Dilly the dog’s happy homecoming

Reunited with family after a month on the streets

Alan Wartes

Times Staff Writer


When Mandie and Scott Little set out from Gunnison last Christmas to visit family in Loveland, they never dreamed they’d return home broken-hearted and helpless — with an empty spot in the car where Dilly, their 4-year-old Aussie Sheltie usually rode.

Nor could they have predicted their story’s miraculous and happy ending 27 days later, all because of the kindness of strangers — and a lot of help from social media.

On Dec. 29, the Littles returned after dinner to Scott’s father’s house in Loveland  to discover that Dilly was not in the backyard where they’d left her. Two other family dogs were there, but Dilly had slipped away. Dilly joined the Little family in 2014 when they adopted her from the Paradise Animal Welfare Society in Crested Butte.

“She’s really scared of other people,” said Scott. “We think she may have been mistreated as a puppy.”

On finding Dilly missing, the Littles immediately searched the surrounding neighborhood, but could find no trace of her. They placed notices on every available lost pet website, filed a report with the Larimer Humane Society and posted Dilly’s description on a neighborhood-oriented Facebook page.

But soon they were forced to do the unthinkable. They had to leave Loveland and return to Gunnison. Scott is technical director of theater at Western State Colorado University, and Mandie is a student in the sociology department. With the start of a new semester looming, they had no choice but to head home.

But that didn’t mean the effort to find Dilly was abandoned. Scott’s father maintained the search, and a Loveland couple who saw the Facebook post — Mike Nelson and Tana Welker Nelson — also took up the cause.

“They made it their mission to find Dilly,” said Scott. “They went out and looked every day.”

Though the Littles checked various online resources every day, no one reported any sign of Dilly for nearly three weeks. Then a couple of people reported seeing her briefly at a nearby park. But each time she immediately ran away.

“We had almost given up by that time,” said Scott. “We thought maybe someone had taken her. When people started seeing her again we were excited.”

But on Jan. 25, Tana Welker Nelson’s persistence paid off. She saw Dilly and tried to capture her. Dilly ran and was lightly struck by a passing car. The impact broke no bones, but caused lacerations to her belly, Scott said.

Nelson followed Dilly to a drainage culvert — covered by a heavy metal grate — where the Littles believe the dog had been sheltering for nearly four weeks. Animal control was notified, and after a harrowing rescue that involved a fire department crew and an acetylene torch to cut away the grate, Dilly was delivered into the arms of Scott’s father. He took her immediately to a veterinary hospital.

Two days later, Scott and Mandie returned to Loveland for an emotional reunion.

“We wondered if she would have even forgotten us by then, but I guess dogs don’t forget,” said Scott. “She was just really excited, and so were we.”

This week the last of Dilly’s stitches were removed, and the whole ordeal is just a memory.

“Without Facebook I don’t think we would have found her,” said Scott. “Twenty years ago we would have been stapling sheets of paper up on telephone poles and that would have been our only recourse. We didn’t know Mike and Tana at all, but they saw the post and did this out of the goodness of their heart.”


(Alan Wartes can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or alan@gunnisontimes.com.)


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