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McCallum: The Power Of Community

12/28/09 7:55AM By Mary McCallum
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(HOST) When she recently volunteered to find a frightend dog on the run, commentator Mary McCallum was reminded that the spirit of community is still strong in Vermont.

(MCCALLUM) At the end of November a reminder about the power of community in Vermont arrived on four feet - or you might say paws.  A young Australian Shepherd had been adopted by a Vermont family through an Aussie rescue group in Pennsylvania.  Ben was in Vermont less than 48 hours when the family's horse frightened him and he fled, terrified.  He dragged with him the metal screw stake, still attached to his nylon lead, which was fastened to the collar that his new owner had just tightened.

The two year-old pup, who had come from a suburban environment, ran for the hills into a strange new landscape.  In 24 hours,  a volunteer from Vermont's own Aussie rescue organization began a one-man search & rescue operation in the southeastern part of the state.  In a matter if days it swelled to eighteen volunteers.   With the speed of email, word spread swiftly among animal advocates, Aussie lovers, humane societies and rescue groups.  The possibilty that this dog might be wrapped around a tree with a leash and stake attached to him created an urgency that got boots on the ground.

Flyers with a photo of a smiling tri-colored Aussie were posted widely, a local weekly put him on the front page with the headline "Please Help Find Ben," and searchers knocked on doors and stopped vehicles in the area asking for sightings.

And sighted he was - a couple saw him eating from a dead turkey on the side of the road ten days after he ran, and another couple 9 miles from his home reported that they had shooed him from their yard one night, unaware that he was a runaway.

A woman from a town near the Canadian border brought down her large bloodhound and put him on the trail after letting him sniff Ben's dogbrush.  They trekked over hill and dale for 3 days, tracing the trail of a dog on a frantic search for food and shelter.  Twelve days after Ben took flight, the foster mom who had surrendered him, drove
from Pennsylvania to Vermont  and spent a cold weekend retracing the trail with volunteers.  On Day Thirteen, one hour before the first snowstorm of the season hit, she stood in a field at the end of a road where Ben had once been seen, and called his name.  And he came, collarless.  The reunion was the stuff of movies.

Dogs are lost every day.  The lucky ones are reunited with their humans while others suffer hunger, exposure, speeding cars and predators. Ben, who was searched for and finally found by strangers who had never met him or his adoptive family, is what I call The Understory.  He is emblematic of The Larger Story, the one  about how Vermonters join together when the call for help goes out.

Whether it's combing the woods searching for someone else's dog or showing up to stack wood for a sick neighbor, Vermonters know how important it is to lend a hand when someone needs it, be they neighbor or stranger.   That's community, and why so many of us choose to stay.

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