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Dartmouth woman gets dog back a year after River went on the run

·4 min read
Michelle MacLean and River are shown in this photo taken after they reunited and went to the vet. Despite being missing for almost a year, River was in good health, aside from a case of Lyme disease. (Submitted by Michelle MacLean - image credit)
Michelle MacLean and River are shown in this photo taken after they reunited and went to the vet. Despite being missing for almost a year, River was in good health, aside from a case of Lyme disease. (Submitted by Michelle MacLean - image credit)

A Dartmouth, N.S., woman says she can't believe she's getting her dog back almost a year after River went on the run in the Portapique, N.S., area.

Michelle MacLean received the call Thursday at 5 a.m. AT from the person who has been working to track the shepherd mix. River was in Great Village, N.S., which is around 10 kilometres from Portapique.

"I know it's true, but a part of me is thinking, 'OK, what's going to happen now before I get her home?'" said MacLean.

MacLean adopted River from Texas in late October 2020. She said River was timid when she first arrived and was adjusting to life at her new home.

"We were just in the beginning stages of getting to know one another and we really were just at the tip of that iceberg," said MacLean.

Submitted by Kim Hillier
Submitted by Kim Hillier

She was in the process of moving last December and had a friend in Portapique temporarily take care of the dog. While outside on Dec. 30, River took off.

The past year has been a cycle of losing hope and getting it back, prompted by sightings of River.

'I'd just start to lose hope and then she'd pop her head back out again pretty much to say, 'Hey, here I am, I'm still OK,'" said MacLean.

After River went missing, MacLean contacted the Nova Scotia Lost Dog Network, a Facebook group dedicated to "bringing missing dogs home." A post about River's situation was made.

Kim Hillier read the post. She took a course on finding missing animals and contacted MacLean to volunteer her services.

Hillier said one of the most important things to do after a dog goes missing is to post lost dog posters, which will prompt tips from people about where the dog is spotted. The sightings will then prompt the search efforts.

Equipped with a trap and surveillance cameras, the Great Village resident spent countless hours walking wooded areas and moving the trap around.

She even lost 10 pounds during the process from all of the walking, while also cutting her hands and bruising her knees from tripping in the woods.

Submitted by Michelle MacLean
Submitted by Michelle MacLean

"Mentally, it is exhausting," said Hillier. "It costs a lot and people just don't get it."

River was a well-travelled dog, having made stops in Pictou before finally ending up in Great Village, just minutes from Hillier's home.

Hillier's surveillance cameras send notifications to her phone when motion is detected. Two days before River was captured, a bear was spotted inside the trap.

"I'm like, 'Oh my God. I have to get her," said Hillier.

She said River had shown up around the trap a few times over the past year, but wouldn't go in. Hillier suspects something from River's Texas life made her hesitant about it.

But after the bear sighting, Hillier was even more determined to bring River home and set the trap up again.

Submitted by Michelle MacLean
Submitted by Michelle MacLean

At 4 a.m. Thursday, Hillier laid down for a nap, anticipating she'd be heading out shortly to get River. Within the hour, her phone started getting notifications.

"First camera showed her outside the trap," said Hillier. "Second one showed her inside. Third picture showed that the door was set. Boom! I was out the door and up there within five minutes."

Hillier works seasonally at a strawberry farm, which allows her to focus on search efforts outside of strawberry season.

A team effort

Joining her at the site was Millie Hanlan, a Londonderry, N.S., resident who helped bait the trap when Hillier was working or needed a break from the search efforts.

"You couldn't take the smile off my face all day," said Hanlan.

MacLean is grateful for the work the volunteers put in and has helped them with some of their expenses. A crowdfunding campaign is also underway to help pay for the search efforts and vet bills.

Out of the experience, a bond has formed between MacLean and Hillier.

"The woman is an angel," said MacLean. "Blood, sweat and tears, she didn't stop. She went around the clock."

The vet's diagnosis

River was examined by a vet in Truro and is in generally good health, except having contracted Lyme disease. She's on antibiotics to treat it. Despite her yearlong ordeal in the wild, she only lost a little bit of weight.

River is "decompressing" at Hillier's house and will soon go back to her home in Dartmouth with MacLean.

After almost a year of pursuing River, Hillier concedes she's going to miss the dog.

"That's going to be a hard day," she said.

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