By Cindy Wilson
Katie is a 4 1/2 year old female sheltie that I bred and raised. She had recently been spayed and placed in a new home. This is a story about what can happen if new owners take a dog off leash in an unfamiliar and unsecured area, even for a moment. It's also a story about never giving up hope and that miracles do happen.
On Tuesday, October 26, I received an email from Katie's new owners, John and Donna. I smiled as I opened the email, because they would typically send me fun reports of how Katie was doing. My smile disappeared immediately when I read the words, "I hate to write this..." Katie was lost in the Olympic National Forest, and had been missing for over 40 hours by the time I received their email. In a panic, I grabbed a few things and was out the door in 20 minutes, heading down to the Lake Crescent Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, some 4 1/2 hours and a ferry ride away. There I joined John and Donna, who had already spent two days looking for Katie in the pouring rain. We spent two more days walking miles of trails and roads. We posted flyers throughout the area, notified the Park Department and the park rangers, the people at the Olympic Park Institute, all the area shelters, the radio station. The Lodge staff was incredibly supportive. They printed out the initial bunch of flyers for us. They even helped in the search for Katie, walking trails and driving roads in the park. We covered as much of the area as we could on foot and car but found no sign of Katie. Had she traveled across Highway 101 into the depths of the Olympic Forest? Had someone picked her up? We simply didn't know. With hearts breaking, her owners and I drove home.
After I got home, I spent my time posting ads on Craigslist and sending flyers via email to all the area vet clinics, shelters, grooming parlors - well over 40 localtions. I even contacted the Department of Transportation. I spoke with a very nice man. I told him that even if she was dead on the side of the road, I needed to know that so I could find closure. He said he would notify all of his crews and they would let me know if they found any signs of her.
I couldn't stand not doing more, so my sister and I, along with Katie's mother, Amy, drove back to the Lodge in my motorhome on Friday and spent three more days looking. John also came back to join us in the search. John decided to offer a $1000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Katie, so we updated and reposted flyers. The support of the Lodge staff and rangers was incredible, but the Lodge was closing for the winter the next day and there was still no sign of Katie. We had another heartbreaking trip back home.
At our Sheltie Club meeting on November 4, one of our club members mentioned the names of two animal communicators, and I contacted both of them as soon as I got home. One responded and said she would try to communicate with Katie the evening of Saturday, November 6. I talked to her after her "communication" and she told me Katie was alive, and doing surprisingly well. It appeared she was near the lake and there was running water nearby. We were very skeptical, but what did we have to lose? We drove back down early the next morning and spent the day searching. We handed our flyers to everyone we met. People on the ferry, people on the trails, store clerks...everyone. I put giant posters in my motorhome windows. By then, it had been two weeks since she disappeared, with no sightings or signs of her at all. Our hopes were fading and again we left the area feeling defeated.
On November 5, the Peninsula Daily News ran a very nice article about Katie's disappearance, with a follow up article on November 8. The word was definitely out. Everyone we talked to knew about Katie.
On Monday we received calls from two people in the Port Angeles area saying they thought they'd seen a sheltie. After talking to the people, it appeared that neither sighting could be Katie. Descriptions didn't seem to match, plus it would have been a LONG way for her to travel - possible, but not probable.
We spent the next week monitoring and updating Craigslist and posting lost ads in area newspapers. Katie's owners posted more flyers in the Port Angeles and Sequim areas, just in case she'd traveled that far.
I'd been having a lot of trouble sleeping during this time - many sleepless nights. On the night of Monday, November 15th, I had a particularly difficult time sleeping. Every time I'd fall asleep, Katie would appear in my dreams and shout at me, saying "I'm here! I'm here!" I'd wake up, only to fall asleep and have the same thing happen.
Two days later, on November 17, Wednesday afternoon, we received a call from a park ranger who said he had seen Katie!! The first sighting in 3 weeks! She wouldn't come to him, so he followed her very slowly in his vehicle. She was heading down the road towards the Lodge. When she got to the Lodge, he lost her when she went behind the buildings. He quickly called to let us know he'd just seen her. Our hopes soared! Donna and I drove as quickly as we could to the Lodge that afternoon. By the time we arrived it was dark. Donna had arrived before I did and was sitting at the edge of the meadow waving a can of smelly dog food in the air. There were shadowy figures out in the meadow - raccoons, deer and even a skunk! But no Katie. We placed a live trap that we'd picked up, along with her crate with food in it, and several food dishes around the Lodge area. Then we sat and waited and watched. We spent the night in our cars curled up in sleeping bags. It was very cold and we spent a sleepless night just trying to stay warm. Fortunately, I had Amy with me and we huddled up together. I prayed and prayed that night, begging God to let Katie come home.
We woke to snow on the ground. We checked the food bowls. All empty. Of course, there are raccoons, skunks and all sorts of wild animals in the area - it could have been those critters, but we allowed ourselves to feel more hopeful. We replaced the food and placed pieces of clothing with our scent around the area. We had one of the park rangers help us set up the live animal trap and told him we'd be sure to contact him if/when we trapped a raccoon. He smiled sadly and said that's probably what we'd get.
Donna stationed herself at one end of the Lodge parking area and I was at the other. Now and then we'd walk around the Lodge with Amy to keep our scent fresh. Donna then noticed fresh poop in the parking area. Definitely not raccoon, skunk or deer... I was sure it was dog poop (so much experience picking it up no doubt!) and we were very encouraged. It had to have been Katie eating the food and leaving the results. By 3:30 we were freezing and decided to get in my car and drive the roads in the Lodge area to see if we could see any signs of her. We spoke to several people to alert them that Katie had been seen the day before. We were just getting back to the Lodge when my cell phone rang. A woman from the Olympic Park Institute was walking on the beach of Lake Crescent in front of the lodge during her break and saw Katie! There were flyers everywhere, including on the front door of the closed Lodge, so she was able to get our phone number and call immediately. We were there in 30 seconds! Katie was in the immediate area! Our hearts were pounding!
The woman told us she'd called to Katie, but Katie had run down the beach towards the river. Knowing she couldn't get over the river (too fast, too deep) we thought we had her cornered. But still no Katie. Then the woman looked across the river and she shouted, "there she is!" And sure enough, there was Katie, in the bushes, looking back at us from across the river. She'd been able to sneak through the underbrush alongside the river and got to the footbridge south of our location and crossed the river. But interestingly, she had made her way back to an area immediately across from us to look at us. Some recognition? If she hadn't done that, we wouldn't have known where in the world she'd gone.
I took off running to the footbridge, with Amy on leash. I was going so fast that I had to slow down for poor old Amy! Donna followed. I got across the bridge and was watching for Katie. Then, I saw Katie quite a ways up ahead, not on a trail, but bounding through the woods. I called to her as calmly as I could, told her I had cookies for her, but I'm not sure she could hear me because of the roar of the river. Then I lost sight of her in the underbrush. I was afraid she was heading into a very thick area of forest, which then comes out into an area of summer cabins. If she got to that area, I knew we'd have a terrible time finding her. So I hurried ahead as fast as I could, with poor Amy thinking I'd lost my mind. I got to the cabins and saw a man, and shouted to him that Katie had just been sighted in this area and to please watch for her and call us if he saw her. He had a flyer and said he would. Then my phone rang......it was Donna. SHE HAD KATIE!!!!!!!!!!
I went racing back and found Donna on the ground, holding Katie's collar in a death grip. I got down and threw my arms around Katie's tiny little body and sobbed and sobbed. Katie was overjoyed to see us, kissing us both over and over. She'd kiss Donna, then come kiss me, then back to Donna. We fed her some kibble, which she inhaled. As Katie looked at us, it was as if someone lifted a veil from her eyes as she remembered us. She went from a wild dog back to our Katie.
Donna told me that she was walking down the trail, turned the corner and there was Katie walking towards her. They suddenly spotted each other. Donna immediately sat down (exactly what she was supposed to do), didn't make eye contact and just talked softly to her. Katie was still in "flight mode". She was wild and her eyes showed no recognition. Donna held out her hand filled with food. Katie paced back and forth nervously in front of her getting closer and closer with each pass. Donna said it took every bit of effort she had to not try and grab her as she went by - she was so close. Inches. She new that if she missed it would spook her and Katie would have been gone again. So she sat very still, talked very softly and waited for Katie to come to her. Finally Katie started eating out of her hand. She pulled her hand slowly closer to her and very slowly reached up with her other hand and took hold of her collar. Donna's calm actions were key to Katie's rescue.
Katie was so thin. Terribly thin. I carried her all the way back to the car. I called my vet immediately and we discussed her condition. No visible wounds, eyes were clear and sparkling, gums were fine. No signs of diarrhea. We agreed to give her frequent small meals, giving her system a chance to get back to normal. Of course, if she's the one who ate all the food we'd set out, well, so much for small meals to start. She probably gorged herself on that! But, all systems seemed to be working fine.
It was dark and cold when we got back to the car with her and we decided neither of us wanted to drive a long distance - even the 2 hours to Donna's place. We were exhausted and overwhelmed. So we got a room about 7 miles down the road and spent the night. Most of the evening was spent on the floor with Katie. Katie was jumping up on the beds, racing around, play bowing, barking and dancing around - going back and forth between Donna and me, giving us kisses.
Friday morning we headed back to Donna's, where her husband, John, greeted us with open arms. Katie raced around her home and was delighted to be there. John even took her to their yard and threw the ball for her, which she raced after over and over. Where did she get the energy?!!! Around noon, I left to go home, leaving a very happy family and a VERY happy, warm and fed Katie.
The next morning, they took Katie to their vet for a complete checkup. She did have giardia, but the vet withheld any medications for that until she regained some weight - at least two weeks. She also had a blood draw to check for anemia and tick borne diseases. Fortunately all came back negative. The fact that she was in such good shape is amazing. Where was she all this time? What did she eat? Where did she sleep? How did she survive? All questions only she knows the answers to.
She had a bath, the debris in her coat lovingly brushed out, and she is enjoying the good life again. John and Donna said that at night she's curled up as close as she can to them on their bed.
Interestingly, Katie was found less than 100 yards from where she disappeared, near the lake and near the river, right where the animal communicator had "seen" her.
The weather turned bitterly cold, with lots of snow, in the days following Katie's rescue. Given her weight loss, I can't imagine she could have survived the cold much longer. We got her in the nick of time.
For all that had gone wrong during her 25 days in the wild, on November 18, everything went right. Truly a Thanksgiving Miracle!
Fall, 2011 - One year later....
John, Donna, my husband Jim and I, and of course, Katie, got together for an "anniversary" of sorts at Lake Crescent Lodge. We walked the many trails where we'd searched and searched for her and reminisced at the spot where she was found. We enjoyed a lovely dinner in the Lodge and chatted with people who remembered the little lost sheltie and our search for her. A joyful time!