A goldendoodle went missing for weeks following a fatal accident. A kind, dog-loving stranger made it his mission to find him.
CHAFFEE COUNTY, Colo. — More than two weeks into his search for a dog that he'd never met, Joe Stratmann thought about giving up.
"After 16 days, the dog is probably dead," Stratmann told Dillon Thomas, a reporter for CBS4 News, a Denver TV station.
On Aug. 7, Bentley, a cream-colored, one-year-old goldendoodle, was in a vehicle that was involved in a fatal crash near the Gunnison National Forest in Chaffee County, approximately 105 miles west of Colorado Springs. Bentley survived the crash, but his owner, 43-year-old Jennifer Orr, of Wichita, Kan., did not.
Following the crash, Bentley took off. His whereabouts unknown for weeks.
In a desperate plea for help to find Bentley, Sam Orr, Jennifer's daughter who was injured in the fatal crash, created a Facebook page called "Bring Bentley Back" on Aug. 14.
"PUBLIC ASSISTANCE NEEDED!!!!" the original post reads. "There is a missing Golden Doodle and we need to find him!"
With the help of the Facebook page and local media reports, the desperate search to find Bentley intensified. Throughout the search, Orr's confidence in bringing Bentley home never waned. "WE WILL FIND BENTLEY!" wrote Orr at the end of an Aug. 16 Facebook post.
Living three-and-a-half hours away from the scene of the fatal crash in Chaffee County, Stratmann, who says he was "moved by the story," saw an ad on Craigslist relating to Bentley's disappearance and knew he had to act.
"I am a dog lover," Stratmann said.
With his own two dogs by his side, Stratmann set out on a two-week mission to find Bentley. The mission would prove to be difficult for Stratmann. After more than two weeks of searching, Bentley was still nowhere to be found.
"(I thought) 'What am I doing here?'" Stratmann said. "But, I went ahead and started walking up (the trail) and boy I am glad I did."
While hiking on a trailhead near the site of the crash on Thursday, Aug. 23, Stratmann says that as he passed a treeline, he noticed something unique walking along the mountainous terrain in the distance.
"I saw something white up there, moving around," Stratmann said. "I said, 'Surely not, this can't be this easy, that can't be him.'"
Stratmann then reached for his binoculars, looked through the lens and was able to identify the animal as a dog, not a mountain goat. For the first time since the crash, Bentley's whereabouts were finally known.
"(Bentley) was bouncing around, hunting mice up in the rocks," Stratmann said.
After spotting Bentley, Stratmann delivered a phone call to Orr, who was coincidentally on her way to Colorado from her Kansas home to search for Bentley, that she had desperately been waiting for. Her precious year-old goldendoodle was finally coming home.
"Had it not been for Joe, this puppy would not have returned home," said Orr in a Aug. 25 Facebook post. "Thank you so much, Joe."
While eager to be back in Bentley's presence, Orr says she knew the process of being reunited with her dog, whom she hadn't seen in weeks, would not come without some challenges.
In an Aug. 14 Facebook post, Orr wrote that in a case like Bentley's, "due to the trauma of the crash, these dogs immediately fall into our 'shy dog' profile and will generally behave as a shy, fearful dog, even though they may have a friendly personality. Dogs lost from car accidents are usually quite predictable in their actions and can be successfully recovered if everyone who is helping the owner understands lost dog behavior and agrees to follow some guidelines."
Knowing this, Stratmann returned to the area where he saw Bentley the next day, setting out food stations and leaving toys in an attempt to lure the goldendoodle to him, but to no avail.
The next morning, on Saturday, Stratmann met up with Orr, who had recently arrived in Colorado, and returned to the trail where Bentley had been spotted.
"We were able to spot Bentley early in the day, a few hours in," said Orr. "I came within 30-40 feet of him. He wouldn't come to me, but seemed interested."
Eventually, Orr said, Bentley's fear got the best of him and and he made his way to the top of a nearby ridge.
"I slowly but surely followed him," Orr said. "Upon reaching the summit, I could see him watching me. I got close to him, laid down, unpacked some items to eat and a new toy I'd purchased for him. He never moved an inch for over 15 minutes."
Then, after giving him some space for a few minutes, Orr says she slowly began to walk towards Bentley until she was finally able to convince him to come into her arms.
"From then it was nothing but tears and celebration," Orr said.
Overall, Orr said Bentley's health was "OK," but said that he was "a little malnourished and dehydrated."
"There was a lot of man tears shed," Stratmann said. "I think everybody was crying ... A lot of happy tears."
Stratmann said that assisting in reuniting Orr with her goldendoodle was "probably the greatest thing I have ever done in my life."
Bentley finally returned home to Wichita on Sunday, Aug. 26, to a barrage of "welcome home" signs and balloons.
"BENTLEY IS HOME IN KS!" a Facebook post written by Orr reads. "If we only knew what those eyes have seen in the past 19 days! He and his Mama are MIRACLES!!"