It took a Facebook group, a search team and a lot of patience, but a Collinsville man and his emotional support dog were finally reunited Tuesday, three weeks after they were separated by a car crash.
Summer, a miniature Australian Shepherd, was ejected from the car during a crash with her owner, Andre Wild, on March 17 in Collinsville. Summer ran into the woods near Morrison Avenue and St. Clair Avenue before police could catch her and since then, hundreds of metro-east residents have been on the look-out or actively searching for her.
Wild was seriously injured in the crash, lacerating his liver and breaking multiple ribs. He was transferred from the ICU to the VA Hospital on Tuesday but still has a long road to recovery.
"She's his love; she goes with him everywhere," Wild's sister, Linda Chambers said about Summer. "She is the love of his life."
Chambers said Wild has not been able to rest since he heard his dog was missing, but on Tuesday, they were finally together again.
"I’m just so happy for my brother and he’s definitely going to need her," she said.
The two were overjoyed to see each other, and Summer laid on Wild's lap in the hospital as he held her and whispered to her.
Beth Owen started the Facebook Group "Finding Summer" after seeing news stories and Facebook posts about the lost dog. The posts were filled with comments from people asking how they could help. Owen decided to coordinate everyone’s efforts with the Facebook page “Finding Summer,” which had about 400 members by the time Summer was found.
People across the area started volunteering to go search for Summer, organizations dedicated to finding lost pets offered advice and others offered their animal traps to help catch the dog.
“It was just this organic falling together of this great group of people,” she said.
Chambers said she was beyond grateful for the group of strangers who found her brother's dog, especially after she had to leave the area and return to her home in Florida.
"All these people, it is just wonderful that these people do not know me or my brother and they did this," she said. "People just need to know that there are people like this in the community. "
Owen said setting up traps became the most important part of catching Summer because she was so skittish of people. She and other volunteers started mapping where Summer had been spotted and deciding where to place traps.
“We used maps and satellite imagery to locate where we were going to go. There was so much synchronicity; it just worked out so well,” she said.
On Thursday, Owen got a phone call from two State Park residents who had set out to track Summer.
“One of the guys called me about 8 and said, ‘We’re looking at her right now,’” Owen said.
She and Todd Whiteaker, who works with Saving St. Louis Pets, rushed to where the residents had seen Summer near Black Lane and Interstate 55.
Whiteaker set up the trap within 10 minutes and Owen put Summer’s bedding, Andre Wild’s jacket and some food nearby.
Two and a half hours later, they decided to call it a day and check back in the morning.
On Friday, two women, Judy Duhr with Speak St. Louis and Tina Grossmann with Pound Pets, Inc., joined the search. The group set up four cages based on places Summer had been seen near Canteen Creek and Interstate 55.
Friday afternoon, Duhr and Grossmann were driving through the area and ran into the two State Park men in the woods, who were tracking Summer again. As they stopped to talk, the group looked up and saw Summer by the bridge.
The women decided to move one of the cages to where they had just seen Summer. They met up with Owen to retrieve the bedding but were stopped by a train on the way. Owen said it took the two about 20 minutes to reach her. When they all walked down to get the bedding from the cage, Summer was inside.
In the 20 minutes it took Grossmann and Duhr to walk to Owen, Summer had apparently run about a mile east along the interstate and gone into the trap just in time.
“The timing of everything was miraculous,” Owen said. “It was just a miracle.”
Whiteaker said after searching for Summer for 13 hours over Thursday and Friday, he was exhausted but excited she was finally caught.
Owen immediately told Wild’s friend, who relayed the message to him as he was in the ICU.
“He was ecstatic. His reaction was ‘I can finally go to sleep.’ He hadn’t been able to get any rest because that’s all he could think about was Summer being out there by herself,” she said. “I can’t imagine the agony he was in because this is baby.”
Chambers said when she heard the news, she just started screaming with excitement.
"If this group hadn’t gotten together, we wouldn’t have found her. They just wanted to reunite her with my brother," she said.
The group took Summer to Duhr's house where she has been staying. Owen said the exhausted dog gradually grew less skittish, even laying her head down to sleep as Owen talked to her.
Before Wild and Summer could be reunited, Owen sent him plenty of pictures of Summer sleeping on the bed and “being the little princess she is.”
“She’s a princess, yeah, but she’s also a badass,” Owen said. “She survived out there so close to the interstate; there were coyotes out there and it was cold and wet. She’s an amazing dog.”
Chambers said she cannot wait until her brother is well enough to leave the hospital because she knows he's going to want to meet the group of strangers who banded together to find Summer.
Owen said if anyone still wants to help with the financial costs of finding Summer, they can make a donation to one of the organizations who helped find her. Owen said while it was all worth it, the costs did come out of the rescuers’ pockets, including the traps which run about $400 each.
Owen said the following people and organizations were integral in finding Summer:
Judy Duhr with Speak St. Louis, a foster-based rescue specializing in Aussies and Border Collies
Jeff Easley with No Time To Spare Animal Rescue & Sanctuary, dedicated to caring for homeless pets through adoption, cruelty investigation and community awareness.
Tina Grossmann with Pound Pets Inc., which volunteers at Granite City Animal Pound to care for, find adopters or rescuers for animals the city brings in.
Deb White current president at Pound Pets Inc.
Mary Parker with Metro East Humane Society, who formerly managed a no-kill shelter and provides transports, advocates for animals slated for euthanasia at various animal control facilities and searches for lost pets.
Todd Whiteaker with Saving St. Louis Pets, which raises funds for urgent medical needs of stray pets in the St. Louis area.