Lost dog found safe

Mary Ann Sellers, of Middletown, holds Savannah, a German shepherd pit bull mix, who was found Monday after a vehicle crash on May 27 at the Cedar Creek bridge near Strasburg. Sellers used the scent of the owner's clothing to eventually lure the dog to Cedar Creek Campground where she picked Savannah up Monday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

MIDDLETOWN – Savannah, a 6-year-old pit bull German shepherd mix rescue, was rescued yet again after 11 days on the loose thanks in part to efforts from Middletown resident Mary Ann Sellers, who took over the search after efforts from a professional dog tracker were unsuccessful.

The dog’s owner, Jennie Kleinberger, a resident of Maryland who was heading home in late May after receiving her veterinary degree from Mississippi State, was involved in a car accident, during which Kleinberger suffered a broken leg and Savannah escaped. The accident occurred between exit 298 on Interstate 81 and the merge onto Interstate 66 north of Strasburg.

Sellers, who has taken part in tracking while providing protection training for her working dogs for several years, took a different approach than the previous tracker, using Kleinberger’s clothing rather than baiting traps with food.

Sellers set up a perimeter in the area, where sightings had occurred, using pieces of one of Kleinberger’s T-shirts to try to keep the search area as small as possible to aid in the animal’s capture.

“I wanted her to have a boundary line where she would not exceed that scent track,” Sellers said. “Every day I was closing her circle in tighter and tighter so that she would stay farther away from 81. It wasn’t until we started laying those scent tracks that we were getting sightings and calls every couple hours.”

Mary Ann Sellers, of Middletown, holds Savannah, a shepherd pit bull mix, who was found Monday after a May 27 car accident at the Cedar Creek bridge near Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Savannah is in good spirits and great shape. She has been staying with the Sellers family until arrangements can be made to reunite her with Kleinberger.

Dr. Rick Hammett, of Animal Care Center in Strasburg, was tasked with Savannah’s treatment and said he was amazed with her health.

“She looks good actually,” Hammett said. “She fended very well for herself, and certainly the moisture hasn’t hurt she had plenty to drink… The dog didn’t even look thin. She’s ready to go home to mama and be happy and be back together… Just the fact that she survived that close to the interstate for that long without getting struck by a car is a miracle in and of itself.”

Sellers said that Savannah’s instincts did their job in keeping her safe, despite the very real danger of I-81.

“Dogs will not hide deep in the woods; they want to hide on the edge of civilization,” Sellers said. “Dogs will normally not go more than a quarter mile from where a traumatic incident has happened or where they’re lost from. (It’s) their last known connection with their human being.”

Mary Ann Sellers, of Middletown, holds Savannah, a shepherd pit bull mix, who was found Monday following a car accident on May 27 at the Cedar Creek bridge near Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Sellers said that concerned citizens with good intentions may have actually prolonged Savannah’s ordeal.

“Dog food that people left out, pulling her away from our track, we’d have to keep taking it away,” Sellers said. “Everybody wanted to help, but when people don’t understand the flight mode of a dog over a traumatic event like that, they think they’re doing good, when people like us are helping and wanting to bring this dog back, they’re actually hurting them.”

Kleinberger, still recovering from her injuries, said she was overjoyed when she heard the news.

“When I got that news, I was beyond joyed and I was just so happy,” Kleinberger said. “I was just hoping that she wouldn’t go onto the highway. She’s a smart dog so my initial thought was that she would stay away. I was dreading getting the call that she had been hit by a car. I knew she wouldn’t initially go up to people because she would be really afraid. I was hoping that when she got hungry enough she would go up to somebody’s house looking for food and they would catch her.”

According to Sellers, that’s exactly what happened.

“Dogs go into a survival mode. The three things are food, water, shelter,” Sellers said. “They start losing their domestication and they go into that survival mode and then day 11 through 14 is the critical point. They give up (on) survival mode (after that). It’s much easier to be a domesticated pet.”

Kleinberger, although just passing through, was given a crash course in Virginia hospitality, for which she was thankful.

“I love her so much I’m happy to have her back and I’m so grateful for all the hard work that the community did to get her back,” she said. “We will be coming to get her. I don’t know yet if I’ll be able to make that drive but my family will definitely be going down there.”

Sellers said she wasn’t interested in credit, saying that it was a team effort and the team’s smartest and bravest member was also its furriest.

“There are a lot of people that should be thanked for doing this, but, in my mind, the hero of this is this dog,” she said. “This dog should have never been alive.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com