Star’s Michaux State Forest Adventure

As told by Find Toby in PA Field Support Volunteer, Kim Reed Bard

Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue out of West Grove, PA pulled Star from a high kill shelter in Kentucky and brought her to Pennsylvania.  There was very little known about Star’s past.   She was adopted in March 2021.  Star was a very terrified little dog, afraid of everything and everyone, but she was making great progress. 

It was decided it was time for Star to become familiar with the family’s cabin in Michaux State Forest in Fayetteville, PA.  On May 15th, Star was in the screened-in back porch with her owner, Nick and canine sister, Gypsy, when a loud noise within the cabin startled her.  Star bolted, crashing through the closed screen door.  This was the beginning of Star’s 22 day adventure in the Michaux State Forest.

On Sunday, May 16, Find Toby in PA was notified via email that Star was lost.  Find Toby immediately put Star’s post on the page and provided Nick with important tips. The Admin on duty posted Star’s post to our Find Toby in PA Field Support page.  I immediately called Star’s owner and went over all the do’s and don’ts when it comes to a dog lost in an unfamiliar area.  Typically, a dog lost in an unfamiliar area will not go far.

Arrangements were made to meet with  Nick and his wife, Sharon, later that day.  Cameras were placed at the perimeter of the property along with food stations to see if Star was lurking in the area of the cabin. Nick had walked from cabin to cabin on Saturday to see if anyone saw Star.  A cabin neighbor about ½ mile away indicated that Star ran through his yard soon after she bolted from Nick’s cabin.  On a hunch, I thought it would be a good idea to put a camera at that location. The cabin neighbor had already left his cabin, so we immediately went into action to find the name and contact number of the cabin neighbor to ask permission to put a camera there. Permission was granted on Monday, May 17, so cameras and a food station were placed that day.  While placing the camera at the neighbor’s cabin, a call came in of a possible sighting of Star the previous day, on Buchanan Valley Road.  We follow up on every lead, so Star’s owners immediately went to that location,  put up flyers and talked with folks in that area. 

At 3:43 AM on Tuesday, May 18, Star was caught on camera eating the food at our food station at the neighbor’s cabin.  The 72” trap was deployed to that location, baited, set and ready for Star.  Star is a small dog and I could have used the 48” trap, but because of her fearfulness, I felt the 72” was in order. We anxiously awaited Star’s return.  But, Star was a no show.  We continued to bait the trap, but, still no Star.

On Thursday evening, May 20, we received word that Star was seen on a security camera in the area of Cabin Lane and Newman Road the previous morning, Wednesday, May 19th at 4:30 AM.  A photo confirmed it was Star. We went to that location on Friday, May 21, but Star had not been seen since on the many cameras throughout the property.  We assumed she was passing through.  At this point, we knew we needed to expand flyers in an attempt to get ahead of her to get the word out. The waiting game began.  We desperately needed a “real time” sighting. 

Star’s owner received a call on Wednesday, May 26 that Star was possibly seen on Cold Springs Road, five days earlier on May 21st.  This was not unlikely from the last sighting in the area of Cabin Lane and Newman Road.

Even though, the sighting was reported five days after her sighting, flyers were expanded to that area in case she was still in that vicinity.  Again, we waited.  

For 9 consecutive days there were no more sightings of Star. We were aware of coyotes in the area, but we did not allow ourselves to think about it.

FINALLY – THE CALL WE WERE WAITING FOR!!!  On Sunday, May 30, Nick received a call at 7:00 AM from a DCNR Ranger who was on his way to help search for the lost hiker on the Appalachian Trail.  He saw Star on Newman Road and gave very specific details as to where she was seen.  I immediately loaded my vehicle with cameras and food and headed for the location. THIS WAS HUGE – A REAL TIME SIGHTING!!!

I was in the woods attempting to find a spot for a food station and camera, when a gentleman drove by and stopped.  He got out of his vehicle and asked “if I was looking for a lost dog?”  I replied that I was.  He indicated that he saw the dog earlier and tried to call the number on the flyer, but there was no cell signal to call.  I followed him further down Newman Road, about ¾ of a mile and he showed me exactly where he saw her. Star had been curled up, asleep in the grass. Incidentally, this was at the DCNR Disease Management Area site for disposal of deer parts in Michaux State Forest. 

A camera and food station were placed at this location.  One problem, cell signal was very sketchy and I only had a small area where our camera would pick up a Verizon signal strong enough to relay. A few hours later, Star appeared and ate from the food station.  Again, the 72” trap was deployed, baited, set and waited for Star.  Star was not having anything to do with the trap.  She would not even go near to investigate.  The next day, we repositioned the trap, but, still, no go from Star.

My concern was that Star’s fear of the trap would cause her to move to another location, so we shut the trap, and moved it off to the side camouflaging it with the natural scenery of the woods. We just continued with a food station until we figured out what to do next. On Wednesday, June 2, I arrived in the early morning to refresh the food station.  I looked up and Star was watching me.  I immediately looked away.  She disappeared into the woods.  What she did next was quite out of character for a lost dog.  She started with short barks or “yipping” is how I best describe it. What was she telling me?  My only thought was that she was “asking for help”.

I remembered that Nick and Sharon indicated early on that Star bonded with and was very fond of Gypsy, another dog owned by Nick and Sharon.  Gypsy is a Certified Therapy Dog and volunteers with the local group Kindly Canines of Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  That was it, we needed Gypsy to help get Star to safety.

Nick and Gypsy met me at Star’s location Wednesday evening.  Gypsy was harnessed with a 30’ lead attached.  Gypsy wasted no time getting to work.  Gypsy started barking and before our very ears, Star returned her barks.  This went on for a while and before we knew it, Star came out of the woods for a split second and because Gypsy was on a 30’ lead, she and Gypsy were able to have a quick smell of each other. WHAT A MOMENT!!! Star went back into the woods.  We did not want to push her so we left and, incidentally, Star and Gypsy continued to bark back and forth even as we were leaving.  In my five years of doing this, I have never experienced anything like this.

For the next 3 days, twice a day, for hours at a time, Nick and sister, Gypsy, arrived with lawn chair in hand, smelly treats and a whole lot of patience.  Gypsy would arrive and bark, Star would reciprocate and come out of the woods to greet her friend.  Gypsy was very patient, non-intrusive, and had such a calm and confidence about herself.  She knew she had a job to do and she was doing it well. Nick was awesome. He studied the calming techniques video, the slip lead technique video and followed my every lead.  Progress was made each day leading up to Saturday evening June 5 when Nick was able to scratch Star’s chin.  He just wasn’t in the right position to grab her.  He only had once chance.

Sunday morning, June 6, could not come soon enough.  I arrived as usual to refill the food station and water. Nick and Gypsy arrived shortly thereafter.  Gypsy gave her usual bark, and out of the woods comes Star running as fast as she could to get to her friend. (Turn up your volume and listen to them on this video). I left to give the three their alone time without distraction.

Soon after returning home, I received the call from Nick.  He could hardly speak, but he did manage to get out, “I GOT HER!”  After I had left that morning, Nick had asked the Gypsy and Star if they wanted to go for a walk.  Gypsy and Nick started walking towards their vehicle and Star followed.  Nick turned around and Star was right there, so he knelt down to offer her a treat. The perfect opportunity presented itself and he was able to get a grip on her collar and then proceeded to grab her harness.  He “bear hugged” her, put a slip lead on her, took Gypsy’s leash off and put it on Star’s collar all in quick time.  A dog crate was kept in his vehicle for this very time to assure Star was contained until she reached the safety of her home.

This was a case of a very dedicated owners and a very special therapy dog named Gypsy who knew exactly what she had to do to help her sister get out of the forest safe and sound.  I am happy to report that Star is adjusting well; above anyone’s expectations.  How could she not with awesome owners and a sister like Gypsy!

Thank you to the folks who called us with sightings and welcomed us onto your properties. Thank you to Michaux State Forest and DCNR, and, a HUGE thank you to Mr. Neff for flagging me down that morning to show us exactly where he saw Star.  

The “Stars” were aligned for us to cross paths that morning and because of this, Star is home safe and sound.