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This is a column about a man and his dog.
It might also be about a lot of other things – compassion, generosity and the ability to bridge partisan divides.
But mostly it’s about a man and his dog.
In this case, that man just happens to be state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville (formerly D-Bath County before he moved last year).
For the record, it wasn’t him or anyone on his political side who alerted me to this story – it was a Republican, state Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin County. Stanley may be tough on crime, tough on taxes, tough on lots of things – but he has a soft spot for animals. He’s well-known in Richmond as a sponsor of animal welfare legislation. When the Envigo dog breeding facility in Cumberland County closed last year following a federal investigation, some 3,776 beagles were left with uncertain futures – and Stanley was instrumental in finding places for them to go. He had already adopted two himself (Daisy and Dixie) so “Senator Beagle,” as he was dubbed, began chatting up fellow legislators to see if they wanted a dog. At one point he even brought some rescue dogs to the Capitol for a bill-signing ceremony with the governor.
“Stanley had brought a couple of dogs around but we already had two dogs,” Deeds said. But he also had a soft spot of his own for beagles. He’d had beagles since he was a kid growing up in Bath County. “I love beagles,” he said. He asked his wife, Siobhan, if she’d mind if he brought home another dog. She was fine with it. “I told Bill Stanley we were interested and he connected us to the SPCA people,” Deeds said.
So on the Sunday following the 2022 General Assembly session, Deeds went to the Richmond SPCA to claim the beagle that he and his wife named Mila. “Russia had just invaded Ukraine a month before,” Deeds said. “We somehow wanted to honor Ukraine so we looked around for a name common in Ukraine.” Mila was it.
“She’s the sweetest little dog in the world,” Deeds said. “She spent the first year of her life in a cage. She had never been on grass. She had to adjust to grass, to asphalt, to wood floors, to a bed.”
The other two dogs that Deeds and his wife have are “mutts,” as he describes them, but they also have names with back stories. Sally Mae takes her name from the Velvet Underground song “Foggy Notion,” Dilly takes her name from a reference to a song by The Pixies. If you consider this relevant insight into a senior Virginia state legislator, so be it. Those other dogs “were big sisters to her and they showed her the ropes and she was a great dog,” Deeds said. “She’s really the most affectionate dog I’ve ever known. She was more attached to me than any dog I ever had” – and he’s always had dogs.
Then one night a few weeks ago she ran away.
An explanation is in order. Deeds is up for re-election this year and faces a primary challenge June 20 from Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville. On the night of April 4, Deeds was at a supporter’s house in Charlottesville for a photo shoot for campaign materials. The plan had been to incorporate Mila into the photo shoot – what politician doesn’t want to be seen with a dog? – but for the first part of the evening she was outside, on a leash, under the care of a campaign intern.
And she bolted.
Deeds blamed himself. He’d been out of Mila’s sight for about an hour. “I was foolish to leave her with someone she didn’t know in a neighborhood she didn’t know,” he said. Mila apparently felt she was being abandoned and got spooked. Mila ran across a busy road – Rio Road, one of the biggest in Charlottesville – and disappeared into a field in Albemarle County.
A frantic search that night turned up no Mila.
That frantic search went on for 13 more days. Deeds says he and his campaign were “discombobulated.”
“Instead of making money calls, I was in the woods looking for that dog,” he said.
Like many people with a lost pet, Deeds put up signs. Lots of signs. He tweeted out a picture of the dog. And on all those signs and tweets he included his personal phone number. Deeds says that over the years his staff has often tried to persuade him to get a new phone number. He’s always resisted. He says he’s had the same phone number since 1996 and lots of people have his phone number. Now a lot more do. I’m reluctant to circulate it here but this was Deeds’ first tweet about Mila:
MISSING in Dunloa area of Albemarle: Mila, 13” beagle, tri color, pleasant disposition, slight bark. If found, call me 540******* Please!
Deeds did more than put up signs and look in the woods. He consulted a well-known Charlottesville dog expert, Vicki Cubbage Branham, who offered advice on how to find a lost dog. She recommended spreading bacon grease on trees, as a way to lure the dog to a place where a trap had been set up. “It’s about creating a lot of smells,” Deeds said, especially familiar smells. His wife’s pajamas went into another trap.
Branham loaned five trailcams but they never turned up anything other than dogs, possum, foxes, a cat – and other dogs. Deeds even brought in a tracker from Winchester. “We spent more money than I have any business spending,” Deeds said.
Strangers repeatedly called with sightings – some turned out to be false alarms about other dogs, but some seemed legit.
An April 6 tweet:
Mila update: we are still looking and remain hopeful. Sightings today in Four Seasons neighborhood. We miss our beagle!— Creigh Deeds (@CreighDeeds) April 6, 2023
An April 7 tweet:
Mila update: today’s sighting was in Branchlands. Help us get our beagle back!— Creigh Deeds (@CreighDeeds) April 7, 2023
On April 13, a call came in about a Mila sighting. Deeds rushed to the scene and “we actually saw her running in people’s yards. But it wasn’t really appropriate to go into somebody’s yard at 10 o’clock at night.”
About midnight that night he got another call – someone had seen her in a park and tried to grab her by the collar, but the collar came off.
There was another sighting the next day, on Friday, April 14, but then nothing over the weekend.
On Monday night, April 17, Deeds was speaking at a political event in Charlottesville. He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. A complete stranger was calling to report that “we have your dog surrounded.”
“I was dubious,” Deeds said, having been disappointed before, but he drove to the location, prepared to be disappointed again. This time he wasn’t.
“There were five or six people surrounding the dog on the porch,” Deeds said.
Branham, the dog expert, had advised him to approach carefully – the dog was likely in panic mode. So Deeds heeded that advice.
“I called her name – and she came right to me,” he said. “I knew she was just scared and confused and panicked. In the end, she was just worn out. She walked up to me and I held her as long as I could — until I started picking the ticks off her.”
At least three dozen.
Deeds reports that Mila is now safe at home and doing well after her misadventure. Meanwhile, he marvels at the generosity of strangers. “People we didn’t know at all called up and said we’re looking for her,” he said.
Politics can wait for another day. Today is about a man and his dog. But mostly the dog.