- The Prestons put Maggie in a crate and secured the lever-handle door of the shop so they could head out for a lunch break.
- They returned not long after to an unlocked door, an empty crate and no Maggie.
- Maggie was finally brought in on Jan. 31, 17 days after she went missing.
NEWARK, Ohio – They’ve always been “dog people.”
Prior to January, in the span of their 45-year marriage, Judy and Walter Preston had adopted 10 canine companions.
So neither was very surprised around the holidays when, after having lost a dog to illness in August, they began to get “the itch.”
To be sure, their two-dog limit had been reached: They already shared their home with an aging Newfoundland and another dog, both 13 years old. But when it comes to pups, the Prestons admit they have trouble exercising restraint.
“In every relationship, somebody should be the responsible one when it comes to dogs,” Judy said. “Neither of us are. ‘I’ll show you a picture. What do you think?’ ‘Do you want to go meet them?’ ‘You’re supposed to say no!’”
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And so it happened that both parties began casually browsing the Humane Society’s postings “just to see” if a dog might appear who would be a fit for their home.
It wasn’t long before their browsing got serious, and before they knew it, the Preston family had grown to include a two-year-old black lab mix named Maggie.
They brought Gracie, the smaller of their current dogs, in to meet Maggie before the Jan. 13 adoption was finalized. Immediately they could see she was a fit, and the following day, the Prestons took Maggie with them to the machine shop they operate on Sandalwood Drive on the western edge of Newark.
That afternoon, the Prestons put Maggie in a crate and secured the lever-handle door of the shop so they could head out for a lunch break.
They returned not long after to an unlocked door, an empty crate and no Maggie.
“It was literally the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen,” Judy Preston said of Maggie’s escape. She theorizes that Maggie muscled her way out of the crate, put her feet on the lever of the door, used the force of her weight de ella to open it “… and off ella she went.”
Immediately the Prestons sprung into action, canvassing the area, speaking with neighbors and posting signs. Walter, meanwhile, had to catch a plane to Florida on business – he reluctantly left as Judy did all she could to try to ensure Maggie’s safe return from her.
She promptly called the Humane Society to inform them of the situation, and eventually Maggie’s face once again appeared on the organization’s Facebook page – this time, in need of a different type of rescue.
“Lost dog: Do NOT ‘track’, approach, or call out. Maggie is in flight mode,” the post read, along with a phone number. Hundreds of users shared that and the ensuing updates about Maggie’s whereabouts about her; meanwhile, Licking County Humane Society dispatched humane agent Paula Evans to have boots on the ground in the search.
Day after day in several inches of snow and freezing temperatures, Evans tramped through farmers’ fields, following leads from tipsters and looking for traces of where Maggie may have been.
Another organization, Columbus-based Lost Pet Recovery, also joined in the hunt, setting up live traps with feeding stations and cameras in strategic locations in hopes of drawing Maggie out.
The organization is “a team of experienced volunteers who specialize in the safe recovery of skittish dogs,” according to its website.
With those resources in place, the hunt continued for 17 very long, cold days.
Occasionally a camera on a property in the area would catch a snippet of Maggie walking past a barn or field.
Once, she was spotted on camera fighting off coyotes.
The search was made more challenging because of the fact that Maggie did not want to be approached, said LCHS communications director Elycia Taylor.
“It was very clear that Maggie was terrified and darting when people were around,” Taylor said.
Maggie survived by following a creek for water and getting what nourishment she could from her surroundings — corn scattered for deer, for example, Taylor said. She likely kept warm by sleeping in barns and outbuildings.
Thanks to the assistance from Lost Pet Recovery and many engaged social media users, Maggie was finally brought in on Jan. 31, when she was captured at one of the feeding stations.
Judy Preston was in her barn taking care of the horses that evening when she received the call from Evans.
“I lost it. I completely lost it,” she recalled. “I’m standing in the barn sobbing. And of course we did n’t actually get her from her until the next day because the vet had to check her from her, which made sense.
LCHS posted a video of Maggie’s return on its Facebook page, which received nearly 50,000 views.
Taylor credits the community engagement in addition to that of professionals like Evans and Lost Pet Recovery for Maggie’s safe return.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do it without sightings from community members,” Taylor said.
Aside from looking “very, very skinny,” Taylor said, Maggie was uninjured and healthy. She was examined by a veterinarian and placed on a feeding plan to help her strategically gain the 10 pounds she lost while in the wild.
The Prestons are just happy to have their family whole again.
“I think she’s put on a little weight. Ella she’s happy, ”Judy said, adding that she and her husband de ella are keeping a close eye on their canine Houdini, though she does not seem to have a desire to disappear again.
“She’s had enough of that for now, I think,” Judy said.
Evans, who has been with LCHS for 12 years, points to Maggie’s situation as a reminder to pet owners of how to take swift action when an animal is missing.
“Community education is key to get dogs who are missing back in their homes,” she said. “You can’t do anything without signs, sightings and people knowing not to chase. When a dog gets loose like that, it goes into flight and survival mode. It might not even recognize the owner.”
Evans said reaching out to organizations such as Lost Pet Recovery and utilizing social media are vital tools in helping to track down a missing pet.
Taylor also recommended having pets microchipped and emphasized the importance of tags for more than just identification:
“We were able to track Maggie because we could hear her jingling tags,” she said.