When Candy Was a Ghost

By Jay Stoeckl, May 3, 2023
candy pup2.jpeg
Cotton Candy as a pup in her forest home

I’m new at doing these emails, but I do have to say, it is fun making this contact with all of you. And those of you who reply, I thank you so much!

I know, I know, I’m talking a lot these days about Candy girl. She’s presently my favorite dog, though I do feel a strong connection to all of our canines. They’re the best bunch we’ve ever had.

Today, I have a haunting story to tell you.

Candy is not my current favorite simply because she’s the best dog. Monstro has been with her and he’s amazing too. And Essex shares a special bond with me as does Stanley… and Jesse… and, and…

If all goes as planned, Candy will be sold to a lovely young lady from the Seattle area with her parents being involved in Candy’s life as well. I’m both sad and happy to see her go. I always want a good life for our dogs, even if it means parting from me.

Candy’s bond has a lot to do with the time when she was lost. I tread a little lightly with this topic, because I don’t blame her previous owner for what happened and neither should you. Her breaking free from her leash was a fluke. Too many variables all came together at once. And when ignorant adolescent beings decided it was funny to throw bottle rockets at Candy inside a three-acre park, the events that followed were daunting to say the least.

What occurs with any dog traumatized and scared, is they go into a survival mode in which they no longer recognize even their owner’s voices calling them back. Candy was so terrified at that moment that she bolted into the forest cover and would no longer go near anyone.

It is hard to imagine this now as she comes up to me now just as normal and happy as any dog we’ve ever had. But for six weeks, she was at large, hiding in the wooded groves, coming out at night to find the food her conscientious and very frightened owner provided for her.

I took the next flight to New England to see if there was any chance Candy would come to me. I was the man she had known since a newborn puppy. It was such an anomaly when I witnessed myself how a dog trusts no one under this circumstance.

The first evening after I arrived, I circumnavigated the park. Candy had been spotted there by various people numerous times and I wanted her to smell my scent. Though I had the grandiose fantasy that she would recognize me, I did not expect to see her that very first night.

Going back to her owner’s car, I was set to going back to my lodging. I don’t recall if I was planning on camping out that night. But just as I was getting into the vehicle, there Candy stood, in the twilight, a ghostly image at the edge of the woodland.

“OH!” I could hardly keep my ecstasy in check.

As gently as I could, I wandered over to the place where she had stood. I found the place and quietly called her name. I kept imagining her recognizing me and all but jumping into my arms. But it did not happen. Candy had just as abruptly disappeared.

Her owner and I discussed strategies, mulled over a pelithera of ideas, and in the end, I believe we overthought the problem. I wonder if I would have been successful in bringing her home with me if only I had settled in, followed my instincts, and let nature take its course.

On about the third night, I decided to lay my sleeping bag down along a track I did not expect her to travel on. The plan was to have her take the lion’s share of the food laid out for her inside the van. The van had a door you could close using the keyless entry fob. If all went well, my dog would have to climb into the van to get the full meal. I would hit the button, the door would entrap her, and I would have a happy reunion with her.

For those of you who don’t know Cotton Candy, her name is very fitting. She’s pure white and one of two that I recall having this coloring. Her father Triton is the other. I believe by her furnishings that Shenara was her mother. Her pure white coat comes into play with the ghostly side to the story.

While I waited on the side of the pathway, tall grasses on each side, I fought the urge to look behind me. There was no moon and the night was very dark. i had brought binoculars with me so that I could maybe recognize her image from far away.

I kept my attention mostly on the vehicle about ten yards away, the place of the trap. I expected she would emerge from one of the side paths as her owner and I had seen evidence she had gone that way.

Then I got this feeling she was present. As delicately as I could dare, I turned and looked over my shoulder. I hoped my girl wouldn’t come this way as my presence there would thwart the entire plan. I was in the wrong place.

While the hairs on the back of my neck began to prickle, I saw something move about a hundred yards behind me. I took out my binnoculars for a better look. The white image of a dog floated from one side of the path to the other. She was not a ghost, but that is the way she appeared in that dark, gloomy setting.

My heart began to race. I’m not even sure why. It wasn’t that I was afraid. But the experience of seeing her approach through the darkness was intense. She was headed my way!

Though I tried to lie still, I had the sense she eventually knew someone was there. So, when next to dared to take to a look, Candy had disappeared into the misty night.

As some of you know, I returned home without her. In retrospect, I know I could have been successful if only I wasn’t overthinking the problem and placing too much emotion towards finding her. I’m sure she had a notion about my apprehensions. It isn’t that I blame myself, this was a first for me. It was a first for her owner. And we both knew this dog could be in danger.

Six weeks into her predicament, the volunteer organization within the state successfully trapped her in a cage that triggers the gate shut. Knowing where she came looking for food, they enticed her closer and closer in the passing of several days. Sure enough, on the night of October third, Candy went into the trap. It was no different, really, than the van I had hoped she would go into.

Eerie photos of Candy taken by a motion detecting night vision camera deep in the night.

Candy with a volunteer, shortly after her capture on October 3rd.

Just like the switch that pressed her into survival mode, the moment people came around to be with her, she was back to her old self. She wagged her tail and licked at their hands. She was happy to be with her owner again.

She came back to us, because her living situation in New England was not a good fit. There was too much activity in her new space and Candy had a hard time adapting.

She is now my special little one. We take walks together every day just as I had done with Cricket. It was that ghostly experience that made a special bond with her. She had been through a lot and my heart just broke as I wondered back then what she was going through.

Just like in our relationships with people, it is the harder things in life that can break us. But they can also formulate a very, very special bond.

Jay Stoeckl
American Dirus... prehistorically styled with nothing wild.