Lost dog back home after 7-day adventure in the wilds of Tusket
Bernese mountain dog's owner says she'll now be "the biggest helicopter mom ever"
She tried cheese, bacon and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
She tried drones, deer cameras and live traps.
But for seven days and nights, Sarah Clarke's dog simply would not be captured.
Stuart, a three-year-old, 100-pound Bernese mountain dog, went missing on Saturday, May 20.
Clarke, who lives in Shelburne, was visiting with some friends in Tusket and the group decided to go out for dinner. She left the dog at her friend's home in the care of her friend's partner.
At one point, the man opened the door and that's when Stuart bolted out onto a nearby marsh.
"I was like, meh, he'll be back tomorrow," said Clarke. "I was upset, but I was like, he'll be back. Dogs don't run away like this.
"Turns out they do."
The search begins
She immediately started searching the area, calling Stuart's name. She made a public Facebook post appealing for help finding him. Sightings were reported soon afterwards, including one report that said Stuart was lying in the middle of Highway 308, alive.
The next morning and for the next few days, Clarke got up before sunrise to continue searching the back roads on foot and by car. She took time away from her job as a social worker to devote all her energy to finding Stuart.
A pug, a drone and KFC
It wasn't long before friends and strangers joined the effort. Clarke estimates that over the course of a week, at least 50 people helped search for Stuart.
One brought a "magnet dog" — a dog that the missing animal is attracted to. In this case, that would be a pug.
Stuart, Clarke says, is obsessed with pugs.
"If we're walking down the street, he can't keep all four feet on the ground if he sees a pug."
Someone else obtained a live trap and baited it with Kentucky Fried Chicken.
A friend brought a drone so they could get the lay of the land in a forested area.
A group of Bernese mountain dog enthusiasts drove the three hours from Halifax to help with the search.
One nearby resident who had heard about the search spotted Stuart mid-week.
"He was just driving and he turned and Stuart was standing in a driveway," Clarke said. "And by the time he braked, Stuart was gone and nowheres to be found."
On Thursday, a thunder and lightning storm hit the area. Clarke couldn't bear the thought of Stuart being out in that, so she slept in her Jeep on a dirt road.
On Saturday morning just after 5 a.m., Clarke checked the live trap, and found that the gate was down. Something was in there.
Alas, it was not Stuart.
"I trapped a raccoon. It was terrified."
And hungry, it seems. All the KFC was gone.
Clarke lifted the gate and stood back.
"And the raccoon's staring at me and I'm staring at the raccoon and I'm like, 'You got to leave, buddy.'"
That's when they brought out the big guns: bacon.
A friend cooked two pounds of bacon, hoping that the scent would draw Stuart closer.
'We have Stuart'
As Clarke was driving to another search location, her phone rang. It was a fisheries officer who had joined the search.
"She was like, 'We have Stuart in this yard. He's not coming to us, but we have him here. Can you get here?'"
Clarke was right around the corner.
"As I come into the yard, I just see his bum running into the woods," Clarke said. "That's the first time I had any eyes on him since last Saturday."
Stuart was in the woods, just out of sight.
"We were both squatting on the ground and we were calling him," said Clarke. "You could hear him starting to come closer and closer."
Finally, he emerged.
"As soon as he locked eyes with me, I dropped down on my bum, so that my legs were out in a V — my sign for him to come and sit in my lap. And when he was just a few feet from me, he leapt into my lap and he was yelping and crying. I was crying and screaming. I'm yelling at the officer, 'Get the leash and put the leash on him!'"
After the teary reunion, Stuart ate what might have been his first substantial meal in a week: the two pounds of bacon bait and a stick of cheese that the fisheries officer had brought.
Clarke figures Stuart probably consumed a reasonable amount of rabbit droppings during his week in the woods.
Once Clarke got Stuart back in her Jeep, she didn't take her eyes off him.
"The whole drive home I had my rear-view mirror tipped to look at him because — like, I'm going to cry right now — I just can't believe he's back."
Stuart has a couple of blisters on the pads of one of his feet, and his snout is a little roughed up. He also has some scabby areas where he was bitten by a tick, and Clarke pulled about 14 other ticks off him on Saturday. She plans to take Stuart to the veterinarian on Monday for a checkup.
The dog does have a microchip, but that only provides contact information. It doesn't track the animal, Clarke said.
Now that Stuart is home, Clarke says she's going to be "the biggest helicopter mom ever."
While he is trained to walk off leash, it'll be a while before Clarke is ready for that.
"I'm pretty sure I'm not letting him off the leash for a while. Maybe he got a taste of the wild life."