Losing her dog, Dasher, in the middle of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge earlier this month felt like a bad dream to Kirsten Storlie.
But the dream had a happy ending, as dozens of friends from the dog agility community in the Twin Cities searched a full week in freezing temperatures to bring Storlie and Dasher together again — and just in time for the holidays.
“I just wrote a whole stack of thank-you notes over the weekend to everyone we could remember had helped,” Storlie, 47, said Tuesday. “It was over 90 people.”
She lost Dasher on Dec. 3, when she brought her two dogs to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge for a morning walk with a friend. Dasher, the youngest of the two, is a three-year-old Labrador retriever mix with a black coat and white chest.
While crossing the Minnesota River on a pedestrian bridge under Cedar Avenue S., Dasher collided with a cyclist. As Storlie and her friend tended to the cyclist, Dasher ran off into the vast refuge.
Storlie and Harley Jo, her other dog, walked 17 miles that day looking for Dasher. State troopers told her in the afternoon that they saw a black dog on the west side of the river that was possibly injured.
She took to social media and filed a report with the Retrievers, a volunteer group that spreads the word about missing dogs. Dozens answered the call for help, most of them friends whom Storlie had met through agility competitions where dogs are guided over obstacle courses and judged on time and accuracy.
It is a tight-knit community, Storlie said, with owners training and running their dogs through courses across Minnesota and neighboring states.
“We were calling them Dasher’s Army,” said Carolyn Kne, the case manager for the Retreviers. “It was actually incredible to see.”
They set up a base camp, plastered posters and spread the word online. Friends and their dogs walked the trails and the wetland for hours throughout the week.
“It needed to be done. A friend needed help, and at some point in time my belief is I’ll need help,” said Laura Breckheimer, a friend from the dog agility community.
Dogs, especially young and healthy ones like Dasher, are resilient, Kne said. As temperatures fall, they find places to stay warm and out of the elements.
The following Saturday, after a week without any sightings, Storlie got a call from a man who saw a dog that looked like the one on the posters. It was Dasher, looking somewhat somber and skinnier but alive.
Although he had an injured leg, Dasher is returning to his old energetic self, Storlie said. Specialists will be consulted to see whether he can return to agility training.
The overwhelming help Storlie received from her competition friends is something she won’t soon forget, she said. And the ordeal won’t keep her from returning to the wildlife refuge with Dasher.
“It’s got great trails, and I know them really well now,” she said, laughing.