Searching for Spirit

Not all lost dog stories have happy endings.

The number of dogs that go missing around here is mind-boggling. Social media overflows with them, all day, every day. Some dogs surreptitiously slip out of houses. Some dig under fences. Some jump from vehicles. After a while, it’s easy to become numb to these sad, sad stories.

But not in the case of Spirit.

Near daybreak on April 13, the black-and-brindle mixed breed dog with haunting blue eyes was lost from Copeland’s Veterinary Clinic in Cookeville when employees took her outside to an unfenced area for a potty break. Spirit was just a few hours out from ACL surgery when she slipped her leash, crossed 10th Street and headed north on Brown Avenue.

Michelle, Spirit’s owner, was—of course–devastated. And serious about getting her dog back. She walked and drove mile after mile, searching. She posted LOST DOG notices online and in this newspaper. Copeland’s offered a one thousand dollar reward to anyone who could find Spirit. Air Hounds Thermal Drone Service got involved. So did Dog Days Search and Rescue. Michelle, who lives in Crossville and works in Knoxville, traveled to Cookeville every day after work and searched far in to the night.

But as hours turned into days and days flew by, it appeared that Spirit might be lost and gone forever. Poor, poor Spirit, I muttered to myself. And poor, poor Michelle.

But on April 27, two weeks to the day after Spirit went missing, I was amazed to read on the “Hip Cookeville” Facebook site that Spirit had been found alive. Wow. What a story! What a column! I called the phone number listed for Michelle. She answered and was eager to talk with me. I learned that Michelle and husband Jim had rescued Spirit from almost-certain death more than four years ago when he found the abandoned puppy, estimated to be about four months old, at a park in Morgan County.  “She was horribly emaciated,” Michelle told me, “and full of worms.” Spirit was pooping rocks and sticks, which she apparently ingested when she became desperately hungry.

The couple took her home, where she joined their other dog, Biscuit, and three cats. She healed and grew into a robust and happy 70-pound dog. All was well until the day Spirit went missing.

Credit for finding her goes to lots of folks, including employees at Copeland’s who helped in the search. Many, many concerned citizens kept their eyes and ears peeled for Spirit and offered support and encouragement. Michelle gives the lion’s share of the credit to JoAnn Powell of Dog Days Search and Rescue, who hunted tirelessly for the dog and never gave up hope that Spirit would be found alive.

As it turns out, she was holed up just a stone’s throw from the vet’s office in a backyard thicket on Brown Avenue. A resident of the home there spotted her and reported the sighting. JoAnn set a trap and advised Michelle to bring Biscuit with her when she came to Cookeville. “I was told to sit calmly and quietly near the thicket and let Spirit come to us, not the other way around,” Michelle said. “And you know what? She did.”

Naturally, Michelle wept happy tears as her beloved dog collapsed into her arms. I suspect lots of other folks did, too, when learning of the rescue. Including me.

Spirit’s wounded leg had begun to atrophy and she lost eight pounds during her ordeal. She’s recovering at home now, still a long way from being physically and emotionally healed but making good progress. The other news?  The lady who spotted Spirit went into premature labor that very afternoon and was rushed to Vanderbilt Hospital. She and her new baby girl are hanging in there and she is grateful for the much-needed reward money.

Not all lost dog stories have happy endings. Thankfully, some do.

(May 11, 2024)