Giving All for Love of a Lost Dog

Lost dog in Flathead
Photo by Gail Jokerst

By GAIL JOKERST

Fortunately for some members of the animal kingdom, people’s love of four-legged critters transcends all the boundaries of politics, economics, race, and religion. And that becomes especially clear whenever a dog or cat goes on a walkabout, and its owner seeks help in bringing their furry friend back home.

No one cares, then, who won the last election or what someone else’s position is on matters of faith.

Carole King, (no, not the singer-songwriter) and her husband, Vern, learned just how passionately a varied group of Montanans feel about lost critters this past July when their border collie, Katie, went AWOL.

They had just driven over from Deer Park, Wash., with Katie, to vacation in the Flathead and were staying in a hotel. Carole and Vern went out one evening, leaving Katie in the hotel room.

Katie, however, did not remain there long. Using a skill she had taught herself at a young age, she pushed down the room’s door handle and let herself out.

After returning to an empty room, Carole ran to the front desk, and the first words out of her mouth were, “Please tell me you have my dog.” The look on the clerk’s face told Carole all she needed to know and it wasn’t good news.

That night, the Kings went looking on foot for Katie till 4 in the morning. It was a search that was to last 57 devoted days and conclude with the equivalent of a romance novel’s happy ending.

For the Kings, the rescue mission came with its own set of unique complications. Since they currently share their lives with two horses, two cats, and two other Border collies, someone had to stay home to care for them.

That responsibility fell to Vern. He yearned to be more involved in the search but had to content himself with driving back to Montana whenever he could find caretakers for their other critters. Making the best of their situation, the couple talked daily by phone, and Vern helped however he could from afar.

“His encouragement kept me from worrying. I felt confident that all at home was being taking care of,” said Carole. “Vern might not have always been physically present, but he was there for me, providing emotional support.”

That sustained her as an expanded search for the missing canine took off, and help poured in from a variety of quarters.

“The clerk at the hotel started a Facebook page on lost pets of the Flathead Valley, so word got out on the internet. She wanted a picture of Katie to post online and made photocopies, so I could put out fliers. People picked up on what they read on Facebook and shared it with friends. It was a domino effect,” explained Carole.

She estimated that initial effort eventually spiraled into over 100 online sites featuring Katie’s picture and a description along with Carole’s phone number.

Eventually the campaign included mounting game cameras, camping out some nights in fields, and placing newspaper ads. Carole paid visits to local veterinarians, the dog pound, dog park, and animal shelters.

She canvassed businesses near the hotel, plastering Katie’s image wherever she could. Then the quest expanded to neighborhoods within a mile radius of the hotel, where she knocked on doors and handed out fliers.



“It was amazing, the attitude of the people I met. I never came across anyone negative,” recounted Carole, who, like Vern, is a retired law enforcement officer. “People opened their doors, they called other neighbors to let them know, they volunteered to help. Strangers went out searching, walking the fields, a calling in sightings. One person even created a video on Katie’s disappearance. It received more than 13,000 views.”

During the seven-week ordeal, between 40 and 50 people became actively involved in the hunt for the black-and-white border collie. Three groups formed to assist—Team Katie, Carole’s Posse, and Katie Come Home. There were even offers to use drones, but because of local flight patterns, that wasn’t possible.

“I’ve been surprised by the kindness of so many strangers, by their encouragement and willingness to help. One person came out almost every day with food to make sure I ate. Another person let me stay in her home during this time, so I didn’t have any hotel bills to take care of,” remarked Carole. “I think I’ve made a lot of good friends. The togetherness of everyone in this community has brought me such joy and hope. It was so unexpected.”

The denouement came the morning of September 15 at 7:15, when a man called Carole and reported, “I saw your flier; it was on our mailbox. And I see your dog now. She’s in my back yard.”

“From his description, I knew it was Katie, so I got his address. But by then, he told me she had disappeared into the trees, and he couldn’t see her anymore,” remembered Carole, who promptly drove with a friend to his location.

By the time they arrived, the dog had vanished. It was while cruising the neighborhood from the car that they came across a couple taking a morning walk. When asked if either of them had noticed a border collie, the man said no. But then he hesitated, mentioning he had seen one earlier. As Carole headed back to the car to get a flier to give the couple, the woman turned, pointed, and spoke four words Carole would never forget, “Is that your dog?”

“She had come out from behind the trees, and everyone started calling her name. I had everyone be quiet, then I called, ‘Come on, girl, it’s me.’ As Katie focused on my voice, her head snapped up, and then she ran to me. I bear-hugged her, picked her up, and she started licking me,” said Carole. “I wouldn’t let her go, and she was still licking me. It was pretty amazing. Even the couple was crying. People driving by were high-fiving us. It was such a good feeling. Once I got her in the car, all I could think was, it’s done, at last.”

Although there were many moments when Carole felt the search was useless, she kept looking, because the bond between her and Katie was so strong.

“I didn’t give up because I love my dog. I knew in my heart that she was still out there. I really thought she was looking for me. That’s why she never left that mile radius from the hotel. All the sightings had been around there.”

At one point, Vern wrote the following letter to Katie, which he left for Carole when he had to return to Washington. He told her to find a quiet spot while out searching and asked her to read the letter aloud, think about Katie, and trust the message would reach her somehow.

“Katie: This is your dad. I love you so very much and miss you truly. I am going home to care for your brothers and sister. Mom is still here looking for you. Please try and find mom so you can come home. Instead of saying goodbye, I would rather say ‘see you soon.’ Love, dad.”

Predictably, Carole and Vern’s advice to anyone else who loses a pet mirrors their recent experience. “Don’t give up hope. There are a lot of people who want to help.”

Katie is arguably the best-known dog in the Flathead—at least for now. Carole figures so far she has received something like 200 phone, text, and email messages of congratulations, and they continue to roll in. One supporter contacted Carole after she learned of Katie’s recovery by overhearing two cashiers at Costco talking about the news.

The moment Carole brought the emaciated, burr-coated Katie to Flathead Pet Emergency, the veterinarian on duty recognized her without the aid of any introductions.

With tears in her eyes, she said, “So this is the famous Katie, the one that is posted all over Kalispell. I remember seeing those fliers for weeks. Put two leashes on her,” the vet promptly counseled Carol. “You don’t want to lose her ever again.” MSN