SHERIDAN — When a dog named Sarge walked into a post office in Lakemore, Ohio, the workers just had a feeling he was trying to mail himself home.
The 2-year-old Mountain Shepherd was too large to stick a stamp on and mail, so they did the next best thing: they called Laura Lawson with Summit County Lost & Found Pets, a group of volunteers who helps lost pets reunite with their owners and who find adoptive homes when the owners can’t be found.
Lawson embarked on a tenacious journey to get Sarge home — all the way to Sheridan.
His owner, Jennie Shackleford, got to hold him tight Wednesday evening after Lawson’s husband, Ron, pulled his semi-truck into the Walmart parking lot on the way to a delivery in Las Vegas.
Lawson was out on another dog rescue with her rescue team member Linda Silvey when she got the call from the Lakemore post office.
She asked the other two-member team out looking for an older dog who had been spotted on a roadway in Kenmore to continue that search. Then she and Silvey turned around.
“The Lakemore post office called me, said they had a dog that had walked into the post office like he was mailing himself home,” Lawson said. “It was Sarge.”
Lawson and Silvey took Sarge to the veterinarian to check for a microchip like they always do. Sarge had one, but it was different than the chips usually seen in the area.
With a little research, it was discovered that the chip was a 24PetWatch chip. Lawson got on the phone and originally had no success getting information about the owner.
She called back.
“I told them, ‘Just tell me who to call and what to do so I can get this dog home,’” Lawson said.
24PetWatch sent an email to Shackleford.
“I had no idea that he was missing, actually,” Shackleford said.
Shackleford had recently entered into divorce proceedings with her husband. She had decided to move back home to Sheridan with her daughter while her husband moved to Ohio.
Shackleford wanted to take Sarge home with her; her husband said no, so she loaded her other dog Stanley, a yorkie, into her car and headed to Wyoming, leaving Sarge behind on Dec. 12, 2014.
Unbeknownst to Shackleford, her husband gave Sarge away to an owner in a town an hour and a half away from Lakemore.
That person gave Sarge away, too. So did the next owner. Sarge ended up on Craigslist, found another home, and then was given away again.
When Sarge ran away from his fifth foster home, that owner didn’t go looking for him.
He was a lost cause, it seemed.
Then he walked into the Lakemore post office and met the Lawson family.
“Laura Lawson is an incredible woman,” Shackleford said Wednesday just minutes before she was to be reunited with Sarge. “What a gift she has to have the ability to take a dog like that in and to be able to do everything she’s done.”
Shackleford pauses, fighting back tears.
“It just reinstates my faith in humanity.”
Lawson eventually got in touch with Shackleford and filled her in on Sarge’s journey. Lawson then tried every route she could think of to get Sarge home. She called a variety of pet transfer services but none were able to make a trip to Wyoming.
That’s when Ron Lawson asked his boss with Heniff Transportation Systems, LLC, if he had any loads heading west that Lawson could take to get Sarge home.
Two weeks went by with no loads heading that direction. Then, Lawson’s boss called.
“He said, ‘Hey, I have a load going to Las Vegas. That will get you that way,’” Lawson said.
Lawson left for his delivery at 4 p.m. Monday. He had to wait for his kids to get out of school so they could say goodbye to Sarge, the family’s beloved three-week houseguest.
He put a board across the passenger’s seat with a long cushion and a few favorite toys. Sarge was able to look out the window as Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota passed by.
The 1,500-mile journey took 22 hours without stops. Sarge would bark when he needed a bathroom break.
“He could probably find his way back to my house based on the bathroom breaks,” Lawson said. “He was a really good passenger. He curled up on my feet last night when I was sleeping. That was kind of cool that he wanted a little bit of attention.”
One home, two families
Lawson pulled into the Walmart parking lot at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Shackleford and her parents Laura and Richard Strout pulled up minutes later.
Sarge was looking out the window when they arrived, his tail wagging.
Lawson opened the door on his semitruck. Shackleford opened the back door on her dad’s gray truck and jumped out. She shouted. Sarge barked, his tail wagging in delight. Tears fell. Furry hugs and kisses ensued.
“This means a lot. He’s an awesome dog,” Laura Strout said.
Sarge will join Stanley the yorkie, two Jack Russell Terriers and a poodle at the Strout house — his new home.
However, Sarge will always have two families. At the reunion, the Strouts invited Lawson and his family for a Wyoming visit anytime.
“I’m going to try to bring my daughter across to see the Redwoods in August. If we do, we’re stopping by,” Lawson said. “He was a quick addition to the family.”
“And you all have become a quick addition to ours,” Shackleford said.
Then she leaned down and picked Sarge up in her arms and placed him in her truck.
“It’s all just like divine intervention, the way it all came together,” Shackleford said. “You couldn’t have asked for better people to come across, huh, Sarge?”
Sarge wagged his tail and barked. Lawson handed Richard Strout the toys Sarge had played with on the journey then got in his truck. He had to get to Las Vegas by noon.
Social Media follows Sarge’s journey
Summit County Lost & Found Pets operates completely online via Facebook and Instagram.
During the effort to get Sarge the Mountain Shepherd home from Ohio to Sheridan, hundreds of the group’s Facebook followers tuned in, posting encouraging comments like, “Wonder how many ppl are sitting here staring at their monitors waiting, lol” and “Yeeesssssss!!!!! I will be thinking of sarge tonight when I thank god for getting thru another day and thank him for getting that baby home” and “So happy for Sarge and his family. He will always be a member of SCLFP family.”
“Our payment is their face when they get their babies back,” Summit County Lost & Found Pets operator Laura Lawson said. “There’s no price tag on that. You can’t by that.”