Home FUR the Holidays

November 2019

Thunder Bay is famously known for The Incredible Journey, the beloved novel by author Sheila Burnford, of two dogs and a cat that make a 250-mile trek through the Northern Ontario wilderness to find their home. But just this October, another canine made an incredible journey of her own, 90 kilometers from a kennel in Trout Lake to Clarkson Avenue, Thunder Bay. Her name is Buttercup and this is her story.

Buttercup is a 4-year old husky cross, adopted by Ryan and Natalie Leonard from Northern Lights Dog Rescue. They knew, right from the start, that Buttercup was a special dog.
“She’s stubborn,” says Leonard. “She likeqs to do things her way and knows how to use her agility to avoid getting into trouble. She loves to dig and has two favorite mounds in the yard where she likes to ‘perch.’ She’s also a licker - if she likes you and you have any exposed skin, she will lick you. Tell her to stop and she will lick you again when she regains the element of surprise. This past year, she started bird hunting in our yard and managed to catch (and eat) a sparrow mid-flight. She also loves feta cheese and pepperoni.”

This fall, the Leonards took a 3-week long trip to Malaysia, and left Buttercup at a boarding kennel in Trout Lake. Being the stubborn and resourceful dog that she is, Buttercup managed to break open the door on her kennel, dig 12 inches down to squeeze under the kennel fence. She was sighted several times over the next few days in the area, but then turned up at Hawkeye Lake. Residents began to report a strange dog who came to play with other dogs during the day, then disappeared at night. After a week, she was spotted again on the hiking trail at Silver Falls by, coincidently, a co-worker of Ryan’s, who didn’t know Buttercup was missing. She made her way to Murillo and was sighted on Mud Lake Road, but by then, people were aware of her situation because of social media.

“I don’t use Facebook because of the misinformation it spreads,” says Leonard, “But it was instrumental in recovering Buttercup, so now I feel like I owe them! Maybe I’ll start using it again.”

Buttercup’s photo and information were being shared on two local Lost and Found Pets sites, so by the time she was seen in Murillo, people knew to call her by name. Businesses in Murillo and Kakabeka were more than willing to let the Leonards post ‘Lost Dog’ flyers in their storefronts, and even Ryan’s employer, Digital Engineering, allowed him a vehicle and additional resources to aid in the search. Still, she had been on her own for well over a week then, and somehow, she backtracked all the way to Dawson Road.

Then came the report of a deceased dog on the side of the road, and Leonard admits he thought all was lost.

“I was up until 3am looking for a dead dog,” he says. “I had to see if it was her. I just wanted to know. I would feel guilty if I didn’t know and would have to move on with my life without her.”

Fortunately, it wasn’t Buttercup and two days later, she was spotted at Gus Wouri Road. A close encounter came at Hazelwood the morning after that.

“I actually made eye contact with her at Hazelwood,” says Leonard.

“But I was in a truck borrowed from work, and as soon as I stopped, she just took off as fast as she could into the city.”

They lost track of her after that until TBT employees working on the highway saw her on the corner of Valley and Hwy 11/17. She darted back into the bushes, and Leonard assumes she must have used the culvert to cross the highway because she was spotted later that night around Hammarskjold High School. The following morning, she was sighted on Clarkson Ave. where she spent the night curled up next to a house. She took off again when the homeowner snapped a picture of her, but she was seen running through the backyards. It wasn’t long before the wayward traveller was cornered, and the Leonards were contacted.

“It was a very tearful reunion,” says Leonard. “She was cowering in the corner until she saw me walk into the yard. Then she jumped all over me crying and licking and covering me in her skunk stench.”

Overall, Buttercup was missing for 16 days and covered a journey of over 90km, starting at Trout Lake, then proceeding to Hawkeye Lake, Silver Falls, Murillo via Dawson Rd, back to Dawson Rd, then to Valley where she crossed 11/17 before ending up on Clarkson.

“We are overjoyed to have our fur baby back,” says Leonard. “Natalie and I pretty much searched for her nonstop since we returned from Malaysia. It was torture being on the other side of the world and not knowing what’s going on, or if we were going to come home to an empty house, so now we’re looking forward to unpacking and having a good night’s sleep!”

And as for Buttercup, the world traveller?

“She’s skinny, covered in burrs, has a couple small scratches, and smells like skunk,” says Leonard. “But she’s home and is happy to be able to just lie down on her bed and chew on her bone.”

With an incredible journey of her own, Buttercup is finally Home fur the Holidays.

Special thanks to Digital Engineering, the townships of Murillo and Kakabeka, and the intrepid Facebook warriors of Lost or Found Pets in Thunder Bay and Surrounding Areas and Thunder Bay LOST PETS and FOUND PETS.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at www.hleightondickson.com

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