For 25 days, Ashanti eluded her rescuers.
We all love feel-good stories, but sometimes one just tugs at all of our heartstrings more than others.
Such was the case with the tale of Ashanti, a 2-year-old Presa Canario dog who got away from Michigan semi truck driver Nick Gray when he pulled off the Moravia (Route 168) exit off I-376 to give her a bathroom break.
Gray said that in an instant, Ashanti, who had been traveling with him for almost two years with no incident, pulled her collar over her ears and ran off. After searching for an hour and a half with no sign of her, he had no choice but to return to his route.
The panic-stricken Gray immediately called his brother in Michigan, who in turn contacted numerous local pet pages. Almost immediately, local animal rescuer and tracker Leslie Mortimer had a team in place — one that started with five or six volunteers and quickly grew to 18 who joined together from Lawrence, Beaver, Butler and Allegheny counties.
That group of volunteers quickly became a group of heroes.
Team Ashanti, as they called themselves, printed out about 350 flyers, spending days putting them up throughout the area while knocking on doors to see if anyone had seen the brindle-colored pup. There were no sightings for 10 days, until Ashanti finally was seen near the toll booth where she disappeared. Gray returned and spent a weekend in his vehicle at the toll booth, where a sympathetic toll manager chipped in, making flyers and pasting them in windows in the booths.
For the next 15 days, Ashanti, by then in flight mode and fighting the polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting to minus 30 degrees, traveled from the Moravia toll booth, to Walmart in Union Township, to the New Castle School of Trades, to an industrial park off Route 376 in Neshannock Township. Her movements were caught on trail cameras that several volunteers put on their cellphones to monitor the traps that were set whenever she was sighted.
Day after day, the heroes of Team Ashanti stepped up. Those who had seen the flyers kept the team informed each time a sighting was made.
The heroes like Lynn Reiber were many. Reiber baited and checked the traps several times a day once Ashanti reached Neshannock Township, and when she finally moved down Wilmington Road toward a local restaurant, Reiber was ready. She baited a trap with smelly cat food and a sandwich.
And, finally, 25 days and six hours after she was lost, Ashanti gave in and went into the trap as elated team members watched on their cellphones.
An exhausted Ashanti spent the night in the heated garage of Neshannock Township resident Holly Malacusky.
The next day, Malacusky and Mortimer met Gray’s mom, Joan, at the halfway point in Sandusky, Ohio.
Ashanti’s is now reunited with her overjoyed dad and back on the road — this time triple-harnessed.
We salute these heroes who decided that the life of a dog they did not know had enough worth to put their own lives on hold for 25 days.