It's one of an animal rescuer's worst nightmares. There's that limbo moment when a rescued dog is being transported to a new foster home and is getting out of the car. He doesn't know the people or the area and everything is scary. Often, the dog's natural inclination is to bolt.
That's what happened in early January when a 10-year-old Saint Bernard was being taken to her new foster home in Zimmerman, Minnesota. The dog, dubbed "Old Lady," had been rescued from a puppy mill in Wisconsin, where she had likely spent her entire life locked away, so she was timid and afraid of people. As she was being coaxed out of the car by her new foster, she took off.
"It was snowing really hard and the crunching noise from the snow freaked her out," Ruff Start Rescue Executive Director Azure Davis tells MNN. "She was pulling and she’s very strong and the driveway was all ice. She pulled the foster down and ran."
The temperatures were in the teens and there was so much snow on the ground, Davis knew there was only so long the dog could survive outside. In addition, Old Lady had recently been shaved, probably because her fur had been so matted. So she would feel even colder than normal in the freezing weather.
The rescue distributed "lost dog" signs and set up feeding stations and organized search parties. But after a week, no one had seen her.
"We were really concerned. She was dragging her leash, so we were worried she was stuck," Davis says. "We had signs, everyone knew about her, but no one had seen anything. How does no one see a Saint Bernard?"
After a week, they had a sighting and then another, but by the time they got there, she was gone. They set up a camera and a trap, but she never came back to that particular area.
Tangled in the trees
Then after 17 days, they got a call from the sheriff's department. Someone had reported a dog tangled in some trees in the woods. Davis and Julie Lessard, director of programs, raced over there and found Old Lady. Her leash had picked up a branch during her travels and that branch got caught up in some trees, trapping her in the woods.
Calming her with soothing voices and canned dog food, they managed to slowly slip two leashes over her head, untangle her and gently maneuver her to the comfort of a waiting car.
"She eventually started trotting along," Davis says. "When she felt the warmth of the car, it was crazy, she crawled right in. I think she was ready to be done."
Old Lady walks with several rescuers including Carolyn Kne, who is now fostering her with plans to hopefully adopt her. Kne is the one whose face you can see in the image above. (Photo: Ruff Start Rescue)
Davis thinks Old Lady probably survived by eating a lot of snow and taking food from the feeding stations that had been set out for her. She may also have scavenged from garbage cans and food people set out for their outdoor pets. She had definitely lost a lot of weight: She was only 88 pounds and she should weigh closer to 120 or 130 pounds when healthy.
The first couple days she was back in the rescue's care, she stayed in her kennel, just decompressing, Davis says. She was sleeping, eating and working on getting her energy back, just lifting her head when people would stop by, but she was very shut down.
Venturing back out
"Today, she came out of her kennel for the first time," says Davis, who posted the above video on Facebook of the dog's stroll. "She was walking very nice, greeting everyone and smelling everyone. It's really cool to see the progress in just three days."
So many people have been following Old Lady on the rescue's Facebook page since her escape and through her rescue, with many people asking if she would be available for foster or adoption. Many have also asked how they can donate toward her care.
One of the volunteers who helped search for the lost dog was also there when she was rescued, helping to untangle her from the branches and get her to safety.
Carolyn Kne is now fostering her with the hopes that the pup will want a permanent spot in her home.
"I think she was out looking for her enough times that she fell in love with her," Davis says. "She said, 'If we find her, I'm keeping her.'"