While most people spend New Year’s Eve sipping champagne and making resolutions to better themselves throughout the next 365 days — a group of dedicated volunteers and staff at Furever Home Inc. were in the eleventh hour of a weeks-long rescue mission.
Instead of being surrounded by family, friends and libations — members of the local dog rescue organization spent the last few days of 2018 staking out fast food restaurant parking lots and setting a live trap with tripe and chicken gizzards in an effort to rescue an elusive stray dog that had been wandering the 23rd Street corridor for a month.
“We watched her pretty solid the week leading up to New Year’s, and on-and-off the week prior,” Martha Bang said. “I don’t think any of us expected her to survive because it was so cold on New Year’s Eve.”
Weeks of diligence among the group of dog lovers finally paid off on New Year’s Day when Bang and several other members of the group were able to wrangle the pooch with icy-blue eyes after it had been sighted in various locations along 23rd Street throughout December.
“We got her and that’s all that matters,” Deb George, president of Furever Home Inc. said. “It was just such a huge sigh of relief — and we are all just so glad she is OK.”
The group’s first encounter with the dog, now named Grace, was on social media after someone reported seeing a stray dog on Broad Street to the “Lost Pets of Fremont Nebraska Area” Facebook page which is run by Melissa Rief.
That reported sighting came on Dec. 10, and according to Rief sightings kept coming in across town about the brown colored, medium-sized stray running roughshot throughout the streets of Fremont.
“We were getting reports of her anywhere from Menards all the way to Sapp Bros,” Rieff said. “They were mostly along 23rd Street, but she (Grace) had a pretty big radius.”
So the group of volunteers and Furever Home staff—made up of Bang, George, Rief, Cindi Schumacher, Donna Dodge, Jen Coulter, Morgan Kuehler, and others—decided to mobilize to try and catch the oft-sighted stray to get her out of the cold and hopefully into a newly adopted home.
After determining where Grace had been spending most of her time, in fields just north of Wal-Mart and Menards and at garbage bins in parking lots at businesses along the south side of 23rd Street (ALDI’s, Applebee’s, Jimmy John’s, SONIC, Taco Johns) the group began drawing shifts to try to keep an eye on the stray dog.
“We started reaching out to see if we could find a live trap, and where we would put it, and a bunch of us just started watching for her,” Bang said.
When several attempts to catch the dog by hand failed, the group then upped the ante by acquiring a live trap from another dog rescue operation in Columbus.
“Melissa put us in touch with Morgan (Kuehler) who had a big live trap,” Bang said. “So we drove up to Duncan, loaded up the trap and we set it where we thought she was base camping at night.”
Kuehler, who lives in Columbus, came to Fremont to help set the trap and put up trail cameras to try and get video of the elusive Grace.
They set the trap on the northwest side of Wal-Mart and baited it with “all of the stinky things” as Bang described it.
“I couldn’t tell you how much raw chicken I had in my hands,” Bang said. “But that first night we had the trap set Grace came within just a few feet of going for it—but something spooked her and she ran off.”
When the trap wasn’t working, Schumacher contacted a friend of hers who is an avid hunter and asked what they could do to try and entice the dog.
“Once it freezes outside scent doesn’t go very far and he suggested we do a bacon burn,” she said. “You just put a pan on a campfire stove and you throw bacon in there and just let it burn. So we got a trash can and a little stove and we packed a skillet full of bacon, gizzards, you name it we lit it on fire.”
But the bacon burn was to no avail, as Grace remained on the run despite the group’s best efforts.
With time running out on 2018, the group felt like the time to catch Grace alive was also running out as temperatures dipped below freezing and wind gusted over 35 mph on New Year’s Eve.
“I don’t know how many times I looked at her and thought I don’t know if we are going be doing this tomorrow—I thought it was going to be a recovery on Tuesday,” George said about having to call it a night on New Year’s Eve. “It was just so cold.”
But the stubborn dog who refused to be caught also refused to succumb to the frigid temperatures and made it through what would end up being her last night alone in the cold.
As the sun rose on the first day of 2019, so did Schumacher and Bang who again set their sights on catching Grace.
Bang began the morning by going to every restaurant along the southeastern strip of 23rd Street and asked managers to make sure their garbage was secure and outdoor enclosures securely locked.
“I said I know it’s a lot to ask but can you keep them tight because that is what she is eating,” Bang said.
She also asked that employees, no matter how good-hearted their intentions might be, to not attempt to feed Grace.
“I yelled at some poor guy at Jimmy John’s who was walking outside to give her bread,” she said. “We explained to them that we can appreciate everyone trying help and not wanting her to be hungry—but we need her to be hungry—so she goes to the food that we have to her.”
But in the end, it was Grace’s dumpster-diving ways that ultimately led to her rescue.
Schumacher, who was out on the morning of New Year’s Day tracking Grace, watched through binoculars from her truck as the dog ventured into a garbage enclosure outside of Applebee’s.
“Applebee’s had the gate to their dumpster closed, but because of how the trash was set in there it literally closed to the width of one person,” she said. “I saw her go in there and I grabbed a leash and my phone and hopped out of my truck—and when I got there, there was no way for her to get out.”
When Schumacher came upon the garbage enclosure she was also still recording a Facebook live feed so the rest of the group could follow along.
“I just stood there and said, ‘I have her trapped! I have her trapped!’” she exclaimed. “All of a sudden 10 cars pulled up like it was a SWAT team.”
Dodge and her husband quickly responded as well as Bang—who would be the first sent in to try and corral Grace due to her small stature. She was followed by Dodge’s husband for reinforcement.
“We didn’t know how Grace was going to react, so we wanted to be careful,” Bang said. “But she kind of slipped past me and realized she couldn’t get around. I had this slip lead (leash) on me and I just slipped it on her and I was like oh my God, I got her.”
After Bang was able to finally catch Grace, the word spread quickly amongst the other members of the group.
“I was at lunch with my family when I heard, and I just kind of stood up and said oh my god I have to go,” Coulter said.
Grace, who at that point still didn’t have a name, was brought back to Furever Home Inc.’s location at 236 W. Sixth Street where she got lots of food and water, a warm place to rest and plenty of belly rubs.
“It was total relief,” George said. “If anyone didn’t sleep Tuesday night it had to be from adrenaline, but by Wednesday I slept like a teenager knowing she was safe.”
The group then enlisted their social media followers to choose a name for the elusive pup—with the voters settling on Grace—which is short for “by the grace of God we finally got her!”
Grace is now getting acclimated after getting started on de-wormer medication and topical flea treatment after first being rescued.
She will soon take a trip to the vet, and if all goes well will be adoptable in the next few weeks, according to George.
“I would have no reason to believe why they wouldn’t give her a clean bill of health, and once we do that she’s old enough to go get spayed and then she will be adoptable,” she said.