Jean Cullen, the family matriarch.
The Cullens had installed an invisible fence around their property so Nala could have the run of the yard. However, the fence had deteriorated over the years, and Nala eventually figured out where the gaps were.
“We would let her out, and she would visit our next-door neighbor and our neighbor two doors down, looking for treats,” Jean said. “She would always come back within 15 or 20 minutes, when she heard us call her name.”
On November 30, though, Nala didn’t come back when called. The neighbors said they hadn’t seen her.
The family put up posters and looked for Nala under bushes and in neighbors’ sheds and garages, all to no avail. Jean also posted a lost-dog alert on Lost Dogs Illinois, on the recommendation of a co-worker.
Although she and her husband both had to leave town on business trips, the Cullens’ teenage son continued to search while they were gone.
He called them Dec. 6 to say Nala had been found – alive – in a basement window well of their neighbors’ house, two doors down.
A window well is a semi-circular area, several feet deep, dug out around an underground basement window that allows light to come in. The family that owned the house said they never heard Nala bark or make any other noise the entire time she was in the well, despite the fact they are in the basement quite often.
It wasn’t until they moved their boxes of Christmas decorations piled in front of the window that they saw her, staring back at them.
“Her groomer said Nala is such a mild-mannered dog, she probably thought she had done something wrong and didn’t want to call attention to it by barking,” Jean said.
It had rained during the week Nala was gone, and she likely drank the inch or two of rainwater that accumulated in the well. Still, “She lost eight pounds and couldn’t stand,” Jean said.
“She had no broken bones, just some scratches and was really weak.”
Nala was back to her usual weight (52 lbs.) within a week of her homecoming. The Cullens now have a long tie-out post in the backyard for her, wanting to take no more chances.
“Her wandering days are over,” Jean said. “It’s the most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through, and I am so grateful to the Lost Dogs Illinois volunteers for contacting us several times to give us support and hope.
“I was afraid that, after a week, she had been stolen or was dead,” Jean continued. “The volunteers eased our pain; they were so concerned for us and for her.”
Jean says she has learned an important lesson from this experience.
“Never give up, and don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone to find your pet,” she said.
“Who would have thought we’d find Nala at the bottom of a window well?”
Thank you Lydia Rypcinski, free lance writer.