COLCHESTER, Vt.—Love wasn't the only emotion that swept through the Bessy household on Valentine's Day weekend.
There was wonder. Joy. Astonishment. And most of all, relief.
After 52 painful days, the family's dog, Scout, had been found safe.
“Unless you've been through something like this, where you live in a world where you don't know what happened to something you care about, something you love ... it was emotionally exhausting,” said Andrew Bessy, whose 8-year-old black Labrador mix was captured in a trap set up to rescue him early in the morning hours of Feb. 15.
“We were really nervous, pulling back the cover and the trap cover, wondering whether it was her or not,” said Bessy, operations manager at AirBoss Defense Inc. in Milton, Vt. “When I finally got a look into the trap, I saw it was a dog shape. It was her. She recognized me and was so excited to see me and my wife.”
Bessy and his wife, Erin, and their two daughters, Deanna and Julia, could breathe again. Scout had survived for nearly two months, among bobcats and wild animals, in the cold and snow, “a brutal winter, even by Vermont standards,” Bessy said.
“If we could only know the stories of what she went through,” he said. “Sleeping with horses, making friends with llamas and wild dogs ... I wish I could get into her head and have her tell me the story. It's amazing that she just survived. This is just mindboggling.”
The ordeal had begun on Christmas Day. The Bessys had traveled to Michigan for the holiday to visit family. While in the care of friends, the dog got loose.
“She got scared and bolted,” Bessy said.
The dog crossed a busy street, then disappeared into the Vermont woods. The dog that never had run away before, that never had been lost, was missing.
The community was alerted, and over the next couple of days, several sightings of Scout were reported. She disappeared until New Year's Day. Community members saw her over the next couple of days, but she wouldn't come when called.
Bessy said the dog had gone into a survival mode, in which her instinct is to hide from people. “They're trying to survive on their own, and they view people as a threat,” he said.
The Bessys own a second rescue dog, Molly, also a mixed black lab. Once Molly realized her companion was missing, the family noticed her behavior changed.
“She didn't want to be more than a couple of feet away from us,” Bessy said. “She was confused at first, because she didn't know where Scout was. She kind of got over it, but ... she wanted to be with people a lot more.”
The Bessys consulted an expert in New Jersey who helps track lost dogs. She told them that once a dog has been missing for a month, 75 percent are recovered in trap.
“It's pretty tough because they won't come when they are called,” Bessy said. “You have to rely on sightings, then set up a trap and monitor it every two or three hours. Otherwise, the dog will die of exposure in a trap in a relatively short period of time.”
Erin Bessy set up trail cameras and bait stations to find her beloved pet. Scout's location was pinpointed in the woods that surround a horse farm, about three miles from the Bessy home.
“We trapped a squirrel one day,” Bessy said. “I was kind of surprised to see the squirrel come after me. You go expecting a dog, and you find a squirrel."
Finally, the trap captured the right animal. Scout, once a rescue dog, had been rescued again.
“She didn't try to get away; she went with us very willingly,” Bessy said. “Frankly other than eating behavior, she has been the same dog around the house. We were concerned she had gone wild and didn't want to come home.”
Scout was taken to a veterinary hospital, where she was fed and treated for worms. She lost more than a quarter of her body weight, going from nearly 50 pounds to 35.
“We took Molly there to see her, and they were clearly happy to see one another,” Bessy said.
-“Just the fact that people were supportive and helpful, that made the difference for my wife and me, never to give up, never to let go,” he said. “To be able to tell people that we recovered the dog, well, they were just overjoyed.”
Bessy put his family's trauma in perspective.
“We're very attached to our dogs,” he said. “I can't imaging what people go through who have someone go missing that they love ... I think that's got to be an immeasurable amount of times harder than what we went through.”