This story was re-printed with permission from The Lexingtonian Newspaper on Facebook. I know everybody isn’t on Facebook, but this IS a story for everybody! This is who Americans are!
The Search for Charlie
By Cammie Quinn
A most incredible thing happened in small-town Lexington, Illinois on an otherwise uneventful Sunday in late October. The occurrence has no obvious hallmarks of notoriety. It involved a 15-pound puppy and about thirty people who gathered on Oct. 23 behind the local McDonald’s in response to an impromptu Facebook request. By the end of the evening, it became the epitome of what makes America great.
The Facebook post appeared at about 1 p.m. on Lost Found Pets in Bloomington/ Normal, a well-maintained page that aims to reunite lost pets in McLean County with their owners. The request was posted by Rachel Alderson, who had stopped at the Lexington McDonald’s with her dad and stepmom on their way home to Springfield after successfully delivering two dogs on an animal rescue transport.
At McDonald’s, Rachel encountered Jon and Becky Carson and their daughter, Mya, who had just lost their puppy in the brush behind the restaurant. The Carsons’ five-month-old grey American Hairless Terrier named Charlie had gotten spooked and jerked his leash out of Mya’s hands. The Carsons, who live in Michigan, were on their way home after adopting Charlie in Missouri the previous day.
Rachel turned to social media after realizing Charlie would not be easy to find. The area behind McDonald’s is approximately 200 acres of thick brush, thorny trees, and woods bounded by I-55, P.J. Keller Highway, and Turkey Creek. Charlie’s royal blue halter and leash could easily get hung up anywhere, trapping him where he might not be visible until winter drops the foliage.
Rachel’s Facebook post caught fire and was reposted and shared more than 500 times. Helpers began arriving at the staging area in a clearing behind the McDonald’s. Many were from Lexington. Others drove up from Bloomington/Normal and other nearby areas. None were professional searchers. They were regular people in casual Sunday-afternoon clothing who love pets and wanted to help. Most did not know one another, and none had ever met the owners or their puppy. Thankfully, conditions were ideal for a search – a beautiful, autumn Sunday afternoon.
Landowners graciously granted permission for the search and pitched in to help. One lady stationed herself at the staging area to give directions and information. Two all-terrain utility vehicles arrived to traverse the paths. A lady brought dog food and hot dogs. Another offered to entice Charlie out of hiding by grilling meat. Pickups searched the perimeters. A lady accidentally took a tumble down a small hill, but got up again and changed her jeans. Scratches and burrs appeared on skin and clothing. Someone created a “Find Charlie” Facebook page. Someone offered cold, bottled water and her own boots. Ever, ever was the common question when searchers met on the pathways, “Any news yet?” Everyone became a brotherhood.
All afternoon, people came and went. People behind the scenes prayed. Wives sent their husbands out. It was one lady’s birthday, but she insisted on staying until the dog was found. Some were obliged by duties to leave, but they returned later. Some went off in cars searching Old 66.
About 6 p.m. came word of a potential sighting at Parklands Preserve south of Timber Ridge subdivision. Someone had spotted a little grey animal about Charlie’s size slip into the brush. Half a dozen cars dashed off that direction, their occupants fanning out through the brush at Parklands Preserve.
Dusk fell and flashlights came out, bouncing along the pathways. “Any news?” came Facebook inquiries. “Not yet. Still searching,” was the word from Parklands. A man arrived at Parklands with a high-powered light, shining it over the prairie, looking for eyes sparkling in the darkness. A searcher’s flashlight caught a deer with antlers, staring back. No Charlie.
One by one, two by two, the searchers straggled back to the staging area behind McDonald’s. People whispered that it would get too cold for the puppy overnight and that coyotes might prey upon him.
The air was getting chilly. The Carsons planned to stay overnight in their car. At least two Lexington residents invited them to their homes. Some offered blankets and pillows. At 7 p.m., about 15 searchers still remained.
A dismal feeling began to sift down upon the little group, each of whom secretly knew that pet stories don’t always end well. The day had brought so many searchers with such good intentions, so much time and such effort, and still no Charlie!
But they would not quit …
Live traps were brought. Plans were made to man the traps all night. Someone wore a blanket like a cape around her shoulders, handy just in case Charlie would need warmed. The property owner parked his jeep atop a tall mound of dirt, its headlights on, shining over the search area. Flashlights cut through the brush, here and there. Continuous human presence would keep the coyotes at bay.
At 8 p.m. one of the searchers, Lexington resident Scott Eeten, headed home in his car. On his way out, he had a feeling he should check the access road in front of McDonald’s, a generally untraveled road used by farmers to get to their fields. Unlike the area behind McDonald’s, the access road is clear and open, bordered by a wire fence and a few patches of weeds. At first glance, it would seem too exposed to be a hiding place. As Scott drove along the access road, he thought he saw a possum leaning against the fence. As he looked more closely, his headlights illuminated a royal blue leash, a collar, and a little grey dog. Ecstatic, he stopped his car, got out, and approached the dog, holding his hand out, reassuring it in a soft voice.
Scott tucked the puppy snugly in his arms and drove back to the staging area, flashing his lights and honking his horn. “I couldn’t get there fast enough!” he later said.
“Anybody looking for a dog?” he called out jokingly when he reached the group.
The Carsons were first to the car. Becky gathered Charlie into her arms. Mya shed tears of joy. Jon looked on with amazement.
“Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it!” someone said. Remnants of the group converged, called in from the brush by loud whistles. “Where did you find him?” several cried out. “I can’t believe it!”
Becky held Charlie warmly to her chest beneath her chin, her face filled with gratitude unspeakable. Though he was shivering, little Charlie seemed to sense that he was safe. People held out treats to him. Someone offered him a Slim Jim. He snapped off a bite. People asked permission to pet him.
The Carsons thanked Scott. They thanked everyone. They shook hands. The family from Michigan was deeply appreciative. “We couldn’t have lost him in a better place,” Jon said. “It’s one of those things that restores your faith in humanity.” Never would the Carsons forget this little town in Central Illinois – this Lexington.
That night, the searchers went home with warm hearts. A puppy’s life had been saved. His owners had been spared heartbreak. It had been a blessed day.
But somehow, there was more. They knew there was more as they lay their heads on their pillows that night.
For hours, they had come together with strangers who were kind and truthful and selfless. They had all cared. It didn’t matter to anyone that the owners were strangers from another state or that they would never see them or their dog again. At a time when negativity dominates the country on a national level, common people saw an opportunity to make a tangible difference on a local level, and they rushed to it!
This day, they saw what makes America great. This day, they were reminded that there are still a whole lot of kind people out there.
The people of McLean County may have saved Charlie on this otherwise uneventful October Sunday, but Charlie saved them, too.