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May 1, 2012

‘Bear’ alive and heading home

After 23 days, dog found safe in Corbin neighborhood

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble / Staff writer

The dog that kept Corbin looking for just over three weeks was found, alive and hungry, early Monday morning.

His name is Bear. He is in good hands. And he is awaiting his owners and family members to come to Corbin to return him home to Hanover, Ohio.

The black Labrador Retriever was found between 6-6:30  a.m. wandering in the backyard of the Tina Kersey family residence on McKinley Street, behind the Dollar Mart store on 18th Street.

Kersey immediately called volunteers who had been looking for the dog the past 23 days. One of them, Daniel Wallen, received her call around 7:45 a.m.

“She said the dog fitting the description of the one missing was in the cage. He had the original blue collar he was wearing at the time of the accident. After all the sightings we’d heard from volunteers, and that he was a black Labrador Retriever, we knew it was Bear, the name of the dog the family gave him,” said Wallen late Monday morning.

The dog was taken to Wallen’s Towing and Recovery on U.S. 25W, where he was given food and water, and where the shop’s staff helped remove many ticks on the dog.

“You can see he looks tired, but happy. Bear was exhausted and drained from running  around from place to place. I was taking my little girl to school when Tina (Kersey) called me. After I went to school and dropped my daughter off, I drove to the Kersey  property and got the dog. He’s settled down a lot since we first got him here before 9 o’clock,” Wallen added.

For the family of the lost and now-found pooch, Monday’s discovery was very welcome.

“Everyone was excited when we got the news. I was sleeping with my 2-month-old son, Levi, when the call came in this morning. Our 4-year-old son, Dillon, was jumping up and down, and so was my husband, Chris. We’d like to come down to Corbin tomorrow, if we can figure out how to finance the trip. We had a lot of expenses from the accident, and a lot was going on then,” said Shauna Dalton in a phone interview from their home in Hanover Monday afternoon.

Hanover is located in central Ohio, about 30 miles east of Columbus.

Bear was caught in a large cage designed to fit large dogs. The cage was placed in the Kerseys’ yard after the dog was seen in the Cumberland Falls Highway-18th Street neighborhood.

In the cage was the dog’s original bed that Bear was using when the SUV the Daltons were driving was involved in a crash on I-75 exit 25 back on Easter Sunday, April 8. Both the vehicle and a U-Haul trailer carrying some of the family’s belongings received extensive damage in the accident, with all four family members injured. They were taken to Baptist Regional Medical Center in Corbin where they were treated and released.

The Daltons had left Florida and were headed north to their new home in Ohio when the crash occurred.

“It was my dad’s idea to put Bear’s dog bed out of the Daltons’ vehicle and put it in the cage to get him familiar with his former surroundings,” Wallen noted.

Scared and confused, the dog escaped and headed up into the woods and hills around the I-75-U.S. 25W (Cumberland Falls Highway) exit.

Since that time, scores of volunteers have conducted searches combing the exit area and vicinity, getting tips from neighbors and businesses about Bear’s whereabouts. It included several members of the Corbin Police and Fire Departments, along with Wallen and members of his shop, plus concerned people like LaVina Johnson, of Keavy.

“I got the news earlier this morning. It was Daniel. I thought they either found him dead or alive. When I heard he was alive, I just broke into tears. We’re all happy because we all worried about the dog’s safety. We’re glad he’s safe. I don’t know when I’ve ever been so happy,” said Johnson, a member of the organization Fur Ever Friends, a grass-roots, non-profit organization that promotes rescue, rehabilitation and adoption for abused, abandoned and neglected dogs and cats. After the tornado outbreak in early March, Fur Ever Friends did extensive work helping find displaced pets and farm animals in the East Bernstadt community of Laurel County.

Johnson added Fur Ever Friends will take care of the dog’s veterinarian bill.

In the case of finding the dog, Johnson said her concerns about Bear began days after she heard about the dog disappearance.

“I read it in the newspaper and I contacted Daniel (Wallen). About three weeks ago, we saw the dog over by Mountain View Lodge, and we put out a live trap. We’ve had calls from all over Corbin. They called and let us know where Bear was, and his movements,” she said.

But the live-release trap being used was not big enough for the Labrador Retriever. Then the volunteers had an idea.

“It was too small for him. So some boys designed a regular metal wire crate that people use to train big dogs. They rigged it up and it worked. Whenever we heard that Bear was seen in another area, we moved the trap, put food in it, and waited to see what happened,” Johnson said as she petted the former missing dog.

What made Bear’s rescue complete was the network of volunteers Johnson, Wallen and others developed. By word of mouth, phone calls, text messages, emails and the dog’s picture on Wallen’s Facebook page, the word got out. After catching the dog Monday morning, Wallen thanked those people who connected to Bear’s search efforts, and helping keep his rescue alive.

“All those people helping to find him and keep abreast of his whereabouts — people, groups, motels, restaurants along the Falls Road — it was truly a group effort,” said Wallen.

Dennis Jackson remembered some of the earlier days of the search.

“We had as many as 15 people looking for him at one time. In the Facebook picture, Bear’s original blue leash was on him. It had been dark blue in the picture, but when he was found today, the leash was faded and worn with time and weather. And he’s been fed. As soon as we got in, Bear had a bowl of water and two bowls of food. After he got fed, they put a new, bright red leash on the dog,” said Jackson.

During those three weeks searching for Bear, Wallen recalled a moment when the big black dog had been sighted. But when it appeared the black Lab may be safely caught, it turned unsuccessful at the sound of a voice.

“On that Saturday seven days after the accident, about 15 of us went out to look around one of the motels on the Cumberland Falls Road. We had the live trap loaded with food and put the medication given to us by the vet in the dog’s food. Then we saw him. He’d been up and down the interstate and the area around the interchange, and he was skittish being around people. Then he saw the food, and he got relaxed. We watched him walk over to the food, and it looked like the dog would go into the trap and eat. And this kid at the motel hollers out and says, ‘Hey! There’s the dog!’ And the dog took off and ran away,” Wallen said.

By 11 a.m. Monday, Bear was relaxed and happier than he’d been since the accident. He also got some attention from a four-legged friend, a female dog brought over to the towing and recovery business. While Johnson had the lady canine on a leash, Bear was crying to get her attention. Moments later, both Johnson and Wallen had the two dogs on leashes and they got to meet each other.

The next big reunion comes when the Dalton family comes back from Ohio to pick up their long-lost pet.

“When I called them this morning, the family was excited,” Wallen said. “They were happy and they were all tore up, but it was in a good way. A wreck’s bad enough, and then to lose the dog. They’ve had enough drama. Now it’s time to celebrate.”

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