This retriever came back
Most stories that begin with a dog running away 500 kilometres from home, then spending nine days outdoors in the dead of a Prince George winter, don’t have happy endings.
This one does.
Zoe, a two-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, came through the ordeal relatively unscathed and was reunited this week with her family in Kamloops.
Owner Nita Louw was amazed by the support her family received from total strangers, including highway maintenance workers who called in a 4 a.m. sighting and others who took out newspaper ads and filed lost-dog reports with radio stations.
“I can’t believe that a city like Prince George just became this little town of helpers,” she said.
“It’s just amazing.”
Her husband, Nico, brought Zoe and the couple’s three sons to Prince George on Sunday, Feb. 27, to buy a pickup truck he found online. That night, he walked Zoe through a near-blizzard to a Starbucks by the motel where he and the boys were staying.
Louw cinched the dog’s leash around a newspaper box outside the cafe, checked to ensure the box was heavy enough that she couldn’t pull it over, then went in to buy a coffee.
“I was looking over my shoulder and she was happy. And then, all of a sudden, she must have gotten frightened,” he said.
In an instant, the dog tipped over the newspaper box and was gone, leash trailing behind her.
Also at Starbucks that night was Russell Odendahl, who raised the alarm and undertook his own search-and-rescue mission in the days that followed. Odendahl also got Louw in touch with local contacts, like veterinary offices and police.
To Louw’s surprise, Mounties took his report seriously and an off-duty officer even called in a Zoe sighting the night of her disappearance, but the ensuing search until 1 a.m. proved fruitless.
With his sons on their way back to Kamloops for school, Louw resumed the hunt the next day.
“People thought I was going out of my mind.”
The hunt continued for two more days, when the hound’s bereaved owner had to return to Kamloops; he was due back the next day in Fort McMurray, where he works as a maintenance foreman for a heavy-equipment company.
Leaving without Zoe, he said, “was the hardest thing ever I’ve done in my life.”
Marguerite, a local realtor and animal lover, took the reins from there.
“He had to leave to go to Fort McMurray, and his wife’s in Kamloops with the kids, [and] the dog is who knows? So, of course we’re going to help.”
She chased down a few reported sightings, but Zoe, who was skittish to begin with, wouldn’t let anyone get close to her until Linda Ramsay entered the picture.
The College of New Caledonia staff member was walking to work when Zoe, then into her ninth day on the lam, barked at her from beneath a set of stairs on the school’s main building.
“It was like she wanted you to know she was there . . . but she was scared,” Ramsay said.
Her heart went out to the animal, which “looked like she’d been unfed for a few days and been caught in a couple of rough positions.”
Ramsay, who called authorities, said there was a bare patch in the snow under the stairs, giving the appearance Zoe had perhaps spent a few nights there.
Bylaw control officer Rachel Morey was dispatched to bring in the furry fugitive and, using only soothing words, was able to get close enough to grab Zoe’s leash.
“Once she knew that I had her leash, she didn’t put up any fuss. She just wanted to get in the truck.”
Zoe, she said, appeared somewhat underweight, and “her little knees were knocking.”
Louw, who won’t see Zoe until next Thursday when he returns to Kamloops from Fort McMurray, said she became more than just a family pet when his wife was diagnosed last March with cancer.
“The dog was playing a huge part in our lives because there was a lot of sadness going on and the dog was always there to kind of bring a smile back,” he said, adding his wife seems to be doing better after stem-cell treatment and chemotherapy.
Louw said the ordeal did nothing less than restore his faith in humanity: “It’s so beautiful to see that it’s still out there, that people care. And we got that from P.G.”