Finally, after a tough year, here’s a 2020 story with a happy ending: This one involves an elusive German shepherd, a newly unemployed Cherry Hill animal lover with a big heart, Facebook, and of course, the pandemic.
The shepherd is a nearly 8-year-old rambunctious dog named Ted, sent this fall for obedience lessons at the Happy Dogs Boarding & Training facility in Laurel Springs, Camden County. He had been there for only hours on Oct. 26 when he climbed a wall, squeezed through a narrow roof opening, and scaled a six-foot wooden fence to freedom.
It was the facility’s first-ever animal escape in 30 years.
A search was launched immediately in a wooded area, said Lilia Soares, one of the kennel owners. Nearby animal shelters and animal control were alerted. Drones searched by air. Police helped, too, and neighbors took to social media with tips.
“This dog was a super escaper,” said Soares, who, like her husband, John, is an international dog trainer. “He did not want to be caught.”
Ted remained in the woods for several days, Soares said. A professional dogcatcher gave them a trap to nab him, but Ted smartly avoided it. Hound Hunters NJ helped develop a rescue strategy. They set up cameras and a feeding station, but the shepherd never returned to the same spot to eat.
Eventually, Ted was spotted in Sewell, about 10 miles southeast of the boarding facility and a trek that would have required him to navigate unfamiliar and busy highways like Route 55. (Ted is from Morris County, in North Jersey.)
About a week later, with Ted spottings spreading, Kathleen Tortu-Bowles got involved. Tortu-Bowles, 62, is a Cherry Hill pharmacy worker who lost her job amid the pandemic. She’s also a dog lover who donates her time to help reunite lost animals and their owners. The search for Ted became her eighth animal rescue mission this year.
She went out daily in her Yukon SUV, scouring areas where Ted was last seen, and distributed hundreds of fliers and social media messages.
“I slept, ate, and breathed that dog like he was my dog,” said Tortu-Bowles, who has five dogs and five cats. “It was crazy.”
She appealed to the public to help locate the a 58-pound neutered male but cautioned them not to call his name or chase him — Ted would only flee. His breed, according to the American Kennel Club, is highly intelligent, confident, and courageous.
“He is one smart dog,” said Tortu-Bowles. “He was out on Ted’s adventure.”
For several weeks, Ted roamed Gloucester County towns — Woodbury, West Deptford, Mantua, along the Delaware River in National Park, and, finally, Deptford. He was recorded on home security cameras. Everyone it seemed, had a Ted story. There was a scare when a dead dog was reported near an off-ramp, but it wasn’t Ted.
“I didn’t want to see him get hurt. I just wanted him home,” said Jennifer Gomolson, 50, a bank loan officer representative who lives in Deptford and made several trips looking for Ted.
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Ted used his survivor skills as he traveled from town to town. Residents and merchants left out food and water in case he stopped by. Soaking wet, Ted showed up in early December in Deptford’s Locust Grove neighborhood, eating from a trash can that Steve Parker left on his deck.
“He looked tired,” said Parker, 54, a photographer.
Parker, an admitted cat lover, put out dog food in his garage for Ted and left the door open. His plan was to shut the door and trap the dog inside. Ted never returned.
Finally, a breakthrough came on Dec. 5. A mail carrier called Tortu-Bowles with great news: Ted was curled up in a mulch garden near the Deptford home where he was last seen. She bought some chicken nuggets and rushed there.
Lying on the wet ground in frigid temperatures, Tortu-Bowles persuaded Ted to eat from her hand. Two hours later, she gently asked him “please let me put this leash on you” and Ted acquiesced. He stood on his hind legs and licked her face, she said. She celebrated with a clenched fist.
“It was unbelievable,” she said. “It was a really good save.”
Ted was reunited later that day with his owner, Joan Kellett, in Harding Township. He had some ticks, an ear infection, and stomach problems, but otherwise has recovered from his adventure, she said this week.
Ted had been a part of her family for seven years, along with a younger sibling, Evie, a golden retriever rescue. But Ted had never run away before.
After his 40-day adventure, she said, “it is absolutely wonderful to get him back.”