The request seemed like it came out of nowhere.

Last year, Colin and I were working on his Christmas wish list, and one of the items he wanted to add was a dog whistle.

"Why do want one of those?" I asked. I didn't even know he knew of such a thing.

"I want to train Stark with it," he told me.

So, even though our dog is, for the most part, very well behaved, I put it on the list. I wasn't sure it would ever come in useful, but I figured I could share it with those who asked what Colin wanted for Christmas, or his birthday, which follows shortly afterward.

Well, as it turns out, "Santa" found a set of two whistles for less than $10 and put them in Colin's stocking during his most recent visit.

But, ironically, it's not Colin that's been using it. I have.

At one point, Stark began heading outside, handling his business and running right back to the door. This is a great setup for winter. But, sometimes, he wanders.

Shortly after Colin got the dog whistles, Stark did a bit of wandering. When he didn't immediately respond to my calls, on a whim, I sent Colin upstairs to get me one of the whistles. It worked. Stark came running when I blew on it.

Now, I keep one hanging on the coat rack next to our back door. It's come in handy several times over the last nine months or so.

Sometimes, it's because he wanders. Other times, it's because I simply don't feel like yelling for him.

But the time I was most grateful for that "afterthought" of a dog whistle was a couple of weeks ago.

Colin and I were rushing out the door to get to school and work. I thought I saw Colin put Stark on the chain — he's quite confident he did it properly — before we left. When I got home for a lunch break five hours later, I went into the house to call for Stark — he's usually left inside and I let him out over lunch. When he didn't respond, I remembered that we had left him outside.

I headed back out to check the chain, outside kennel and his dog house. He was nowhere to be found.

There were a few people outside in our neighborhood. I quickly ran to them to ask if they'd seen a 70-pound, tan dog running around. I called the police station to see if one had been brought in. Nothing.

I was terrified Stark was gone for good. He has become my baby over the last three years, and I dreaded the thought of having to tell Colin the dog he loves so much was gone. I was determined to find our pup.

So I ran back into the house, grabbed my purse and keys and, yes, the dog whistle. I had called and called for Stark with no response. I got in the car to drive the neighborhood looking for him while blowing the whistle out the window. I barely made it two blocks when I saw Stark trotting up behind me. I got out of the car, gave him a big hug and got him in the car. Once I got him home, I gave him a big bowl of water, a few treats and lots of love.

I don't ever think I've been more grateful for a $10 purchase than I was in that moment. Thanks, Santa. I'm glad you somehow knew just what a little boy and his mom might need.

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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