Before Feb. 27, Rob, Katy, Elena and Brett Engels did not consider themselves dog people. On that sunny Sunday afternoon, a fluffy white 25-pound pooch wandered into their backyard on Marsh Point Court in rural Gaithersburg. He was friendly and playful, but skittish, and would let no one touch him, Katy Engels said. He wore no collar. At the same time, more than 30 miles east in Howard County, hundreds of people were hunting for Winston, a white cockapoo who had gone missing 37 days earlier.
Katy's daughter Elena, 9, threw a stick to see if the dog would play fetch. He wasn't interested — until she tossed a tennis ball, and then he went nuts.
Elena's parents expected his owner to come calling for him any minute.
"He was such a sweet, cute, wonderful little guy, we just assumed he'd slipped out of a neighbor's front door," Katy Engels said. "We assumed someone would come collect him that day. We even talked about just shooing him away, thinking he would just go right back to his house."
At 4 p.m., the family snapped a photo of the dog and emailed neighbors, asking if anyone recognized him.
Around 7 p.m., Rob went out and bought some dog food. The dog spent the night in their garage, coaxed in with the ball.
He barked all night. Early the next day, Katy Engels let him inside.
She was sitting at kitchen table reading the newspaper and drinking coffee when Winston came up and cuddled on her feet.
She was sure she would find Winston's owner that day.
A long way from home
When her dog disappeared, Janet Lynn West of Ellicott City posted his picture to her profile page on Facebook and asked others in the area to repost the image.
This caught the attention of friends.
Two clients at West's personal training business, Catherine Midkiff and Vicki Foertschbeck, got involved, along with two friends from her hometown of Bowie, Laurie Thompson and Chrisa Rich.
Midkiff came up with the idea of creating a Facebook page, "Help Find Winston," which drew more than 250 followers. Foertschbeck contacted the media. Thompson used Google maps to track sightings and identify places to post the 1,000 fliers they printed up. Rich suggested contacting Dogs Finding Dogs, a nonprofit organization that tracks and finds missing pets.
West's ex-husband, Rich West, accompanied the search dogs and kept the Facebook page updated.
Sightings were reported daily.
During one search, Janet West came across blood. She worried Winston was injured or had been attacked. Another time she got a call about a dead white dog on the side of the road.
"The weather worried us constantly," she said in an interview through Facebook. "The snow storms, ice, hail, cold temperatures were all very disheartening. But after a storm we would get a sighting, and hope was restored he was still surviving."
Reunited at last
On Feb. 28, the Engels placed a notice with the Montgomery County Humane Society and told nearby veterinarians about their found dog. Katy Engels posted a "Found" ad on Craigslist.
Four days later, she heard from Denise Bretholz Harris, an employee at Camp Bow Wow, a boarding school for dogs in Columbia, who had become involved in the search for Winston.
Based on Katy Engels' description, Denise did not think the found dog was Winston, but she sent a link to the "Help Find Winston" Facebook page.
There Katy Engels spotted a photo of Winston lying down in his weird, awkward way — with his legs splayed out behind him. The dog in her home looked dirtier and shaggier than the one in the photo with pure white, close-cut fur, but Katy Engels was certain they were the same.
She fired off another email.
Janet and Rich West and their son Colin arrived in Gaithersburg the next morning at 11 a.m. At 11:06 a.m., Chrisa Rich sent a post to the Facebook page: "IT IS HIM!!!!!!"
It had been 44 days since Winston first left Ellicott City. Before arriving at the Engels' house, he had last been sighted in Columbia on Feb. 17.
"We all wish he could talk!!" Harris wrote. SOURCE: Gazette