When Kate Olson and Curtis Chastain visited family in Missouri, over 1,000 miles from their home in New Hampshire, they brought their dog Walter along. A few days before Thanksgiving of 2019, a family member took Walter out on a leash, and he slipped out of his collar.
In an instant, Walter was missing, somewhere far from home. Kate and Curtis worried deeply about their poor pup, described as “anxious” and “startled by his own tail.” How could that dog survive out in the woods alone?
A Team Of Volunteers Searches For Walter
Kate and Curtis stayed in Missouri for two additional weeks, hoping to find Walter in that time. The family put up fliers, created social media posts, spoke to local business owners and animal rescuers, and still, they couldn’t find him.
Sadly, they had no choice but to return to New Hampshire, so a growing group of volunteers stepped in to take over the search. Lost Paws Trapping, an Illinois-based nonprofit that traps missing animals, invested in the search for Walter. Another group, K9 Rescue Outreach, purchased a trap and cameras.
Gay Arnold of Lost Paws Trapping told The Dodo:
“We just hunted and hunted nonstop, looking for tracks, looking for something that might indicate there’s a dog hanging in that area. He just kind of vanished after awhile. Nobody saw him, nothing.”
Over the next grueling ten months, Kate and Curtis received some tip calls that didn’t ultimately lead to Walter. Kate returned to Missouri in January of 2020 to search in person again. According to KSDK, she estimates she spent around $1,000 between the fliers and her trips back and forth from New Hampshire to St. Louis.
An Important Sighting
With her baby always on her mind, Kate never gave up hope. Lo and behold, nearly a year after Walter’s disappearance, she received an intriguing message.
In a Facebook post, Kate described the events of November 2020.
“On Tuesday 11/10, I received a screenshot on Facebook messenger of 2 pictures of a dog taken from far away in a field.. it was very hard to make out but there was something about the way he was standing.. in my heart I knew it was him.”
It turned out that a Missouri business owner had seen a dog on his security cameras for the past six weeks. So, volunteers set up a feeding station with a camera to try and determine whether that dog really was Walter.
“The first night the camera was out, he didn’t come… the second night… at 12:30am on Friday the 13th, he came. He came and ate and then left and came back and ate some more, he did this about 10-15 times! And it was 100% my baby boy.”
After a while, Lost Paws was able to trap Walter. He was scared, but it was certainly the right dog. And so, Olson booked yet another flight from New Hampshire to Missouri.
A Long-Awaited Reunion
When Kate arrived on the scene, she was told to approach the trap slowly and start talking. Inside, she saw her scared, slightly worse-for-the-wear dog. The dog she had been worried about for almost an entire year.
“He was barking like mad when I got there but as soon as he saw me, he stopped. It took a few minutes for him to calm down and realize who I really was.. but he sat right next to me. And through the trap I was able to give him loves and then.. he gave me his paw, like he has so many times before. Like he knew I liked that and he liked holding my hand. It was incredible.”
Maryanne Martin of Lost Paws Trapping witnessed the reunion. She described it to The Dodo:
“He just snapped out of survival mode and, covered in fleas, smelling horrible, was going in between her legs, jumping up and giving her kisses. It was really special.”
Walter Returns To An Indoor, Family Life
Miraculously, this anxious dog not only survived an entire year living in the Missouri woods, he also defied the odds to be one of few non-microchipped dogs to go missing and return home again.
“We have a long road to “Normal” but at least we can start to heal and move on from this crazy nightmare,” Kate wrote on Facebook.
Kate said Walter did act a little frightened in his new home, but that’s not too different than he was before his “adventure.”
“Walter has been decompressing in a safe space where no one can startle him or make him feel unsafe. And he is starting to go back to his old ways of being the sweetest, most affectionate pup.”
“Thank you to all of Walters Warriors, so very much for all of your continued support. And to all of you who took time to help search, do stakeouts, went door to door, hung fliers, spread the good word of Walter, and most importantly, who never gave up on us. You have no idea what it has meant to us this past year, but we are eternally grateful.”
Walter’s story offers hope to so many people. Lost dogs can be very hard to recover, but with hope, determination, and help from dedicated volunteers, finding them is possible.