GILLETTE — Losing a pet can leave a hopeless feeling. It brings about a surge of adrenaline in those first few moments of searching, which turns to a dull ache as the hours stretch into days. Some animals seem rugged enough to survive these kinds of adventures, and other pets seem particularly ill-suited to being helped.
When Manny, a 4-year-old rescue dog, ran away from his owner more than a week ago, he seemed like he was in the latter camp. He’s very scared of humans and missing some toes on his right rear foot that causes him to carry that leg sometimes. But a week after Manny went missing, he was back in his owner’s loving arms, thanks to the help of some selfless Gillette residents.
A family’s graduation celebration in honor of a Thunder Basin High School student turned from harmless fun to frantic worry when Doris Spear’s 4-year-old rescue dog, Manny, escaped from her son’s home.
The little guy scampered from the home when someone opened a door, and though they gave chase, he was too fast.
“He is some kind of a terrier mix,” Spear said.
Spear’s family in Gillette lives just off Shoshone Avenue on Dakota Court, not far from the Maverik station at the intersection of Highway 59 and Shoshone.
Doris and her husband had to return home last Tuesday so he could get to work Wednesday. The couple made the nearly 10-hour drive to Wahoo, Nebraska, without Manny. It was a long drive, she said.
“We were scared that we’d never see him again,” Spear said. “I just put all my faith in the Father, in God. ‘Father God, please keep this little dog safe and help him not be so scared of people.’ He doesn’t trust strangers. He’s a little rescue dog in the first place, and we’ve only had him for about a year. He’s really skittish.”
Spear reached out to the Gillette News Record’s advertising department after days of searching for Manny with no luck. An advertisement went up Wednesday, May 26, on the News Record’s Facebook page, and Gillette residents responded with updates and Manny sightings.
The Maverik station was the place he’d last been spotted, according to the ad. The comment section for the post on Facebook served as the best way of tracking his movements.
“I saw him yesterday I think near south fork apartments …,” wrote one commenter May 27.
Another on the same day said she “saw a small dog with a harness … walking on the sidewalk by the college soccer field. It was headed toward Thunder Basin but then turned and headed back toward the field or houses to the east …”
A day later, another commenter said, “I think I say (sic) him Wednesday on Sinclair street too. I’ll keep an eye out by the college and have the college staff to keep an eye out too.”
Gillette residents and pet-lovers were obviously invested in Spear’s story and hoped to see Manny returned to his owner safely. Almost a week after he scooted out the door, Manny wandered into an open garage door on South Emerson Avenue. A person could walk the main roads of Shoshone Avenue, 4J Road and Boxelder Road to reach South Emerson Avenue in a little more than 3 miles. It’s impossible to know how much distance Manny covered, but he’d covered a lot of ground for a pup missing multiple toes.
Brenda Bundtrock said Manny wandered in while she and her longtime partner, Dion Kowalczyk, were packing for an upcoming move.
“Dion goes, ‘Well there’s this little dog that’s been coming in the garage and going out of the garage and hanging out underneath the truck.’ About that time, he was starting to come in the garage again,” Bundtrock said.
They put up a small fence that they use for their dogs, Dino and Lily, so they can hang out in the garage, she said.
“He was like crouching in the corner,” Bundtrock said. “Just scared to death.”
Manny was too scared and nervous to take any of the food or water that Bundtrock put out for him.
Kowalczyk, whom Bundtrock described as a dog person, got down on the ground to talk with Manny and try to calm him down. Bundtrock said Manny eventually let Dion hold him, but when he went to stand up, Manny nipped at him. It wasn’t a serious bite, she said.
“We just happened to have a little crate,” Bundtrock said. “I said, ‘Leave it out for now, because we might need it for the cat.”
They ended up needing it for Manny instead.
She looked online and found a listing for Manny first thing. She saw all of the comments online tracking his movement over the past week. Bundtrock was impressed with how far Manny had traveled, from Shoshone Avenue all the way over to “behind Harbor Freight.”
“We put him in the cage and waited for them to come and get him,” Bundtrock said.
Spear’s son ended up going to pick up Manny and look after him until Spear arrived home from Nebraska. Her family called her on video and allowed her to see Manny, Spear remembered. She arrived the same day from Oglalla, Nebraska, where she and her husband were visiting his mother.
“I was so happy to see him, and my husband was so happy to see him,” Spear said. “We’re blessed.”
Gillette was the setting for a 2021 update of the classic film “Homeward Bound,” except the home Manny found wasn’t his.“We didn’t find the dog,” Bundtrock said. “The dog found us.”
But the happy ending was the same. Manny had an entire town of strangers rooting for him to make it home.
“I just want the people in Gillette to know how grateful we are to each and every one that shared and looked for him,” Spear said.