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Dog missing since fatal Christmas Eve accident is found

Katrina Hanson gets to work Friday dealing with some of Lord's cockleburs as soon as he arrives at Fancy Coats in rural Willmar. Tribune photos by Ron Adams2 / 2

WILLMAR -- A house dog that had been missing since its owners were involved in a fatal Christmas Eve accident south of Willmar was found alive and well Friday afternoon.

The 3-year-old gray male Schnauzer, named Lord, was skinny, full of cockleburs and didn't smell the best, but seemed to have weathered the month-long test of survival without ill effects, including recent subzero temperatures.

"I just can't believe we found him," said Julie Christiansen, as tears streamed down her face. "I didn't think he'd make it through the cold."

The dog had been the subject of numerous news articles and searches by volunteers after he ran away from a deadly multi-vehicle crash Dec. 24 at the intersection of U.S. Highway 71 and state Highway 7 near Blomkest that killed Justin Gustafson, 29, of Redwood Falls.

Gustafson along with his parents, John and Patty Gustafson, and the family's two dogs, Lord and Lady, were in a vehicle that was struck after another vehicle ran a red light.

In the chaos of the accident, Lord ran away.

Volunteers spent the last month searching the countryside and responding to reports of sightings of Lord. Live traps were also set.

Friday's snow provided the clues to clinch Lord's location.

Christiansen and Katrina Hanson, who both work at Fancy Coats Pet Grooming and Inn where Lord and Lady have received care since they were three months old, set out Friday afternoon for another search when they saw fresh tracks in the snow about 3 miles west of Roseland.

After anxiously scanning the landscape and calling his name, they soon spotted the skittish dog.

"He was right there in the road looking at us," said Christiansen, who was worried he would run away, like he did on Monday when his owner, Patty Gustafson, got within 15 feet of him.

But the two women were equipped with two powerful weapons this time -- a whole rotisserie chicken from Cash Wise and Lady.

The hungry dog caught the smell of the chicken and inched toward them, but Christiansen and Hanson said it was Lady that brought Lord close enough to be caught.

Once they had taken hold of his collar, it was all wiggles and kisses from Lord, which Christiansen and Hanson eagerly accepted.

"He's as happy as can be," said Christiansen.

They brought both dogs to Fancy Coats where owner, Marie Lingl, was reduced to tears as the dogs clambered to be close to her.

"They're part of the family," said Lingl.

The next step was to call the Gustafsons and give them the news. John is still in the hospital recovering from multiple broken bones, but Patty Gustafson answered the phone on the third ring.

"Oh thank you. Thank God," she said through the speaker phone at Fancy Coats as the excited dogs yelped in the background and the rescuers still fought back tears. "I don't know how to thank you enough."

Lingl was eager to get Lord cleaned and groomed. As it turns out, he'd had a Jan. 17 appointment on the books before the accident happened. He was only three days late.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750