by Eric Stearley
In mid-November, John Boardman was mowing his lawn when he noticed a visitor near his home. The visitor was about 35 pounds, tan in color, and what John believed to be a cocker spaniel. John’s cousin, who lives on Shady Lane Drive, had seen the visitor before, but was never able to get very close. The little guy stuck around, often hanging out near the crest of a hill at the edge of the Boardman property.
“I called the animal shelter after a few days,” said John. They had gotten calls about this dog, but they couldn’t get close enough to catch it after trying several times. The dog was scared of everything and everybody, and he never got within 100 feet of a person.”
Animals roaming around the south side of town was not unusual according to John, who recounted multiple run-ins with stray cats, for which he keeps a cage in the basement. Something about this little dog, however, stuck with John and his wife Marilyn. They could tell he was wearing a collar, and they knew someone must be wondering where their pet was.
“I put food out for him and put water in a container with a bird bath heater under it to prevent freezing,” said John. “I’d try to get him to eat, but he wouldn’t come up and eat when I was around. At night, he’d come up then.”
Most days when the couple woke up, the food would be gone, but it made the young dog no less afraid of humans. With the weather only getting colder, the Boardmans started to worry about the dog’s safety. His fur was well overgrown, but the temperature was starting to drop below freezing regularly. The Boardmans worried so much about this little dog, it kept them up at night, thinking and wondering where the scared little dog was spending its nights. The Boardmans’ neighbors had taken notice of the newcomer as well. Stella Denney had seen the dog narrowly escape being struck by a car on Peterson Drive. Bob LaMont had noticed the dog a few weeks before, as it followed him from a distance on his way to the market to get a paper each morning. Florence Draper had talked to police about the dog after they knocked on her door at 5:30 a.m. one morning after receiving a complaint of a loose dog running around her house. Draper, who told John that she doesn’t like animals, but that she just couldn’t sleep at night thinking about that little dog out in the cold. John decided to take things into his own hands.
Though not a huge dog, the cat cage he had in the basement was not big enough. He got a cage from the animal shelter and started putting the dog’s food inside the trap. Though the dog may have been irrationally scared of humans, he was very smart. John would watch as the dog, afraid to step inside the cage, would reach in with one paw and pull the food outside before devouring his meal. As John put the food further inside the cage, the dog would reach further inside to remove it.
Afraid to step inside a structure intended for capture, John decided to build a small doghouse, hoping that it would at least give the dog a sheltered place to sleep. Not only would the dog go nowhere near the doghouse, but avoided the Boardmans’ open garage and Bob LaMont’s open utility shed. John once moved the dog’s food dish under the overhang of his garage to keep it out of the rain, but the dog had no interest in getting that close to a building.
With no luck capturing the dog, John went to the vet seeking alternative measures.
“I went to the veterinarian and asked him ‘what can I do about this dog that is so scared?” said John.
The vet sold him some tranquilizers, which he put in a small amount of wet dog food.
“He came up and ate it, and he got slowed down a bit,” said John. “He’d come up closer, but you’d go out there and he wouldn’t even come close. He’d go over there across the hill and lie down in the sun.”
A week later, John went back to the vet for another dose. This time, the vet instructed him to give it all to him at once. The dog ate the medicated food and walked off. John went outside and waited.
“I stayed out there for, gosh, two or three hours,” said John. “I about froze my buns off out there. He came up and I had a whole pocket full of treats. He’d take one out of my fingers. I’d try to touch him and I was trying to grab his collar, but it just wouldn’t work.”
Then came a cold, wet, winter storm.
“We had that bad snow, seven inches of snow, and it was just colder than a well digger’s hind end, and I didn’t know where the little guy was staying, because that was zero,” said John.
John’s neighbor, Florence Draper told him that she thought he was sleeping on her stoop at night. The dog had peeked in her window one night and scared her. John put a rug on the stoop and the dog slept on the rug the next two nights. The following day, John called for him to come eat, and for the first time ever, the dog came up onto the Boardmans’ back porch. Before, the dog wouldn’t even take food from the bottom step, only eating if his dinner was out in the open of the back yard.
Five days before Christmas, Wabash got a heavy, cold rain. John and Marilyn were sitting in their living room when they heard something at the back door.
“Marilyn said ‘look there,’” said John. “He came up on the porch and looked in the window, and by golly, I couldn’t believe it, he put up his paw and scraped on the window.”
They opened the door and told him to come in, but once again, he was timid. He put one paw in, and then decided against it, retreating back to the porch steps. It didn’t take long before he came back, putting both paws in the doorway. This time, he came inside. The Boardmans dried him off with a towel, as he was soaking wet.
“He just spun around, and he was so happy, and he jumped on me and jumped up on Marilyn and wanted petted and he ran all over,” said John. “He stretched out on a pillow and just rested. From wild dog to a pet in a few minutes.”
But the 35 pound tan cocker spaniel had always been a pet; he was a very scared, very confused pet that was very far from home. A quick look at his collar tag and they were able to find his identification. They got his information through the American Kennel Association (AKA) and called his owner. After two months in the elements, he was a very dirty dog. John had planned to take him to their groomer, the place he takes his two shih tzus, Candy and Eitz, but there was no time. Forty-five minutes later, his owner, Christine, pulled into their driveway.
Along with his owner’s contact information, the AKA provided the little dog’s name, Jasper. The one-year-old cocker spaniel had been on the loose since before Halloween. Jasper was a family pet and soon-to-be 4-H project for the family’s children, but Jasper would not be entered into the Wabash County Fair, because he was not a Wabash County dog. Jasper’s two-month journey had taken more than 20 miles from his home in Grant County.
“I don’t know how in the world he got from there to here,” said John. “I just know it ain’t by taxi.”
When Jasper’s owner Christine came to the door and called his name, Jasper jumped up and ran over to her, showering her with affection. They spent a few minutes on the floor, Jasper rolling over to have his favorite person pet him. She showed the Boardmans how to put Jasper to sleep instantly, by rubbing a certain spot on the side of his belly. She also told them that when he’s groomed, the white spot on the top of his head is actually shaped like a heart.
“She said ‘oh, my daughters are going to be just absolutely thrilled when they get home from school and he’s here,’” said John.
Christine’s daughters had been devastated when Jasper didn’t come home. She contacted animal shelters and the AKA to report that her dog was missing. Though the Wabash County Animal Shelter knew about this dog, they were never able to get close enough to make an identification or to scan the microchip implant which would have immediately alerted them to the dog’s situation. John guessed this had likely been the case in Marion and other areas as well.
After a few minutes, Christine told Jasper that it was time to go. He walked to the family’s van a new dog. He jumped through the sliding side door of the van and they pulled out of the driveway.
“There he was, sitting up in the passenger’s seat just looking out the window just like he’d been doing that all his life,” said John.
With just 5 days left until Christmas, the youngest, hairiest member of a family was reunited after months of separation.
“Why he came here, I don’t know that,” said John. “This is, I would say, for Florence Draper, Bob LaMont, and me personally, our greatest Christmas present.”