Banjo's Story // The Cattle Dog's Exodus

When I saw the small tuft of fur barely revealing itself from under a mound of freshly moved dirt, my heart fell into my stomach. I was kneeling in the garden, mindlessly pulling weeds from around the bed of chamomile, but my attention shifted fully onto the dead animal that I would have to unearth.

Was it the mole that had been tormenting my husband’s lawn goals? Was it a squirrel that Banjo had killed? Would it smell? How long had it been here?

I held my breath and gingerly pinched the fur, pulling it slowly towards myself as the dirt fell away. A moment of confusion lingered as I took in the familiar face of the creature. Crooked ears and black marble eyes, small leather teeth and a red felt tounge. It was Annika’s favorite wolf puppet and he was a complete mess from being underground for who-knows-how-long.

My eyes darted over to Banjo, who had been watching from a distance. His ears dropped flat and he ran inside the house.

As funny and shocking as this was at first, it became less charming as he continued to secretly hunt my children’s stuffed animals and bury them in the yard almost every time we left home. He had already taken to occasionally exploring the contents of the kitchen trash can when he was alone, and eventually he upped his game to finding clever ways of escaping the backyard and waiting for us at the front door.

He never ran away. He never did anything destructive or aggressive. He was a good dog who was just incredibly bored, trying to find ways to stimulate his brain and entertain himself.

“We are not good dog owners,” we finally admitted.

As much as we love Banjo and were committed to being his forever home, we had adopted him 5 years ago - back in the day when my frequent miscarriages had led us to believe that Annika was going to be an only child. Now it was complicated enough to get groceries, let alone find time to satisfy a hyper dog’s energy level. “He needs more walks,” we said. “He needs more outings. He needs playdates with other dogs.”

We tried. We failed. Finally, we started looking for a family that could care for him better than us.

But we never could find the perfect situation for him, so we were all headed to South Carolina together.

Or at least that was the plan.

While being puppysat about 20 minutes away from home during our Open House, Banjo used his Escape Artist Skills to find his way out of our friend’s backyard. Except this time, he didn’t sit in the driveway.

He ran. And when they tried to catch him, he ran some more. He ran and ran from everyone that tried to help and, by the time we arrived, he was gone.

It was Sunday afternoon and we had rushed over just after a heartbreakingly-good sermon about the sovereignty of God. At first, it made me feel light-hearted and confident about the whole situation. Sure, we couldn’t find him anywhere. Sure, he was super fast! But obviously we would get him home that night because God was sovereign and nothing could stand in the way of his will.

A police officer just happened to pass by as I was parked illegally and yelling into the woods, so he jotted down a description of Banjo and my cell phone number and said he would let me know if he heard any calls on his radio.

Sovereignty of God, I said.

15 minutes later, the policeman called my phone. I was still walking the neighborhood but he was ten minutes down the road, writing up a theft report at some apartments, and guess what foxy little dog had just run across his path?

Sovereignty of God, I said. And I laughed as I drove to the apartments, fully expecting to find Banjo trotting around the parking lot.

But then he wasn’t there. And I was starting to freak out a little bit as I realized that the trail behind those apartments led into a massive area of rock quarries, dense woods and wetlands, cut through with train tracks that he could follow for miles, and bordered by dangerous four-lane highways. I walked one of these highways alone, calling his name into the trees, when the policeman spotted me again and drove me back to my car.

We went home that night without saying much. We kept our spirits up for the kids, but to one another Josh and I confessed how extremely sad we felt. Knowing someone or something you care about is out there somewhere, probably cold and maybe afraid, is a terrible feeling. And even Josh (who grew up in Africa and always thought it was ridiculously first-world to spend big money on a pet) reached out to a professional dog tracker about sending bloodhounds after Banjo’s scent. The hounds weren’t available, but the tracker gave us helpful suggestions for free. Dogs don’t just lay down and die, he said, and they can go a long time without food. He can easily sniff out water and would likely be hunkering down near a source of water in the woods.

The next morning I woke up before the kids, in a strange house that was empty of both furniture and the dog that usually greeted me. I cried into my blueberry pancakes, partly because I felt grieved at the thought of leaving while Banjo was still lost in the woods, but mostly because the old burn of bitterness and doubt is a die-hard kind of fire, and it was painfully rekindling deep inside.

There's a saying I used to like that goes, "faith isn't believing that God can, it's knowing that he will." It's charming until you have a season of life that involves desperately-desired, unanswered prayers. Then, a shift in theology is suddenly required. When prayers go unanswered, either (1) we are praying in faith for things that perhaps God cannot do, (2) we are not praying in faith and therefore he will not answer our prayers, or (3) God is supremely able to do all things, but sometimes chooses not to do the thing we are asking.

Keeping the faith then requires switching the old idea completely upside down. Faith is believing that he can even while not knowing if he will. And I think that's harder because if God can but won't, then what? He's Able. He's Sovereign. But the question that burns my doubts, Is he Good?

What was God doing in this? We wanted to find Banjo a different home, yes. We didn’t want a dog anymore, sure. But why this? We were going to keep him! Why did this need to happen in a way that was so sad, why must we spend our last week in Seattle searching helplessly for runaway Banjo? It seemed all wrong. Not to mention, I was angry with God for not answering prayers about a lost dog while others have solid faith amidst cancer and loss and much much more. That filled me with shame and anger at myself which I effectively redirected at God for even having me in this stupid situation in the first place.

My thoughts were spinning out of control.

I tried to refocus my attention on homeschool materials, but the astronomy book only had me thinking of a God who crafted stars and birthed galaxies. I traced the constellation of Orion on the page as the lyrics of a favorite song moved poignantly through my mind, “I was answered by my Lord, can you bind Orion’s form or guide his path?”

I played the song and wept.

“What God is this who holds the stars and guides me in his grace?”
* * * * *

Days of silence passed, and then we began getting phone calls that Banjo was being sighted in a specific area, and it was miles away from where we had been focusing. We had been combing trails through the woods and wetlands, walking the railroad tracks, spending hours upon hours looking for him in the forest instead of packing our house or planning our drive to South Carolina. We were stressed and emotionally exhausted and it had all been useless effort.

But so many friends had rallied around us in prayer and practical help, papering neighborhoods with posters and dropping everything to show up when there was a sighting, so we also felt overwhelmed with the love you’re able to receive when you have to depend on people. And even though the search missions were tiring and time consuming, we knew that being forced onto family hikes wasn’t the worst thing ever. We were starting to admit that there was some beauty coming from this messed up situation, and the new sightings made us hopeful.

We still couldn’t seem to catch up with him, but with the new information we mapped out his route and targeted the riverside park where we felt very confident he was hiding. The dog tracker said that a dog in “flight mode” will run from his name being called, but that he would come to familiar voices and smells. So in one last, gallant effort, we had a picnic at the park and pretended to not be looking for Banjo.

Friends from up north drove down with their dog, Banjo’s best friend from Shoreline, and she ran all around the park while we all loudly talked, laughed, called the kid’s names (instead of Banjo’s) and waited for him to emerge from the trees. But night fell, people slowly went home, and finally there was only me - sitting stubbornly in the dark on a park bench, waiting to see if he might come around in the quiet.
I couldn’t believe this hadn’t worked. I couldn’t believe we had been on so many wild-goose chases. I couldn’t believe we had wasted so much time looking for him in all the wrong places, neglecting to do all the things we needed to be doing in the house while chasing after hopes that kept popping up, only to be disappointed. It all felt like a waste and a tease, and I couldn’t believe we might actually move away without ever finding Banjo.

We went home without him. Again.

What was God doing?
The last thing left to do was get up even more posters in the area near the park, so after Josh’s last day at work, the two of us dropped the kids with friends and returned to the neighborhood with a stack of posters and a borrowed staple gun. We found another park with steep hills and trails which led us eventually to a summit. Looking out on the vast area of woods and rivers and neighborhoods, we knew Banjo was somewhere out there - and we knew we probably weren’t going to find him.

We held hands on the walk down and comforted each other.

God was sovereign, which meant he was King over us and over reality itself. We couldn’t lose faith in his power to do all things or lose our trust in his ultimate goodness just because this tiny window of our circumstances were hard to accept. We had done everything we could do to find him. Our friends had done so much to help, and yet nothing had worked. Banjo was in God’s hand and not ours. We were going to be at peace with his sovereign decision to not reunite us. We knew he needed a better home and we couldn’t find him one, but this was only the end of the story as far as we knew. There could still be a happy ending, we would just never know about it.

As we climbed into the car, my phone buzzed in my pocket.

A text, reading: Hi there. I may have your dog?

We rushed over. It was about 7 minutes away from our current location, and right in the area we had been overlooking from the summit.

When we pulled up, there was Banjo playing fetch in the backyard. After five days on the run, darting away from anyone that tried to touch him, running across freeways and freight yards and scavenging food and water to survive, he had finally walked casually into this woman’s yard and took a nap. When she offered him food, he ate. When she pet him, he stayed. When she threw a ball and introduced him to her own dog, he chased and played. We had expected to find him wounded and starving, but he looked happier than ever.

The reunion was sweet. The relief to find him safe and happy was even sweeter.

As we opened the gate to get Banjo in the van, the woman said kindly, “Darn. I thought I almost had myself a new dog.”

Josh and I made eye contact, quietly asking each other if we felt the same way about this. We had agreed we wouldn’t give Banjo to a stranger because we wanted to feel confident about the match. We wanted the ability to take him back if someone changed their mind. We felt responsible for him, and responsible to make sure his future was a good one. But this felt right. And when we told the woman that she could adopt Banjo if she really wanted to, she got tears in her eyes. Apparently her family has a legacy of adopting strays and their joke is that if they ever want a new dog, they’ll just leave their gate open.

Which is exactly how Banjo had ended up in her yard that day.

We took him home for the night to surprise the kids and to spend one more evening together in our house, but returned him in the morning to the perfect home that we could have never found ourselves.

What did God do? I still can’t quite wrap my mind around everything.

Was that the plan all along or did he make good of a rotten situation? Did God intervene at some point, when I was weeping about galaxies or sitting alone in the dark or choosing faith at the summit, and reroute a wayward creature to a safe backyard? Or did he sovereignly orchestrate the whole thing - something that involved hours and miles and tears, but would ultimately be a blessing? And what if Banjo had ended up in exactly the same home, only she never saw the posters and we never got to know about it? Would God seem less sovereign to me then? And what if the ending wasn’t happy, would God be less good?

I cannot know the mind of God, and I do not know his ways, nor do I always understand them.

But I do believe that he showed me on purpose, graciously and mercifully, that he is actually sovereign. He is King. Whatever it is that he decides to do or not do, he is able to do all. And his decisions are to be trusted because he is not just a King, but a Good King.

When our family drove away from Seattle recently, we all howled like we used to do with Banjo. We did it in memory of him, in his honor, and as a tribute to his new future where he has a doggy friend and gets lots of walks.

And we drive forward to our own future, knowing we can take heart on this journey because God is good. He is sovereign over our lives and he is always rerouting our wayward selves to safety, to himself.


  1. Oh Britney, this is so good to read. We are just starting our search for purchasing a home and it is surprisingly bringing up questions of God's sovereignty as well. I'll take a listen to that sermon you linked to. What a crazy story of God showing you his sovereignty and orchestrating Banjo's new home. It was such a surprise to read that he has a new home, but as you shared, that seems like a great fit. Banjo was your Seattle dog. :) I'm not at all an animal person, but this post made me cry. My favorite memories with Banjo were when we dogsat him over the holidays one year: we howled with him and sent you the video, we left a Dollar Store version of Oreos out on the couch and woke to the realization that he ate them all, and he peed on your rug and we stained it in the cleaning process. Haha! :) P.S. Excited for your new adventure in South Carolina!


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