On New Year’s Eve, Chris Verhel let his dogs, a 9-month-old German shepherd named Onyx and a 4-year-old Doberman pinscher named Hemi, into the backyard of his Duluth, Minnesota, home.
Hemi was on a 30-foot lead line, and Onyx was unleashed because he rarely strays from Hemi.
A few minutes later, Verhel went to check on the dogs and discovered the backyard was empty.
Verhel said the finding was doubly worrisome because the dogs are more than just pets.
Onxy is being trained as a therapy dog to assist Verhel, a Duluth police officer on medical leave after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"He's supposed to help me with my stress and stuff. Now he's gone," Verhel told Fox 21 News. “I can't restart with another dog you know. He's my buddy.”
Verhel and his family began searching for the dogs in the surrounding woods, and as night fell, they became increasingly worried. They doubted that shorthaired Hemi would survive the night.
On New Year’s Day, the search party grew as neighbors, friends and even a rescue squad joined the effort.
They searched into the night but found no trace of the dogs, so Verhel arranged to have a pilot friend take him up for an aerial search the next day.
However, icy conditions made it impossible to fly, and Verhel and his family started to lose hope.
“It was hard for me to believe that they were still alive,” he told the Duluth News Tribune.
But on Jan. 2, Verhel got a call from a neighbor who had spotted a German shepherd running along the road. Not long after, Verhel’s 10-year-old daughter spotted Onyx out the window.
After an emotional reunion, Verhel put Onyx on a leash and they set out to find Hemi.
Onyx led them deep into the woods, where they found the Doberman resting on a bed of sticks, the lead line tangled in trees. Verhel thinks Onyx made the bed to protect his canine friend.
"He knew Hemi could not lay on the snow all night long, so he started breaking sticks and carrying them in and leaving them,” he said.
The dogs are tired but otherwise healthy, according to Verhel, who says he hopes his dogs’ safe return will inspire others not to give up hope.
“People need to understand that even when you’re just out of it, you gotta have that hope,” said Chris. “It’s gonna turn around and this is a prime example of it.”
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