That blustery November night when the wind whipped the season’s first snowfall around the Miller homestead is not one the family will soon forget.
On that evening last Nov. 15, as the family shepherded their beloved oodle of Doodles from the barn back into the house, eight-month-old pup Rudy bounded away to play in the snow, unbeknownst to anyone.
Much to their horror, the Miller family discovered a short time later that the standard poodle and golden retriever mix had been killed by a vehicle at the end of their Vivian Road driveway just outside Newmarket's border.
As the distraught family members raced to Rudy’s side during the blizzard, their young Labradoodle, Elliot, followed. The then 20-month-old beloved pet let out a yelp after nudging the motionless Rudy on the two-lane roadway and took off.
“Elliot ran for quite a while,” said Donna Bogers Miller, a former Newmarket resident who trains doodles as therapy dogs to help youth in crisis through her Furever Kind program. “I was in my bare feet running down the road trying to catch him, and he just didn’t stop. He was already in what they call survival mode.”
Bogers Miller still tears up when talking about the six days and seven nights that she, her son Colin Miller, his fiance Kait Crarey, and about 100 volunteers spent tracking, searching and scouring every trail, field and roadway where sightings placed Elliot to be.
Strength of community
That tragedy taught the family a lesson in the strength of community that can form in the search for a lost neighbourhood dog.
“The only reason we got Elliot back was because of the beautiful people in our community,” Bogers Miller said. “The people who came out and helped, who gave their time and their love to help us find Elliot is something we couldn’t have done on our own.”
Within two days of posting information about their lost dog on Facebook, upward of 30 volunteers turned up at the family door ready to search. Concerned strangers shared the lost dog poster far and wide, drawing help from as far away as Saskatchewan and from professional trackers who imparted tips and wisdom to help ensure Elliot was found.
It was a blessing since during the first two days, Colin, 25, who lives at the family home and has raised Elliot as his own since birth, stayed out looking each night until sunrise.
“I would walk all day, my feet were blistered and bleeding,” Colin said. “As soon as I would put my head down to try to sleep, all I could think of was Elliot. If he was out there then I was going to be out there.”
“When we found him, Elliot and I slept together for two days straight,” he said, adding that he burned through six tanks of gas driving around York Region.
An army of volunteers soon formed a nearly 24-hour search schedule for the area bounded by Hwy. 48 to Woodbine Avenue, and Aurora Sideroad to Ravenshoe Road. Signs were posted on lamp posts and fences, and walking clubs and trail hikers kept an eye out for the dog.
Sightings of Elliot came from a large square quadrant, as far away as Davis Drive and beyond to Herald Road, and from McCowan Road to Warden Avenue.
Help also came in the form of professionals, including a roster of volunteers led by tracker Stu Johnson with Team Chelsea, a Durham-based lost pet search group, Hamilton-based The Dream Team, a search and rescue tracking and investigations group run by Ken Price, and Maureen Hani of the Nobleton-based DogGoneK9 Search, Tracking and Rescue.
“It was incredible,” Bogers Miller said. “We met all of our community, people who saw us out monitoring certain areas asked us if we were looking for Elliot and brought us food, and others put up posters and it was like a well-oiled machine.”
And Cian Campbell of Curb Signs Inc. in Aurora, donated to the cause at cost about 200 signs, which generated nine calls of sightings within five hours of going up across the region, Bogers Miller said.
Still, as the days went on, catching the 65-pound Elliot proved elusive.
The runt of his litter, who counts cucumbers among his favourite treats, appeared to cross Black River several times, as well as Davis Drive, according to reliable sightings from the community.
“We think he used the train tracks to get from place to place, as one sighting placed him at Davis Drive and McCowan Road, and not long after, another spotted him at Warden Avenue and Vivian Road,” Colin said. “Based on the time it would take to get between those distances, he must have followed the train tracks around the region.”
On the day the Millers finally caught Elliot, they knew approximately where he was because of sightings, and the clock was ticking as -30 C temperatures with the windchill was forecasted. They had camped out the previous night beside the railway tracks that cross Vivian and McCowan roads.
“The next morning, we had four people on our tracking team and we borderlined that area until we had him surrounded,” Bogers Miller said. “We all sat and played with food and balls and we were crying at that point because we could physically see him off in the distance.”
Colin’s fiance, Kait, spotted him first about 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 21, but didn’t approach him. Rather, based on the trackers’ advice, she crossed paths with the dog.
“I sat down and then began to slowly crawl toward him,” Kait said. “I said, ‘Hey, buddy’.”
As Elliot approached her, she realized that the dog recognized her. He sat down and wagged his tail and let her put her arms around him.
“It was like he was looking for us, too,” she said. “We got him.”
The family hosted several open houses at their home for the 100-plus volunteers who generously gave of their time, expertise and caring during the week-long ordeal. They also distributed 250 thank-you cookies to volunteers from Elliot, Bogers Miller said.
Elliot lost about 15 pounds and suffered raw and bleeding paws while on the lam. But today, he’s better than he’s ever been.
“He’s spoiled 10 times more than ever,” Colin said, as he affectionately patted Elliot on the head.
For Bogers Miller, the journey of a lost dog sparked a desire to give back to the community. This spring, she will launch the Rudy’s Wish campaign that, among other things, will find her building support to lower the speed limit on Vivian Road to 40 km/h, from its current 60 km/h.
In addition, there are plans in the works to post signs throughout the Cedar Valley community reminding drivers that they share the road with local children and animals.
“Losing one of our (fur) babies totally changed my whole perspective on everything,” Bogers Miller said, adding it’s not uncommon to see horses and riders from nearby equestrian farms out for a trot, as well as dogs and their owners out for a stroll. “For people to speed through and not take anything into consideration is heartbreaking. There are no sidewalks, it’s like a country road. A lot of animals have been killed on the road.”
Above all, Bogers Miller said she can't thank her family, friends, neighbours and the community at large for "all the love, prayers and assistance in getting Elliot back home safe".
"We couldn't have succeeded without that support. We are truly blessed," she said.