The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 4, 2013

Community pulls together to help find dog

By Robb Murray
The Free Press


Staring up at the wall of lost dogs and cats at Pet Expo in Mankato, Gwen Bernardy never dreamed she’d be here. 

Holding a handful of fliers in her hand, she wondered if Cocoa, her 2-year-old sheltie, would ever find her way home.

“I never thought I’d be one of those people who has to go out looking for their dog,” Bernardy said days later.

But she hung that flier, positioning it among those pleading for help finding missing beagles and calico cats. In fact, she and her husband made 200 fliers and hung every one of them up on telephone poles and tree trunks and walked the streets of lower North Mankato handing them out door to door.

On nearly every block within a mile, anyone who cared to read the flier could discover the following:

Cocoa went missing April 25. She was last seen near the intersection of Belgrade Avenue and Range Street. She’s shy and timid. The flier cautioned people to not chase Cocoa or call out her name. As with other lost-pet fliers, this one gave a phone number to call in case anyone saw her.

The Bernardys knew, though, that even with the flier, most stories like this end sadly, perhaps tearfully.

This one may have had tears. But they were the other kind. Because this story has a happy ending. Cocoa made her way home, all right. And in the process, her owner discovered something about her community she might not have discovered were she not thrown into adversity.

Bernardy dropped Cocoa off a groomer on the corner of Belgrade and Range Thursday morning. While there, Cocoa somehow slipped out the door when it was left open a tad too long. By the time her absence was discovered, it was too late.
The search began immediately.

Bernardy called Minnesota Sheltie Rescue, a group that finds homes for adoptable shelties. They gave her advice on how to go about finding Cocoa. They also gave her hope. A sheltie missing in the Twin Cities once was found after 96 days. They also sought help from Lost Dogs Minnesota, a group that aids in the search for lost pets. They helped the Bernardys create a flier and put them in touch with a liaison in Le Center who helped their search.

Still, the Bernardys were unsure. And Gwen was heartbroken.

While Rick has several children from a previous marriage, Gwen does not. And she freely admits that her dogs fill that place in her life.

“These are like my children,” she said. “I know they’re not human, but ...”

Even though Cocoa had only been with the family for a year, she’d made quite an impression.

She came from a farm and had no idea what to make of that rope thing they attached to her collar. She’s shy by nature, but she was super shy when they brought her home; she wouldn’t come out of the kitchen for a while. Soon, though, her personality began to emerge, and Cocoa blended in nicely as a silly, outgoing member of the pack (although still shy around strangers).

From 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., they went door to door and rode their bikes around the neighborhood, calling her name, scouring every corner of every street in the neighborhood. In the process, the people of their community took notice, and took interest.

Calls started coming in. Neighbors began looking for Cocoa on their own.

“I was very surprised,” Bernardy said. “Pretty much all of lower North was helping us.”

There were a few Cocoa sightings the first day. A few more the next. Then on Saturday ╔ nothing.

For people who love pets ð people who consider their dog or cat or gerbil part of the family and not just an amusement ð this can be a desperate time.

Consider this: According to <> , less than 16 percent of lost dogs are returned to their rightful owner. That’s why, when telephone poles are littered with fliers, the neighborhood knows that, most likely, some family has lost a beloved member. Bernardy feared the worst.

Then came Sunday.

And more calls came in.

She was spotted in one area, and the Bernardys got in their car and raced over there. But when they arrived, she’d moved on. Then they got another call, and again, they raced over. Again, Cocoa had moved on. This happened several times, and each time Cocoa eluded them. She’d been spotted in Spring Lake Park, up on Belvista Drive, and way up the hill on Lee Boulevard.

In the meantime, they’d arranged for a live trap to be brought in. That Le Center volunteer drove to Shakopee to meet a representative of Minnesota Sheltie Rescue, who had agreed to let the Bernardys use a live trap.

They set up the live trap at a spot where Cocoa had been spotted chasing deer. And when they got in the car after that, their phone rang. It was the North Mankato police: Cocoa had been found, and they’d be returning her shortly.

It seems Cocoa, after four days on the lam, decided to open up a bit to some strangers. She apparently walked right up to a woman at a house not too far from the Bernardys and allowed her to give her food. Once inside the woman’s house, the woman called police and let them know she’d found the dog she’d seen on the fliers around town.

“We thought she’d be happy to see us. But she just kind of looked at us,” Bernardy said. “We were happy to see her, of course. I was very relieved and so exhausted. I wouldn’t let her out of my sight.”

Cocoa’s new-found bravery, it seems, may have rubbed off on her owner.

“I’m not one to go out and introduce myself,” she said. “But this has kind of changed me. É We have a good community.”

On Sunday night, to let the community know the status of the search for Cocoa, the Bernardys added an addendum to one of their signs, one of the more visible ones at the corner of Webster and Range.

Written across the flier were the words, “Found safe.”

And back home, Cocoa cuddled up with the Bernardys that night, sleeping between them in their bed.