It was easy to see how relaxed Jake was, sleeping on his dog bed in the kitchen of the Lenau home in Union last week, his tongue hanging out ever so slightly.
Every now and then his legs would twitch, most likely part of a dream he was having, owner Mary Lenau said, smiling.
A couple of weeks earlier, things at the Lenau home had been far less tranquil.
Jake, a 14-year-old Jack Russell terrier who is blind in one eye, has vestibular disease (an inner ear disorder that affects his balance) and takes medication for congestive heart failure, had wandered away from home in a 10-minute span.
In the seven years that the Lenaus have had Jake, he’d never wandered away before, even on trail rides, stressed Mary. The family live on 33 acres, Happy Goat Lucky Farm, at the end of a long rural road.
The property includes some fenced-in areas, but on this day, Jake was in the front yard as Mary and her husband, Don, were preparing to leave, each to different destinations.
It was Monday, July 1.
When Don left around 8:40 a.m., Jake was still in the yard. At 8:50, as Mary was leaving to take their sick, 18-year-old cat to a vet appointment in Chesterfield, she looked for Jake, but couldn’t find him.
So she called Don, who had gone out to run some simple errands, to ask him to come home to find Jake.
Initially there weren’t any serious alarm bells. The couple believed they would locate the dog soon enough. But as the day wore on, they began to worry.
For the Lenaus, their pets are not just animals, they’re family. They treat them so well, in fact, that Mary’s friends joke they want to be reincarnated as one of her dogs.
‘Fragile Tough Guy’
Jake may well be the most special of all the Lenaus’ pets. He had led a tough life by the time they adopted him seven years ago.
Lenau, who works as a veterinary technican and also volunteers with the Franklin County Humane Society, first met Jake when he was brought into the shelter as a lost pet. He was reunited with his owners, but he ended up lost a time or two again and brought to the shelter, where a microchip just under his skin revealed his owners’ contact information.
Lenau said she fell in love with Jake the first time she saw him. He reminded her of the dog Eddie from the TV show “Frasier.”
“He just looked like a tough guy,” she remarked. “I just always thought he was a really cool dog and would tell (the owners), ‘If you ever don’t want him. I’ll take him.’ ”
Then one day, Jake was back at the shelter, this time after being hit by a truck on Highway 50. His back was broken and an eye was popped out.
The owners had been told not much could be done for him, so they opted to put him to sleep. But Lenau stepped in and offered to adopt him, to try to rehabilitate him.
She took him to see Dr. Ava Frick at her Animal Fitness Center in Union. For four months, Lenau took Jake in for treatments that included chiropractic work and walking on an underwater treadmill.
“In the beginning, he couldn’t walk. He could crawl out of his crate to go to the bathroom,” said Lenau. “He would cry when he would fall. It was so sad.”
In one of his falls, he dislocated his shoulder because his muscles were so atrophied, and Dr. Frick had to put it back in place.
At home, Lenau also gave Jake massage and aromatherapy. He responded to all of it, she said, noting “he loved all of the attention.”
In time, Jake’s back healed, and he could walk again, but his one eye was now forever blind.
A few years later is when Jake developed congestive heart failure and began taking medication.
Then in 2011, he was bitten by a snake, most likely a copperhead, in the backyard, said Lenau. She didn’t see it happen, but found him minutes after being let out completely swollen and near death then.
“His entire body was like a balloon,” Lenau remarked.
She didn’t know what had happened, but rushed him to the vet, where they found the bite mark.
Jake recovered from that attack only to have another last September, this time from a fellow dog. Lenau had brought home another Jack Russell terrier to add to their family, but he didn’t take to Jake for some reason — male dominance, perhaps.
“He attacked Jake, ripping him open from ear to ear,” said Lenau.
She found a new home for the other dog, one where he is the only male pet in the house, and he’s thriving there, she said.
Jake’s recovery was slow, but he did survive.
“I didn’t think he was going to . . . It took a long time to heal,” said Lenau.
About four months ago is when Jake came down with vestibular disease, an equilibrium problem often referred to as “old dog syndrome” because so many older dogs get it. But the problems it caused him were serious, said Lenau. Jake couldn’t walk and wouldn’t eat. She had to syringe feed him.
“His eyes were darting everywhere, and he was throwing up because he was dizzy,” said Lenau. “I thought I was going to have to put him to sleep then.”
But the vet told her most dogs end up self-correcting the problem by walking with a slight head tilt, and Jake did just that.
The only problem for Jake is that because he’s already blind in his one eye, now with a head tilt, he sometimes ends up walking in circles, said Lenau.
To see Jake now you would never know the dog had been through so much adversity, except for maybe a few scars on his nose.
At first glance he just seems elderly and fragile, which he is, said Lenau. But he’s also a survivor.
“He’s the most fragile tough dog I’ve ever seen,” she commented.
Labrador to the Rescue
That’s why when Jake was missing, even for just an hour, the Lenaus were worried.
Early in the search, Mary called in an animal communicator she has worked with in the past for input on Jake’s possible whereabouts. The communicator told Mary they were searching on the wrong side of the house, that it seemed like Jake had gone down a road, that he was then in really tall grass, very distressed and his anxiety was really high.
Lenau worried that Jake had wandered down into the pasture. So they put up the horses and searched there too.
Don had been out on the four-wheeler looking. Later Mary jumped on one of the horses to look. She called her sister and friends and at one point had about 10 people searching for Jake until about 8 or 9 p.m.
As the others went home, Lenau stayed out until midnight on her horse with a flashlight searching in the tall grass. She could hear coyotes yipping in the distance.
Eventually Lenau came in too, but was right back out early the next morning. Her sister too. Both were on horses looking.
At one point in the search, Lenau’s sister had remarked that what they really needed was a bloodhound. That sounded great, said Lenau, but extreme — and where do you find a trained bloodhound, anyway?
“That’s the kind of stuff that only happens in the movies.”
By late Tuesday morning, with Jake still missing, Lenau was at her wit’s end. A search and rescue team seemed like Jake’s only hope, so she called Union Police Chief Norm Brune for advice.
He shared the names of two search and rescue teams that had contacted the department in the past.
The first one didn’t do searches for lost pets, only people, but they passed on the number of a lady who does, Pat Tuholske in Grubville. The Lenaus called her right away.
Tuholske arrived at 2:30 p.m. with her dog Morgan, a Labrador retriever.
The first thing she needed was a scent sample of Jake, something that would have only Jake’s scent on it. That’s a real challenge in a multi-pet household like the Lenaus’.
But they found two samples in a jacket that only Jake wore and his collar.
Tuholske’s report of the search is concise:
“Cleared areas north of the house. Trailed down road to neighbor’s property. Cleared area south of road. Picked up trail at (neighbor’s) property. Trailed to barn and alerted. As Mary is checking the barn, K9 Morgan picks up fresh trail into hayfield and locates Jake.”
In retracing Jake’s steps that way, Lenau said it appeared he went along the fenceline, down the road and then house to house, building to building looking for help, knowing he was lost.
Jake was found in tall grass, just as the communicator had said.
“I had ridden by him, probably within 15 feet that morning, and Don did too, but we didn’t see him because the grass was so tall,” said Lenau.
Initially the joy of finding Jake had turned somber when it appeared that the dog had already passed away, a large number of flies covering his body. But then Pat realized Jake was alive, just very weak and in shock from lack of food, water, his medication, overexertion and exposure.
“He picked his head up, and I scooped him up in my shirt . . . and he just drank and drank and drank,” said Lenau.
Jake had been lost for 31 hours and had walked about a quarter of a mile away — farther than the Lenaus would have ever expected he could physically go.
Lenau immediately took Jake to his vet at Pet Station, where they put him on IVs and nursed him back to stability.
Lenau brought Jake home that night. He wouldn’t eat, she had to syringe feed him once again, and he wouldn’t acknowledge her, like he normally does. Then at odd times, he would just start walking around.
“I think he was still in the mindset that he was lost,” said Lenau.
Now he’s back to his old self.
Tuholske has called the Lenaus several times since Jake’s rescue just to check up on him.
Lenau feels so grateful to have learned of her service and wants others to know she is available.
Tuholske has been a canine handler doing search and rescue work since 1998. Initially she searched for missing people, but made the switch to just search for lost pets a couple of years ago.
There are a good number of search and rescue teams that look for missing people, but only a few that look for missing animals, said Tuholske.
Her resume, posted on her website, www.k9alliance.info, is long. She has done searches in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the tornado that hit Joplin in 2011.
Morgan is Tuholske’s fourth trailing dog. Together they take two to four trailing seminars a year.
Tuholske has lots of advice for pet owners on how to be prepared in case their pet would ever go missing, like how important it is to have current photos of your pet — photos in which the pet would be recognizable to strangers — and how important it is to create a scent article for each pet, an item that has only that one pet’s scent.
“That’s why it only took us two hours to find Jake, because we had a clear scent sample,” said Tuholske.
Tuholske is quick to note that her services are not needed to find most lost pets.
“Only 10 percent of the time is it applicable to use a search dog,” she said.
It’s better to start with contact neighbors, putting up fliers, calling vet offices and animal shelters, spreading the word that you are looking for a certain animal.
Jake’s case was different, said Tuholske, because he is so fragile and on medication.
Tuholske said she doesn’t have to do much advertising for her services. People find her by word of mouth. She currently takes on two to three cases a week, all in the St. Louis metro area. One of her cases this week was searching for an indoor cat that got away from the car in the parking lot at the vet’s office.
Tuholske doesn’t have a set fee that she charges people to help them find their pets. She asks them to reimburse her travel expenses and any other amount they feel is fair.
To her, it’s all about helping lost pets become found. She considers it “a privilege and honor” to bring the missing home and give families closure.
“My passion is bringing the lost and missing home,” she said. “That’s why my motto is ‘Never give up —there’s always hope.’
“When a beloved pet goes missing, it is a heartbreak and deep loss,” Tuholske notes on her website. “Morgan and I offer our services to bring your four-legged family member home.”