NEW CASTLE —
Joe Henry had all but given up.
For three days he searched for Kola, the beloved 15-year-old shepherd/labrador retriever mix that he had raised from a puppy.
“I’d sleep for a while,” Henry said, “then I’d wake up thinking, ‘I’m probably not ever going to see my dog again.’
“It was tearing me apart.”
Then, as Joe and his wife, Tommilynn, describe it, the seemingly impossible happened.
The Henrys got a call that a dog matching Kola’s description had been found, nearly frozen to the ground but alive, near Wal-Mart, on an entrance ramp to Route 376 — close to four miles from their Union Township home.
The dog was at the Animal Medical and Surgical Center in New Wilmington, being cared for by veterinarian Dr. Melanie Sumney and her soft-hearted staff.
“I was doing some work for a friend, but I flew up there,” Joe said. “My heart was racing so fast, I kept thinking, ‘please let this be my dog.’
“I walked in and there was Kola. He ran to me wagging his tail like crazy, gave me a big kiss, then buried his head in my arm.
“I’m not a guy to show my emotion,” Joe added, “but everyone in the office was crying. I have admit, I got really emotional, too.”
Kola’s tale of survival started Thursday night. Tommilynn had gone to visit someone in the hospital and when she returned, she put her car in the garage.
Kola stays inside, but has the run of a fenced-in back yard via a doggie door. When Tommilynn went into the house and didn’t see him, she assumed he was in the back yard.
By early the next morning, the couple realized that Kola had not come back in. Joe was frantic.
“I went up and down the road, to each neighbor, to a couple of businesses nearby, asking if anyone had seen him,” Joe said. “I kept walking through the yard, looking for tracks in the snow, through the woods behind our house hoping I could track him. Nothing. There was no sign of him.”
That’s when the Henrys remembered the garage being open for those few seconds as Tommilynn pulled her car in.
“The only way he could slip out would be if the garage door was open,” Joe said. “But I’ve had that dog for 15 years and he’s never even tried to leave our yard. He’s always by my side. No matter where I am, he’s glued to me.
“He has bad hips and takes medication for it and doesn’t see or hear as well as he used to, but for a dog his age, he’s in awfully good shape.”
Tommilynn, who is seven months pregnant with the couple’s second child, was beside herself. Kola came onto the scene around the time she and Joe met, when Joe also had Kola’s mother, Autumn, who died at age 14 1/2 two years ago.
“I felt horrible,” Tommilynn said, “I love Kola, but that dog is Joe’s baby. I just couldn’t believe that all those years with that dog was going to end like this.”
Joe also called the Lawrence County Humane Society, but was told that no dogs matching Kola’s description had been brought in.
Even 21-month-old daughter Ellianna was affected.
“We came home from church on Sunday and she said, “Kola ... where’s Kola,” Tommilynn said. “She was looking for him.
“Joe and I worried, will she remember him when she’s older? We just weren’t ready to let him go and I don’t think she was, either.”