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Lost Australian Shepherd Found By The Town That Cared

Dear People Of Durango, Colorado:

It is Thurs. the 8th of July and we are home once again in Albuquerque celebrating the return of our lost Australian Shepherd and a joyous conclusion to our vacation in your neck of the woods. We lost our dog, Sundance, from Buckley Park the evening of July 4th when we were trying to get him to the car before the booms of fireworks went off. We were messing around with our grandkids, not paying attention to time and were far too slow when the detonations started. The dog, younger, more agile and quicker than we are, escaped our grasp. He took off like a bullet and was last seen going like a cannon projectile across Main Street and up Florida.

  Lost Australian Shepherd

Lost Australian Shepherd Found

Wiggle Butt/Sundance
after a swim


We have been visiting and playing in and around Durango for several decades, but, as we do not reside in your community you can imagine our deep despair and how daunting the task of finding our beloved Sundance seemed to us. We did find him, yesterday, in the early afternoon in Horse Gulch. Retrieving a dog may, on the surface, seem to be a sweat effort of looking and calling. What we actually discovered is that you can’t find your dog in an unknown town without a remarkable, marvelous community of caring people—like the people of Durango. Because you all cared we were able to turn a potentially tragic circumstance into one of the most touching and significant experiences of our lives.

On the evening of the 4th Marianne Pearlman, waiting for her husband, Joel, at Burger King, saw our son-in-law, Mitch and me running as hard as we could after a dog practically flying toward the river walk. The dog suddenly veered, turned around, dashed through traffic and we lost him on Florida in the construction area as he raced for the hills and possibly the Nebraska state line. Marianne saw all this, joined the chase, found her husband and they brought their car to us. We now had two cars and five people searching and calling until nearly midnight.

The next morning our kids and grandkids had to leave for California but there were Marianne and Joel, bright and early, guiding us to the Humane Society, Animal Protection, Vets, local businesses, and the enormous variety of people who could lend a hand to find our dog. The Pearlman’s helped us surround Durango with about 250 posters and showed us the best poster/flyer areas. They walked streets calling and showing pictures to people. They helped us drive neighborhoods and outlying areas. They never stopped, never gave up and paused only to comfort us when we would lose it and have one of our crying spells. The Pearlman’s are modest and not much given to receiving applause, but we could not have kept anything together or accomplished any tasks without their help, ideas and support. As we moved through our search more and more people from Durango joined in.

Chris, the director of your shelter, spent time with us explaining the behavior of lost dogs recovering from panic and adrenalin. He was so knowledgeable and comforting that we began to believe we would see our dear Wiggle Butt again. The Animal Protection professionals, Dispatchers, the local Police and Veterinarians gave advice and assistance.

Every single local business we contacted, from restaurants, coffee houses, pawn shops, sporting good stores, mountain bike and motorcycle sales, art galleries, river rafting companies, pet groomers, the FLC campus, RV parks, the hot springs—too many varieties to name—that we asked for help and to keep a look-out and to post our “Lost” sign enthusiastically said yes.  No local business turned us down. Not only that, people we stopped in parks, on the sidewalk, in the neighborhoods that are part of the Florida area were helpful, shared ideas of where to look, who to contact, who to talk to, where to go. By the end of our second day we felt we had a small army of concerned people helping us. More importantly, we did not feel alone or invisible even though we are strangers in your town.

The Durango Herald and the Telegraph ran free lost dog ads for us. The Holiday Inn let us use their computer and helped us print our initial flyers when businesses were closed on the 5th. We found two Durango blog sites and suddenly people were looking and sharing information through their internet, face-book and other social connections. Waitresses stopped serving us long enough to make a phone call or post our sign. The list goes on and on and on and on…the library, community center, campus buildings, the campus radio station—we left no stone unturned because the people of Durango kept coming forward with more and more ideas of where and how to look.

On Wednesday morning, the 7th, with a heavy heart because we simply had to get back to Albuquerque that night, we started out again with the Pearlman’s. We felt like we were going to have to leave our kid alone in the big, bad woods. You can imagine our tears of dread. We drove once again up Florida toward Lemon and the lake, planning to call and search one more time. We saw a young man on a mountain bike in racing gear stopped at a corner next to one of our posters. We swerved over and asked if he had seen the dog. He said, “Yes”…holding our breath we asked, “When”? He told us, “about half an hour ago in Horse Gulch”. We were now not even looking in the right area! We asked if he could help us look and if he had any friends who could help. He called me back as we headed toward Sonic and the trailhead, told me his parents said yes, he could help, and we arranged to meet him at Sonic.

Lost Australian Shepherd  

Devin Feilen helps find lost Australian Shepherd


With the help of Marianne and Joel and other locals we found our way to the trailhead, and stopped every trail biker and hiker going up the trail and gave them our flyer and phone number. Another biker had seen the dog around trail sign 31; the same area as our young man, Devin Feilen with the Durango Devo reported to us earlier. Devin peddled back from Florida, across town, met us and once again headed up the trail on his bike. We learned then that he had already had a time trial in that area earlier in the morning.

With Devin’s help as a rider, and his dad, Jim, accompanied by Devin’s sisters, giving us terrain information, plus the mountain bikers and hikers we had shown our flyer to, we now had over 100 people looking for the dog or helping us figure out where we could go to call so he might hear a familiar voice. Another mountain biker, a friend of Marianne’s, had seen the dog earlier, but by now it was getting hotter and no one was spotting him. Was he moving? Walking or running? Still heading toward Albuquerque? Resting in the heat? Injured? Was he, the world’s friendliest dog, suddenly wary of people?

In the end, we found our way to trail sign 31. No dog. I was chatting with a mountain biker from Florida, named Tim, who was telling me that he and another woman had ridden the Meadows twice looking for the dog. No dog. I asked him if he had any suggestions about where I could go and sit and call for a couple of hours where the dog might hear me. Tim looked past me and said, “I don’t know why you would do that; there is a dog right behind you.” And out of the trees at trail sign 31, where Devin had first seen him, appeared our Sundance!

Except for blistered feet and a slight thirst, the dog is just plain fine and glad to have found his pack again. Just in case, the Vet at Alpine got him in immediately and checked him out for us. Then jubilant with our own adrenalin we took Sundance for a swim in the river—his favorite thing—just to cool down and get the dust off. A wonderful ending, yes?

But, you see, this is more than a simple tale of “Lost the Dog, Worried A Lot, Cried a Bunch, Searched Around, Found the Dog, Went Home.” It is a tale--if you will pardon the pun and the humor because Aussies, as you know, have no tails--of people helping people. Of people who stop what they are doing and pay attention, of people who take the time to stop and listen, of people who take the time to give a hug, a prayer, a hand shake, make eye contact, share a smile and a word of encouragement and hope. It is a tale of people who dropped everything, rolled up their sleeves and pitched in hour after hour, day after day. It is a tale about people not afraid to get involved. It is a tale about a married couple full of heart and tenacity and encouragement and a young teenager who was quick witted, observant and skilled at sharing information about place and time. Marianne and Joel provided the heart in this tale and Devin provided the happy ending. Devin is the one person—and there always is that “one” person in a single moment providing the pivotal piece of the puzzle in any good story—that culminated in a community effort to save a little old dog for a couple of little old people.

So, Durango, this is a tale about serendipity, sure enough. This is also a tale about paying attention to others and to events in the moment. Most of all, it is at the deepest, most vital level of our human experience, the fundamental tale of community values.

We have been dumbfounded by the kind, thoughtful, helpful people in Durango.  We are staggered and humbled by the response of the locals and students who live in your town! We have been deeply reminded of and touched by how powerful human kindness really is. We pinned our hopes of finding our dog on the good people of Durango. And here we are home again with the dog, answering the phone on Thursday. Calls from the people of Durango who want to know if we found the dog and what they can do to help.


Toni Williams-Jones, Byron Jones and Sundance

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