- The Prestons put Maggie in a crate and secured the shop’s lever door so they could go out for a lunch break.
- They returned shortly after to an unlocked door, an empty crate, and no Maggie.
- Maggie was finally brought in on January 31, 17 days after she disappeared.
NEWARK, Ohio – They’ve always been “people with dogs.”
Before January, during their 45-year marriage, Judy and Walter Preston had adopted 10 canine companions.
So neither were very surprised over the holidays when, after losing a dog to illness in August, they started getting “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 puppies, the Prestons admit they have a hard time showing restraint.
“In every relationship, someone should be in charge when it comes to dogs,” Judy said. “None 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 was that both parties began casually browsing through Humane Society publications “just to see” if a dog might appear that would suit 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 smallest of their current dogs, to meet Maggie before the January 13 adoption was finalized. Immediately they could see she was in good shape, and the next day the Prestons took Maggie with them to the machine shop they operate on Sandalwood Drive, west of Newark.
That afternoon, the Prestons put Maggie in a crate and secured the shop’s lever door so they could go out for a lunch break.
They returned shortly after to an unlocked door, an empty crate, and no Maggie.
“It was literally the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” Judy Preston said of Maggie’s escape. She hypothesizes that Maggie pushed her way out of the crate, put her feet on the door lever, used the force of her weight to open it “…and she left”.
Immediately, the Prestons sprang into action, scouring the area, talking with neighbors and posting signs. Walter, meanwhile, had to fly to Florida on business – he left reluctantly as Judy did everything she could to try to ensure Maggie’s safe return.
She quickly called the Humane Society to inform them of the situation, and eventually Maggie’s face appeared again on the organization’s Facebook page – this time, in need of a different kind of rescue.
“Lost dog: do NOT follow, approach or call. Maggie is in flight mode,” the post read, along with a phone number. Hundreds of users shared this and subsequent updates on Maggie’s whereabouts; meanwhile, the Licking County Humane Society dispatched humanitarian worker Paula Evans to ground boots in the search.
Day after day, in inches of snow and freezing temperatures, Evans scoured farmers’ fields, following tipsters’ leads and looking for traces of where Maggie might have been.
Another organization, Columbus-based Lost Pet Recovery, also joined in the hunt, setting up live traps with feeding stations and cameras at strategic locations in hopes of getting Maggie out.
The organization is “a team of experienced volunteers who specialize in the safe recovery of wayward dogs,” according to its website.
With these resources in place, the hunt continued for 17 very long and cold days.
Occasionally, a camera on a property in the area would catch a clip of Maggie walking past a barn or field.
She was once seen on camera fighting coyotes.
The search was made more difficult due to Maggie not wanting to be approached, said LCHS communications director Elycia Taylor.
“It was very clear that Maggie was terrified and rushing when people were there,” Taylor said.
Maggie survived by following a stream to find water and getting whatever food she could from her surroundings — scattered corn for deer, for example, Taylor said. She probably kept herself warm by sleeping in barns and outbuildings.
With the help of Lost Pet Recovery and many engaged social media users, Maggie was finally brought in on January 31, when she was captured at one of the feeding stations.
Judy Preston was in her barn tending to the horses that night when she got the call from Evans.
“I lost him. I lost him completely,” she recalled. “I was standing in the barn sobbing. And of course we didn’t get her until the next day because the vet had to check, which made sense.
LCHS posted a video of Maggie’s comeback on their Facebook page, which received nearly 50,000 views.
Taylor credits the commitment of the community in addition to that of professionals like Evans and Lost Pet Recovery for Maggie’s safe return.
“We couldn’t have done this without feedback from community members,” Taylor said.
Besides looking “very, very skinny,” Taylor said, Maggie was unharmed and healthy. She was examined by a vet and placed on a diet plan to help her strategically gain the 10 pounds she lost in the wild.
The Prestons are just happy to be reunited with their family.
“I think she gained a bit of weight. She’s happy,” Judy said, adding that she and her husband have been watching their dog Houdini closely, although she doesn’t seem to want to disappear again.
“She’s had enough for now, I think,” Judy said.
Evans, who has worked for LCHS for 12 years, highlights Maggie’s situation to remind pet owners how to act quickly when an animal goes missing.
“Community education is key to bringing missing dogs back to their homes,” she said. “You can’t do anything without signs, sightings and people knowing not to hunt. When a dog lets loose like that, he goes into flight and survival mode. It might not even recognize the owner.
Evans said contacting organizations such as Lost Pet Recovery and using social media are essential tools to help find a missing pet.
Taylor also recommended microchipping pets and emphasized the importance of tags for more than just identification:
“We were able to follow Maggie because we could hear her tags clink,” she said.