Leon Orr poses with his dog Tulip before she went missing in November. Orr sent this undated photo to animal rescue workers in Carroll last month to help identify a German shepherd that was found running at-large in the area.
Leon Orr poses with his dog Tulip before she went missing in November. Orr sent this undated photo to animal rescue workers in Carroll last month to help identify a German shepherd that was found running at-large in the area.
April 3, 2013

Leon Orr feared that his dog Tulip was caught in a wolf trap or shot by a hunter.

The German shepherd ­- which had been the 76-year-old's constant companion at his home in Farmington, Minn., and on weekday drives to the post office and bank and other errands - dashed into the woods of Wisconsin in November and didn't return.

Weeks had passed into months. The posters with Tulip's photo and the $2,000 reward had yielded nothing but false tips.

One woman called to say she saw a German shepherd that lay dead in the median of a highway. She drove back to the animal later and confirmed it wasn't Tulip.

The dog was smart, Orr knew, and might have backtracked to its home state, where Minnesota hunters were shooting and trapping wolves for the first time in 40 years.

Orr worried that Tulip looked too much like a wolf and was shot dead, or worse, caught in the metal riggings of a wolf trap.

But then another woman called. She scans animal shelter websites and compares their photos to those of missing pets, Orr said.

She thought Tulip might have wandered hundreds of miles to western Iowa.

"Initially, I thought it was a long shot," Orr said this week. "That's a long way from home."

Astray near Lidderdale

Two men in a truck nearly struck a German shepherd as it ran on a highway south of Lidderdale in early February.

The men, who were on their way to work at Hog Barn Repair, lured the dog with food to the shop, where the business' owner, Brett Eischeid, ushered the dog to a back room to eat and rest.

"It was very skinny," Eischeid recalled. "We thought somebody had beaten it. It was very shy."

The dog was too nervous to eat as they watched, so the men left it alone in that back room for most of the day. They occasionally refilled its bowl of food.

They later drove the dog to Carroll Veterinary Clinic, which takes the county's strays, gives food and shelter to most of the animals for about a week, and seeks for them a new home.

The tan German Shepherd wasn't malnourished or abused, said Mary Lawler, a veterinary assistant who oversees the clinic's kennels.

"She just looked like she had been out on her own for awhile, foraging for herself," Lawler said. "There's been stories about dogs traveling long distances to get home. ... Shepherds have a good coat on them. They can tolerate weather really well."

Several weeks passed, and Lawler asked Animal Rescue of Carroll to take the dog and find it a new owner.

Nicolle Johnson, of the animal rescue, put the dog in the back seat of her car and drove to the rescue's shelter northeast of Carroll. Along the way, the dog jumped the seat to sit in Johnson's lap and licked her face. She named the dog Betsy.

"She was absolutely friendly and loved car rides," Johnson said.

Rescue workers found a potential home for the dog in Ames, where a single mother wanted a family pet for her children that would play indoors.

Johnson was close to finalizing the adoption when a man from Minnesota called and claimed that his German Shepherd might have journeyed more than 300 miles to Carroll.

"I was skeptical," Johnson said.


Orr, a retired air-traffic controller whose wife runs an animal shelter, compared the pictures on the rescue league's website of Betsy to his photos of Tulip. He couldn't see a difference.

Orr bought the dog in 2010 from a breeder about 60 miles north of Carroll. Maybe she was trying to get back to her first home, he thought.

Other clues - they were both about 3 years old, female and hadn't been spayed - seemed to connect Betsy to Tulip. And the vet clinic found that Betsy had apparently suffered frozen ear and tail tips, as if she'd been outside for long periods in the cold.

Orr drove with his son John on Sunday to Carroll. They spent the night in a hotel and went to the shelter Monday morning.

Betsy warmed to the name Tulip and followed Orr's commands to sit and stay.

It was clear that after four months and so many miles that Orr had found his Tulip, Orr and the animal rescue workers agreed.

"It's an amazing feeling," Johnson said of connecting the two. "That's our goal, as volunteers."

Tulip jumped into the cab of Orr's truck for the drive back to Minnesota. She sat on his lap for the first 30 miles.