• 75°

Man who returns dog after adoption hailed as hometown hero

To the Editor:
I have an amazing story about one of your own. An Elizabethton man adopted our family dog from the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter on Thursday, Sept. 10, and returned him on Monday. He did NOT have to return our dog, as he was the legal owner of him after the adoption. Danny Smith is a hero in our family. Several hundreds of people were following our story and helping us search for Jake. The owners of Jiggy Ray’s heard about the heroic thing Danny did and are offering him a free pizza. Three of my Facebook friends are sending him Thank You cards. He is a hero in the eyes of many.
Our family beagle, Jake, went missing on Sept. 3. We started an intense and very emotional search for him. He had never left the farm in the 4 years he lived there. Jake loves chasing rabbits, tracking deer, and going on trail rides with the horses, but he always came back home to eat his food and sleep on the porch.
I had contacted 4 shelters in our “search” area. No luck. I contacted several websites, such as Lost My Doggie, PawBoost, and No Kill Network in hopes they would notify area shelters, vets, and groomers. No luck. I started making Facebook posts. I joined all of the area “lost pet” pages and made posts there. I made personal posts on my Facebook page. We were getting hundreds and hundreds of shares. No luck. I made flyers and hung them in our “search” area.
The first tip came in on Saturday. I received a call from a lady who lived on the road located in our main focus area, Mock Knob Road. This is a back road in Bristol, Va., that leads to Hwy. 421. This lady told me that a white car pulled into her driveway a week ago with our dog. Jake got out of the car and the young couple asked if the owners lived close by. The neighbor lady didn’t recognize Jake and sent the couple to the next driveway, a man who had dogs. I thought to myself, he will remember Jake since he had dogs. We immediately went to talk to the gentleman. He was unfortunately, not home. He did have work vehicles in his driveway with a phone number on it. I called and he remembered so much about Jake. He was so helpful and actually gave us the tip that led us to find our dog. He remembered the car had Johnson County tags. That was it! I then needed to get all of the people I could find to help us spread the word in Johnson County. I contacted anyone I knew that knew people there. We started a new Facebook post begging for help. We were in the car heading to hang flyers when a message came through. A lady saw my post and knew our dog was in the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter. She sent a picture and sure enough, it was Jake! We turned around, came home, and started trying to contact the shelter. We called, left a voicemail. We emailed. We sent Facebook messages. I was tagged in a post with 5 employees’ names of the shelter. I sent friend requests and messages to all. It was starting to get late on Saturday night, but we didn’t stop trying. Sunday morning, we loaded up (we are a family of 6 — 4 small children ages 14, 13, 8 ,6) and headed to the shelter. We knew it was closed, but we couldn’t wait until Monday to find out if Jake was OK. We had a plan to sit in the parking lot until someone came to feed or walk the pets. We just had to know he was there and doing well. As we pulled up to the shelter, we saw 4 cars, but the gate was closed. Excited was an understatement, we were hopeful. A man walked outside and we were able to get his attention. He was nice enough to go inside and look for our beagle, Jake. We waited anxiously outside the gate for him to return with good news. The employee walked out of the shelter door, shaking his head. Our mood went from happy/excited, immediately to sad/terrified. Jake was NOT in the shelter. We were upset as another man walked out. They allowed us to go in and look for our dog. He was NOT there. Our family was very upset, so the employee offered to get his boss. Shannon, the manager of the shelter, walked out to help us. After a few minutes, she confirmed it was indeed Jake. The shelter had adopted him out after holding Jake for 7 days. We were late, 3 days late on finding our dog. When she told us that news, a few of the kids and both of us adults lost it. We were more upset than ever during this entire, exhausting search of tracking our dog. Shannon was very sweet and informed us that the man who adopted Jake was a good man, who wanted to keep Jake in the house with him – Jake was being taken care of. I immediately thought, “But Jake is a farm dog”, “He wants to chase rabbits”, “He misses his horse friends”. We have come this far and now he is gone! Shannon said she would try to get in touch with the adopter and ask if he will return Jake in exchange for another dog. She made it clear that Jake’s new owner had absolutely no obligation to return Jake. He could KEEP our dog legally. As we were leaving, I told our daughter, Josie (age 8) to have FAITH. We just needed to have FAITH that Jake would be coming home. We headed back to Bristol, a good 40 minutes away, upset and crying. Confused and wondering. It had been such an emotional journey and we were left with such bad news.
Sunday seemed to last FOREVER as we were trying to have patience. It was hard and I couldn’t stop looking for Jake, so I began to design new flyers. Flyers I intended on hanging all over the Elizabethton/Carter County area. Flyers searching for the man who adopted Jake. I had contacted my friend, a former reporter for the Bristol Herald Courier to get information about the Elizabethton Star. I made a new Facebook post asking for prayers and faith that Shannon would be able to get a hold of the man and the man would see it in his heart to return Jake. Our family was still working hard to get Jake home.
We were getting ready for bed early, because we were going to spend the day in Elizabethton hanging flyers, visiting local businesses, talking to vets, etc., to find the man who adopted Jake. I again had several people contact me with businesses to visit and people to talk to. We were prepared for a long day, but ready to bring Jake home. My husband and I had already informed our employers the situation and were granted permission to miss work and continue our search.
It was a little after 9 p.m. and my phone dinged! It was Shannon from the shelter with a long message. She had talked to Danny and he was bringing Jake back Monday morning. My family could sleep. My family could relax. My family could actually have a hopeful heart that they would be giving Jake extra pig ears on Monday. Knowing my 8-year-old daughter would not be able to concentrate at school knowing we were going to pick up Jake, I let her come with us. She was the biggest helper during this journey. She helped hang flyers, let me know when I received messages, constantly asked and cried about Jake.
Monday morning came. We signed everyone on to do remote learning. We were all waiting. Waiting on the call to come get Jake. Around 9:30, I got a Facebook message from Janet Clark. The message said “Jaima, send me your phone number or tell me a time you want to meet at the shelter so Danny can bring you Jake. Thanks” That was it! That was the message we had been waiting on for so long. We called each other and chit chatted for a while. We met up at 10:45. I was able to meet Danny in person. He loved Jake. He said he will miss Jake, but knew in his heart he could not keep someone’s dog they had been searching for. He was so good to Jake while he had him. Danny needs to know how special he is. How thankful we are. I have kept in touch with Janet. We are looking for Danny, another beagle. Again, several friends are sending information my way to pass along to Danny. Hopefully, we will soon find him the perfect companion.
Jake was purchased by my daughter with her birthday money. She bought him when she turned 10. He was just a baby. Two of our children don’t even remember life without having Jake.
The shelter did everything legally and I am so thankful it was a safe haven for Jake. He had shelter, was fed, and got to go on walks the entire time we were searching.
Jake was NOT wearing a collar and was NOT microchipped. He has always just been a farm dog and we never thought we needed anything like that. Now, he has a new collar and name tag with an appointment to get microchipped on Wednesday. Better to be safe rather than sorry.
The power of people coming together is amazing! I have met people through this journey that I am glad to call my new friends. I am flabbergasted at the amount of love that was overflowing for our family and Jake. Now, the love is overflowing for your local hero, Danny Smith. People, including us, would love for him to know just how thankful we are that he returned Jake.
Searching for a dog is hard. Our family is mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. We are tired, but so glad to have Jake home.
Thank you for taking the time to read about Jake’s big adventure and how he was returned.
Jaima Helbert
Bristol, Va.