One can never underestimate the bonds of love and connection between human beings and their animal companions, especially when they become unexpectedly separated.
Such is the case when I put my German Shepherds, Sasha & Bear, out in the fenced-in yard and forgot to lock the latch on the gate. An hour later, I noticed the gate was open. They were gone. My heart sank with fear and concern for them.
The dogs had gotten out before but were never gone long—this time would be different. We now live in Southern Indiana on Patoka Lake. The second largest lake in Indiana with 26,000 acres of water covering three different counties in the middle of the Hoosier National Forest, which expands 317 Sq miles encompassing 204,000 acres of wilderness. These dogs could be anywhere.
I started yelling, “Sasha, Bear-Bear, come,” and when they did not come running, the terrible feelings grew. Quickly, I ran into the house, and I let my wife Brandy know they were out. She ran outside, calling their names as I grabbed my truck keys and sped off searching for them.
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After several hours of searching, we got neighbors, friends and even strangers involved in the search. We made flyers to post in local businesses in the area, shared on Facebook groups offering a reward and contacted the local police departments, animal control and humane society. There was now a full APB out for these two runaway dogs.
As the day drew on and the sun started to set, both Brandy and I fell into depressed slumbers realizing our babies would not be home with us for the first time in their lives. Brandy and I held hands, cried, and prayed for their safe return.
German Shepherds are loyal to a fault. They become your companion, your shadow, your emotional support, and love you unconditionally, and when they are suddenly and unexpectedly gone… It’s like losing a close friend or family member. But we had hope.
On this sad December night, the day after Christmas, we were left with feelings of lonely emptiness and concerns about how our pets would survive out in the wilderness alone.
Would they get hit by a car? Would they be shot by a farmer?
Hurt by wild animals? What if someone would find and try to keep them?
We propped opened the door to the screened front porch and turned on the Ring camera. We laid there in bed holding hands, watching the phone screen in hopes Sasha and Bear would appear begging to come inside for a pet on the chest and a treat. At some point, we each drifted off to sleep.
Brandy had to be at the hospital at 7:15am for outpatient surgery the next morning. Upon waking at 5am to my alarm, I went immediately to the back door to check in hopes our furry companions had returned home—only to be disappointed.
We went through the motions of our morning routine in silence, each trying to deal with our feelings of loss as we prepared for the hour-long drive to the hospital. Brandy had gone out to start the SUV so it could warm up when she felt something touching the back of her leg. She turned around to find Sasha, and she immediately bent down to give her love. At that moment, she realized Bear was not with her.
Brandy called out for him louder and louder, but he was nowhere to be found. What had been overwhelming happiness now turned into a sinking feeling at the realization that they got separated. These two dogs were always together. The two had been lost 21 hours by the time Sasha had returned.
Brandy came through the back door. I heard her say with a torn tone, “Only one came back!” As I moved towards her, I asked, “Which one?”
She replied, “Sasha.”
My feelings were torn. I was happy Sasha had come back—but Bear is my dog—I love him, and he was still missing. I bent down and gave Sasha a hug and some pets. She was whining and crying as if to say she missed us too.
After returning from surgery, Brandy suggested I take Sasha for a walk to see if she would lead me to indicate where she and Bear had gone the day before. I took Sasha out in the yard, but she seemed scared to be away from Brandy, so I returned home. A few minutes later, Brandy took Sasha outside, telling her to go find Bear and I joined them. Sasha led us to a large overgrown field and began sniffing as if she knew just where to go, so we followed along.
I knew Brandy was only a couple hours out of surgery, so I suggested she return while I would continue searching with Sasha. As Brandy walked off, Sasha stopped and turned around looking after her human. I released her leash, and she went straight to Brandy. It was clear that she had already spent too long not being by Brandy’s side and wasn’t willing to make an exception.
As we were walking home, one of the neighbors called out as he walked toward us and asked if we had found our dogs. I explained that we were still searching for Bear and pointed toward the field Sasha led us to and asked if he knew what was on the other side. The neighbor replied that a camper, cabins, and a few homes were on the road down by the cove and boat ramp.
We returned home, and I climbed in the truck and headed that way alone, feeling hopeful. I had already searched the area several times in the past 36 hours to no avail. But, I didn’t want to give up on finding Bear.
I drove slowly, looking in each yard, calling out the window for Bear. I halfheartedly decided to check down near the boat ramp and started driving around the parking loop one last time. The place was deserted in the middle of winter, and I rolled all my windows down yelling: Bear-Bear” as loud as I could in every direction.
Just as I was about to pull off, I heard a bark in the distance across the vast lake.
I questioned myself, are you hearing things? I yelled again “Bear-Bear” and again heard a dog barking as if replying to my call. I drove toward the sound. I heard more barking and before I knew it, I was out of the truck standing on the bank of the lake yelling for my pup. Each time I called out, several barks responded.
I couldn’t see anything though. I stood looking across the lake at a large finger of land with a huge hill covered in rocks and trees and listening for a bark. Suddenly running down the steep hill came Bear-Bear barking the whole way! Tears filled my eyes as we each stood on separate sides of the lake, looking at one another. This was the most amazing experience in my 54 years of living. To have such a connection that against all odds, we would find each other.
Quickly, I called Brandy excited and crying to give her an update. I had found him, but I needed to figure out how to get to him because the water was too cold to cross, and Bear doesn’t care for swimming anyway. At that moment, it dawned on me that he and Sasha were probably over there together and when she saw the boat ramp, she probably jumped right in a swam across. She loves the water. Bear, on the other hand, doesn’t care for being in it at all, so he remained stranded there alone like Gilligan, unsure of his location.
As I thought the situation through, I decided to walk along the bank on my side of the lake and get Bear to follow on his side until we both came to the cove point. As I started the walk, I yelled for Bear-Bear to come and pointed in the direction I was heading. He began to walk in the same direction. As we walked, I saw he was moving slowly, hobbling. He was hurt.
We walked along the lake across from each other while I talked to him the whole way, encouraging him. I lost sight of him a few times and was worried until I spotted him again. After what seemed like forever, I could see the water coming to an end where Bear and I would be able to meet. We both picked up our pace until we ran toward each other as if in unison.
I yelled, “come on, boy,” laughing and crying as he approached me.
He ran up to me whining, wet and muddy, with his tail wagging. I hugged him.
After reuniting, we started backtracking my steps toward the boat launch toward the truck, but we did it together. At times it seemed as if Bear was in a hurry to get back to the comforts of home. Whenever I felt he was too far ahead, I just yelled his name, and he returned just like old times to my side. As I dried him off in the truck, he cried with joy.
At home, Bear and Sasha were excited to see each other again. Bear got a warm bath, dried off and laid down in his favorite spot next to my bed. I looked over, and Sasha was in her favorite spot too. All of us happy to have them home where they belong.