Abner back home in Madison after a wild journey|
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In a tale straight out of “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,” the errant Abner is back home in Madison after nine weeks lost in the Wisconsin northwoods.
And it’s all due to the unwavering perseverance of his owner, Mary Carbine, the advice of a nonprofit organization devoted to reuniting missing pets and owners, and the generosity of spirit of northwoods residents.
“Without them, Abner never would have been found,” Carbine said.
This week marked Abner’s second rescue. The first came in 2008, when he came into Carbine’s life after being found as a stray in Terre Haute, Ind. and brought to Wisconsin by the “Furry Bottoms” rescue organization.
The medium-sized lab mix—a mutt really—endeared himself to his new owner with his sweet and shy nature, but he had a “street-smart” side too, likely developed in his days roaming tough Terre Haute streets.
Those abilities served him well on Oct. 5, when during an annual girls weekend at a cabin in Three Lakes, Abner went missing after a romp in the woods with some doggy friends.
“He’d done this before, but had always come back,” Carbine said.
When it started to thunder and rain, Carbine became seriously concerned, since the seemingly big tough lab was terrified of thunder and tended to bolt and hide from fear.
Over the next hours and days, Carbine combed the Web as well as the woods, coming across a site for Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, an all-volunteer non-profit organization. Following the site’s advice, she and her friends papered Three Lakes with posters, called sheriff’s departments and animal shelters, and placed ads with Abner’s picture in local newspapers.
Through tips, sightings and photos captured on game cameras, Carbine tracked her dog south, into the Monico and Crandon areas and then down toward White Lake.
“I was desperately worried and exhausted. But the Lost Dogs of Wisconsin volunteers encouraged me not to give up hope,” she said. “Lost dogs can be found weeks and months after going missing. And they can be very resourceful if they are not pressured or chased.”
The organization also noted that the dogs are often “car smart,” avoiding traffic and able to find sources of food and shelter.
“But in the dead of night, all I could think of was wolves,” Carbine said.
As Abner traveled south, Carbine changed her newspaper focus as well, placing her first lost dog ad in the Antigo Daily Journal in early November.
She struck paydirt, with a rash of calls coming in from Polar and Elton within days of publication.
“That weekend we flyered in a wide range of places in Polar, Elton and White Lake and at key places like Borucki’s Grocery Store in Elton to help get the word out,” Carbine said. “The sightings poured in. People were so kind and helpful, taking time to drive around and help look, driving me to show me where they saw the dog and others agreeing to put out food and try to get him in their dog kennels.”
While many thought Abner had likely become coyote bait after almost two months, Carbine—and her growing network of Langlade County friends—refused to give up. She ran another ad as the gun deer season arrived, stressing that Abner was still at large and thanking hunters for being careful on the roads and knowing their targets.
Abner managed to avoid humane live traps—eating the food without tripping the mechanisms—and was seen dining on fish scrap piles at a nearby trout farm. A farmer with an unused deer pen constructed a hay bale shelter and baited it with fish scraps, hoping to lure the dog inside and shut the door.
Then Abner found love.
Carbine had received a call from a White Lake couple who had seen Abner and captured his image on their game camera. They wanted to help.
“This kind couple was the last crucial link in the circle of help and support from Polar, Elton and White Lake that brought Abner in,” Carbine said.
The couple set up a safe place for Abner in their woodshed, leaving the door ajar and setting out food and water. They didn’t pressure the dog, letting him feel safe, and did not call or chase him. Slowly, be became less wary.
Elated, Carbine came north again and actually saw Abner last weekend. But when she called softly to him, he stopped, turned for a moment and went back into the woods.
Heartbroken, she recalled an article from the Lost Dogs website that described how lost dogs can go into survival mode and avoid any possible predator, including their owner.
Carbine left Sunday afternoon, encouraged but still Abner-less.
But the White Lake couple had a secret weapon, their own rescue dog, a sweet, smart female that befriended the little tramp, soothed his skittish nature and gradually lured him toward the house.
“Sunday night, after a long snowy drive back to Madison, I got a call,” Carbine said. “Abner had come inside. He had come back to the house several times that Sunday and the last time followed the man of the house and their dog inside. Unbelievable.”
Carbine collected her pet Monday morning.
“Abner was checked out by the vet, he was kind of stinky but healthy, and unbelievably had gained eight pounds from all the food people had put out for him,” she said.
Carbine placed one final Antigo Daily Journal ad, this time with a banner screaming “Found Dog.” It can be found on page 3.
“Thanks to the wonderful people of Polar, Elton and White Lake, and the Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, this story has a happy ending,” Carbine said.
Mary Carbine and Abner, back home in Madison on Tuesday. Dorla Mayer took the photograph.
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