Taking her savings of just over five hundred dollars, young itinerant Wendy Carroll along with her yellow-gold dog Lucy, leaves Indiana to find work in the fish-canning factories in Ketchikan, Alaska. Traveling in Wendy's old car, they follow a route Wendy has carefully plotted on a map and keep mostly to themselves except for stopping at an occasional camp site. Along the way, Wendy keeps detailed track of their progress and her meager funds in a notebook. Upon arriving in Oregon, Wendy and Lucy spend the night in the car in a pharmacy parking lot until they are awakened the next morning by an older security guard. The man regretfully tells Wendy that they cannot sleep there but when, to Wendy's dismay, the car will not start, he helps her push the vehicle to the curb. The guard assures Wendy that the garage across the street is reliable and that there is a market just down the street. Waiting for the garage to open, Wendy provides Lucy with bottled water, then discovers that there is only a handful of dried dog food remaining. The girl and dog stop at a gas station nearby and, leaving Lucy tied up outside, Wendy washes and changes clothes in the bathroom. Afterward, she and Lucy wander the town as Wendy retrieves several aluminum cans to sell at a recycling store. In line at the shop, however, Wendy grows uncomfortable with a man in a wheelchair who has no cans, so gives her few to him. Later, Wendy and Lucy head to the grocery store where Wendy leaves Lucy tied to a bicycle rack at the store’s entrance. Going through the aisles, Wendy takes two cans of premium dog food and places them in her bag, then just as she steps through the door, a stock boy, Andy, stops her, accuses her of shoplifting and takes her to the manager. Although the older man responds sympathetically to Wendy’s sincere apology and Spartan appearance, Andy is adamant that the store rules be followed, and the police are summoned. Although Wendy pleads with them to allow her to retrieve the still waiting Lucy, she is taken directly to the police station where she is photographed, fingerprinted and held in a cell until mid-afternoon. After paying a fifty dollar fine, an anxious Wendy takes a bus back to the grocery store but is stunned to find Lucy gone. When Wendy inquires inside, a cashier vaguely remembers seeing a van retrieve the dog, but cannot be certain. Wendy circles the market several times calling for Lucy to no avail, then returns to her car near the pharmacy. After Wendy reveals to the guard that Lucy has gone missing, he kindly tells her that the pound is three miles away. Agreeing with the guard that it is too late to check the pound that day, Wendy uses a nearby pay phone to call her sister Deb in Muncie. Her brother-in-law Dan answers and is sympathetic to Wendy’s hesitant explanations, but when Deb gets on an extension line, she is suspicious that Wendy only wants money and brushes her sister aside before hanging up. Wendy spends the night huddled in her car, then the next morning, after washing up at the gas station, hurries to the pound. Although there is no record of a dog matching Lucy’s description, Wendy fills out a detailed report, then walks through the kennel hoping to find her companion. Returning to the garage, which is now open, Wendy tells the mechanic, Bill, that she was warned several hundred miles back that her engine belts were well worn. Despite the car being parked across the street, Bill informs her they must tow it, but upon seeing Wendy’s stricken face, he offers her a discount for the service. Later that afternoon, after clearing out the car of her personal items so it can be repaired, Wendy asks the guard to give her change so she might call the pound. Instead he offers her use of his cell phone, then tells her she may give the pound that number for messages. After learning that the pound still has no information on Lucy, Wendy makes up a lost dog sign with Lucy’s photo and places copies around town. Later, she chats with the pharmacy guard, who reveals that there are few jobs in the area, then relates a childhood situation about a lost dog that was found after family members left a piece of their clothing at various spots where they had been with the dog. After wandering by the train tracks, Wendy leaves items of her clothing at the few places where she has been with Lucy. That night, lulled by the comforting sounds of the trains passing, Wendy decides to sleep in the wooded hills above the tracks. Finding some large pieces of cardboard, she settles down on them to sleep only to be awaken later by the sounds of someone going through her bag. Terrified, Wendy remains motionless as a man’s voice orders her not to look at him, then comments that kids use the cardboard to slide down the hill. The man’s monologue grows increasingly erratic, filled
with profanity and growing anger, so when he moves off, Wendy darts away. Running through the darkened streets, Wendy returns to the gas station lavatory where she bursts into tears of anxiety and frustration, before realizing that she must hold herself together to find Lucy. Wendy then waits outside of the pharmacy for the guard to arrive for his shift and is startled when he arrives late in civilian clothes. After explaining that it is his day off, he informs Wendy that she had a call the prior evening. Wendy then uses his cell phone to contact the pound and she is heartened to learn that Lucy had been retrieved the first day and immediately placed in a foster home that had only just been noted in the records. Relieved, Wendy returns the phone to the guard who then kindly gives her seven dollars and wishes her luck. Wendy then goes to the garage where Bill reveals that her car’s engine needs to be rebuilt and the cost would be more than the car is worth. Devastated, Wendy agrees to pay for the towing and labor before taking a cab out to the foster home caring for Lucy. As she approaches, Wendy sees a pleasant looking older man drive away from the small but tidy house with a well kept fenced yard, then spots Lucy resting in the grass. Calling to her friend, the two reunite with a hug over the fence. Wendy throws a stick several times for her dog, then looking around, realizes that Lucy is well off in her current situation and has more than she can offer her. Vowing to return once she has earned some money, Wendy leaves Lucy and heads to the train tracks where she leaps aboard an empty box car and continues her journey alone.