Cheri Glankler has been rescuing dogs for 20 years — the last five of those spent in Garden Valley, Idaho, — so the elderly retriever that ended up in her care in late June was nothing out of the ordinary. At least initially.
From the outset, the dog looked rough. She was found collapsed on a ranch off Idaho 55 near Horseshoe Bend and was brought to Glankler covered in fleas and ticks.
“Please share if you know someone is missing her,” Glankler wrote in a Facebook post on the Lost Pets Boise page.
But Glankler had a hunch about this missing dog. And the internet did, too.
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Right away, comments started pouring in on Glankler’s post: Could this be Mo, a dog lost in the area last fall?
Mo, then a 12-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, had gone missing Sept. 13 between Horseshoe Bend and Placerville. A former hunting dog, Mo still accompanied her owners, Darwin and Cindy Cameron, on hunting trips and relaxed in their camper. On that September trip, Mo was somehow let out of the camper and took off in search of Darwin.
For the next three months, the Camerons, who live in Boise, stayed in the area searching for Mo, with no luck.
Mo or no?
Glankler, a fan of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, or Chessies, had heard about Mo when the dog went missing. She’d hoped to hear about the dog’s safe return, but after a season of heavy snow, she wasn’t terribly optimistic.
The past year’s hard winter would have been tough to survive in the wild, even for an animal in its prime, Glankler said. The dog she had rescued, though a hardy Chessie (a dog known for its wooly, oily coat that was bred for the extreme cold of retrieving in the Atlantic), was deaf and clearly pretty old. Glankler couldn’t be completely sure this dog was Mo.
Still, she tracked down the Camerons. They were apprehensive, Glankler said. In the past nine months, they’d had many false alarms, and each time they realized the dog in question wasn’t Mo, they hurt a little more. The last they had heard, a hunter in Jerusalem Valley had seen a brown dog in the forest, running from wolves.
“I was positive it was her,” Glankler said. “But I didn’t want to dash (Darwin’s) hopes.”
There was something about this dog that Glankler swore was a sign — and then there were the squirrels.
Glankler was walking the elderly retriever on her property one day when a squirrel streaked by. Despite how weak the rescued dog was, she “nearly ripped my arm off” to chase the critter, Glankler said. Talking to Darwin Cameron’s brother, Glankler asked, “How is Mo with squirrels?”
“Game on,” he replied.
With some persuasion, the Camerons made the trip to Glankler’s Garden Valley home from Boise, nervous but hopeful. Glankler warned them that even if this was Mo, their reunion might not be quite what they expected.
“They all expect this kind of Disneyland response like you see sometimes in videos when veterans come home,” Glankler said. “And to be perfectly honest, that’s abnormal. People don’t understand that (the dogs) have gone into survival mode.”
This dog had been through serious trauma, and even seeing a familiar face would take some adjustment time. When the dog greeted the Camerons, she was subdued — but there was a familiarity there, Glankler said.
“I knew right away,” she said. “She went to Cindy and pushed her head into Cindy’s belly. Cindy was looking her over and looking for all the signs that this is Mo — a stitch in her right eye, her fatty tumor.”
Darwin sat down and the dog ambled over to him. She sat down squarely on his foot, “which is exactly what Mo does.”
“He wanted to believe it was her but he was afraid to believe it was her,” Glankler said.
The Camerons had one more way to tell. “Go get the bed,” Cindy told her husband.
They had brought Mo’s bed with them, hoping the dog would recognize a sign from her previous life. When the dog started sniffing the bed, Glankler said, it was obvious. There’s a real difference in the way canines sniff their own scent and the way they explore the scents of other dogs, Glankler explained.
“I think you have your girl back,” she told the Camerons.
When the Camerons left Garden Valley, they were 99 percent sure they had Mo. After a few days at home, they’re 100 percent certain, they said. Mo knew just how to get through the garage and the house. It was little details like that that made them sure.
Now, they said, their focus is on getting Mo back to stable health and making up for lost time. While she was gone, Mo lost about 50 percent of her body weight. It was clear that she had spent the entire time on her own in the wild, Glankler said.
“The way she looked, there’s no way someone was taking care of her,” she explained.
Darwin said another priority is thanking the hundreds of people who spent time looking for the lost dog.
“The sheriff’s office, the hunters who set aside their tags and their hunting trips to help look for a lost dog,” Darwin said. “Boy, we’re blessed to have her back.”
Glankler has a nickname for Mo after all the elderly canine went through: The Legend. She said she plans to start a new rescue in Mo’s honor that bears the same name.
It’s not often in dog rescue that Glankler gets a happy ending, she said. And Mo stole Glankler’s heart with her tenacity and bravery.
“Even here when I would take her out on a lead, she was searching. She knew who she was looking for. She’s incredible.”