Earlier this week, Rachel Louise Snyder stared out of the window of her Shepherd Park home in the middle of the night, hoping her 16-year-old Cambodian dog, Khmow, would turn up on her front porch. She didn’t expect to be the one to find the animal Wednesday afternoon, but now that they’re reunited, it feels as if a weight has been lifted.
“I feel like I just lost 20 pounds of stress,” Snyder says. “I feel like I’m actually going to sleep tonight.”
Snyder, a creative-writing professor at American University whose book No Visible Bruises was one of the New York Times‘ Top 10 Books of 2019, was speaking at an event in Santa Barbara on Monday when Khmow went missing. Because Snyder was out of town and her 11-year-old daughter, Jazz Snyder Burton, had to go to school, they left the 20-pound dog with Snyder’s ex-husband, Paul Snyder, who took Khmow to work with him at a warehouse in Silver Spring. While the dog was there, she wandered out of an open door and into Rock Creek Park. By the time Snyder had landed in DC that evening, she noticed a series of frantic text messages from her daughter saying Khmow was missing.
“I almost threw up, I felt so sick,” Snyder says. She immediately posted about the missing dog on Twitter. Her daughter says she was freaking out so much, it was hard for Snyder to put words together. “That’s not normally my thing—I’m pretty good at sentences,” Snyder says.
Khmow means a lot to their family. She saved Jazz’s life when she was only a baby, alerting Snyder that the child had passed out from heatstroke during a stroll in Cambodia. While Khmow is showing some signs of age, such as poor hearing and fading eyesight, overall she’s in really good shape. “She’ll walk five to six miles round-trip with no problem,” Snyder says. That made it harder to narrow down her search area; Khmow managed to walk from downtown Silver Spring to Chevy Chase in one afternoon.
There were several sightings over the next couple of days. Khmow had made her way to the house of a close friend whom Snyder visited often. By the time her friend checked outside, Khmow was gone. Another sighting was at Jazz’s middle school on Tuesday, but the girl was on a field trip at the time, and Khmow ran away after some students tried to get her attention.
“Both my daughter and I felt constantly that [Khmow] was so nearby,” Snyder says. “It was frustrating and calming to know.”
Meanwhile, Snyder started carrying pieces of chicken in a plastic baggie in her purse and spent hours outside looking for Khmow between meetings. She cut up pieces of her shirt and attached them to trees and poles in hopes that the dog would follow her scent. Whenever Snyder and Jazz had to stop searching, they both felt enormous guilt.
“Even though I had to go to sleep and stuff, we could have been looking all night,” Jazz says. “It felt morally wrong [to stop].”
Snyder hired the Virginia-based dog-tracking expert Carmen Brothers to help her find Khmow, and they spent roughly three hours on Wednesday searching for her in Rock Creek Park with Brothers’s dog, Magic.
In the middle of their effort, Snyder happened to look to her left. That’s when she spotted Khmow’s fox-like black ears about 20 feet away, nearly camouflaged in her surroundings. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, there she is,'” Snyder says.
The tracker left the area and—per her instruction—Snyder fell to her side in the mud and began to whimper. She waved the chicken in the air to get Khmow’s attention, trying hard not to scare her. Khmow approached her slowly until finally Snyder could grab hold of her collar and feed her pieces of chicken while she sobbed tears of joy.
At the time of their reunion, the dog couldn’t stop shaking. Khmow has a red wound in her leg and is limping a lot, Jazz says. Overall, Snyder says Khmow’s doing okay, and she planned to take her to the vet first thing in the morning. “Right now I just want her to rest and get a little bit of food, a little bit of water in her, you know?” Snyder says.
“My housekeeper from Cambodia used to tell me that Khmow had done something terrible in her past life to come back as a dog, but right before she died, she did something so great that she came back as a dog still—but a dog with a good life.”