“Amelia is loose at Lake Tahoe. Can you post for help?” Amelia is a six-year-old “English Cream” Golden Retriever and retired breeder dog. And not from a responsible breeder. We see too many of them. They have spent their whole lives living outdoors and making puppies. They arrive shut down, fearful, and unsocialized. They connect with other dogs, but not quickly or easily with most humans. It can take weeks, months, and in some cases, years for them to overcome their past experiences.
Amelia had been adopted just five days prior. Sometimes, when people fall in love with a dog, they listen only with the hearts. They underestimate what they are reading in the file, being told, and even seeing before them. They are in love. But you could see it in Amelia’s face on her adoption day.
She was going to need a lot of time and TLC before she would trust.
Given a momentary open door before being leashed – Amelia took off. On one side was heavily wooded and mountainous terrain populated by cougars, coyotes, snakes, and bears. On the other side: a very busy highway. The date: just a week before the July 4th fireworks when an already spooked dog could be scared into even further harm. The longer she was out, the greater the risk.
The word spread like wildfire. Local shelters, vets, online sites, road crews, and community members were alerted. A team of dedicated Homeward Bound volunteers was assembled. We’re family. And when one of us goes missing, we kick into high gear.
We were blessed to have local volunteers who knew the terrain and the challenges. One, Mike, had been on the hunt for Murphy, the dog that disappeared into the Tahoe National Forest in 2012. Incredibly, she turned up at a campground 20 months later. A miracle: that’s what we needed for Amelia.
They set out blankets with her smell, cooked bacon to attract her, and left tempting meaty treats in a humane dog trap. But all they attracted were other animals. Sightings would be reported early in the mornings, but as soon as she saw people, she would flee. This went on for a week of 17 hour search days while overnight temperatures dropped to the low 30’s. As the 4th of July grew closer, the nights colder, and the Tahoe roads more crowded with tourists, her situation was becoming desperate.
Amelia’s social media post reached more than 40,000 people. But here’s the thing: it only takes one. The one special person we connected to was a proven dog trapper who had returned over 50 dogs. And he lived just minutes from Homeward Bound. Brian volunteered his time, trap, and secret lure (puppy chow), and made his way to Tahoe to share his expertise just as hope was waning. It had been two days since Amelia was last sighted.
A couple days after Brian’s visit, Mike and Charley got up before dawn.They set the trap in the area where Amelia was last spotted, filled it with the puppy chow and left to wait from a distance to avoid spooking her. As they drove down the road, Mike spied Ameila peaking out behind a pile of logs. They pulled over. She skulked by them warily looking right at them. With all the patience they could muster, they held still, waited and watched as she made her way in the direction of the trap. After what seemed like an eternity, they went to check. And there she was!
Before 7 AM on July 3rd, the word went out: Amelia is found! She was thin and dirty, but in surprisingly good shape given her ordeal.
Her rescue team surrounded her with their dogs knowing that would give her comfort, and within hours, they returned triumphantly to Homeward Bound.
Amelia was excited and comfortable in the company of her dog friends.
The usually standoffish girl seem to recognize that these – her rescuers – were good, trustworthy people.
After a bath and a meal, exhaustion set in.
Understanding that Amelia’s needs were greater than first believed, she was returned to our care. Our only question was: which of her rescuers would become her forever family? None wanted to let her out of their sight again.
Jana was part of her search team and has been a volunteer with Homeward Bound since the beginning. She had lost her beloved McKinley not long ago and had adopted Trixie – another shy girl who was rapidly gaining confidence – and regaining her health – with Jana’s loving care. Jana had planned to adopt a friend for Trixie when she returned from her previously scheduled two-week trip.
And so it was agreed. Amelia stayed with us for a bit where she could be under watchful eyes and close to our vet given her ordeal until Jana returned.
This week, Amelia and Trixie became sisters.
And we have a pretty good feeling they are going to be very good for each other.
Happy life, Amelia. It’s been a long road – but you are home.
While we are grateful to all that joined the effort, these individuals went way above and beyond: Mike Stram, Deb Safford, Denise and Charlie Lohner, Jana Hook, Gina Heise, and Brian Burke, the tracking expert.
“Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” ~ Lin Yutang