When Seneca Krueger first picked up her foster dog Zelda last year, she could never have predicted the remarkable journey the dog would one day make to be with her again.
Krueger, who works as a psychotherapist, is a dog foster mom who specializes in helping rescued dogs learn to trust people again. She’s fostered 30 dogs so far, but Zelda was an especially difficult case.
“She came with anti-anxiety medications,” Krueger told The Dodo. “Zelda paced. All day long she was either pacing or hiding.”
Krueger noticed that Zelda seemed calmest when on a leash, so she began tether training her — and slowly the skittish dog began to open up. “When I was home, she was attached to me,” Krueger said. “Over the course of two weeks of tether training, I had also weaned her off of her anti-anxiety medications, and the pacing had decreased. She was even willing to come out of hiding on her own for brief periods of time.”
After two months of living with Krueger and her two family dogs, Zelda finally wagged her tail. At four months, she began to bark and play — though she still struggled with unexpected noises and when visitors dropped by.
Still, Krueger knew that she had helped Zelda as much as she possibly could, and it was time to let her go. “As Zelda began to gain a little more confidence, I decided it was time for her to find her forever home,” Krueger said. “This is what you are supposed to do as a dog foster; help them adjust and then happily say goodbye as they go and live their best lives.”
Krueger drove Zelda 40 miles to her new home, but parting with her was more difficult than she anticipated. “I had to pull over to the side of the road because I couldn’t see through my tears,” Krueger said. “For the first time in my 12 years of dog fostering, I felt like I had given away my dog.”
Ten days after saying goodbye, Krueger received the call that every dog owner dreads — Zelda had gone missing after slipping her leash. Krueger immediately jumped in the car to begin searching for her.
An all-volunteer dog search team called START (Search, Track and Retrieval Team) had also gotten word of Zelda’s disappearance. The team set up feeding stations and trail cams around the area, and sightings of Zelda began to pour in.
As temperatures dropped below zero, Krueger refused to give up on her search. “The coldest days were the days I spent the most time searching because I was desperate to get Zelda warm and safe,” Krueger said. “[I] spent hours out in the freezing cold, following dog tracks through ravines, frozen swamps and fields.”
Over two months later, Krueger got word that Zelda had been spotted in Minneapolis, halfway between the dog’s new home and her foster home.
Only then did Krueger realize that Zelda was trying to make her way back to her.
The adopters surrendered Zelda back to Wags and Whiskers Animal Rescue, the organization that set up the adoption, and Krueger was thrilled to have her dog back — if only on paper. “She was mine again, and I was more determined than ever to find her,” Krueger said.
Two weeks later, Krueger received news that Zelda had been spotted near her home. She put out feeding stations around her house and began dumping dirty laundry on the front lawn in hopes that the smell would coax Zelda back to safety.
A couple reached out to Krueger to let her know that they had been feeding a very skittish dog who looked like Zelda. But after so long, Krueger didn’t want to get her hopes up. “Although I really wanted this dog to be my Zelda, I knew that if there was a lost, scared dog out there on the streets, we had to help it,” Krueger said. “Even if it wasn’t the dog that I knew and loved, and missed so much.”
Finally, the couple was able to trap the emaciated dog and called Krueger in the early hours of the morning to let her know. Inside the cage, Krueger saw a small, nervous dog, who barely resembled the Zelda she once knew. But when the manager of START arrived, a quick scan of the dog’s chip confirmed the impossible.
After over three months on the run, Zelda had found her way home.
“It was a miracle, and what else do you do in the face of a miracle? I sobbed,” Krueger said. “I apologized to Zelda for not recognizing her. I touched her for the first time in 97 days. I assured her that she was going home forever and that I never stopped looking for her.”