Felix the dog finally has found a home in Rocky Mount after escaping death row, a crash on Interstate 95 and 24 days wandering in freezing temperatures and snow.
To find him, dog lovers from North Carolina and Virginia joined forces in Operation Finding Felix, a two-state rescue mission that connected animal lovers via a Facebook page that had more than 1,000 followers.
Last week, the beagle-German shepherd mix found a permanent home with Frank and Betty Sue Hunt in Elm City, but not before cheating death several times.
The dog’s ordeal began in December, when he was among hundreds of stray animals taken to the Nash County Animal Shelter, which has a policy of euthanizing animals that aren’t adopted.
But local dog lovers weren’t going to allow Felix to die.
Using a Facebook page to promote dogs for adoption, a local animal rescue group, Promoting Animal Welfare in N.C., persuaded a rescue group in Vermont to accept Felix, but not before he was neutered and had his shots. Promoting Animal Welfare paid for the dog’s medical care and transport.
Amy Woodworth, who works for Watson Eye Care Center, served as a “foster parent” for the dog, nursing Felix back to health at her home before his trip.
“He had heartworms, so I had to keep him for a month so he could have his heartworm treatment before going to Vermont,” she said.
At the time, her boyfriend, Richie Hunt, opted against adopting the animal because the Hunt family already had another dog. Hunt said last week that after all the dog has been through, there is no way the couple are not adopting him now.
In January, Felix and another dog slated for rescue were put in a crate and loaded in a van for transport to the rescue group in Vermont.
Along the way, the van was involved in a crash off Interstate 95 in Emporia, Va., and Felix and his companion were ejected from the crates.
The other dog was run over on I-95. But Felix wandered the area for 24 days, as temperatures dipped several times below freezing.
During that time, animal lovers from the Rocky Mount area and Emporia began searching woods and posting fliers in an effort to find Felix. They even hired Pure Gold Trackers, a company with a search dog that that tried to track down Felix from his scent, said Shelley Milburn, the founder of Promoting Animal Welfare.
The tracking dog smelled Felix’s scent on a blanket and was able to follow his path after the crash, but never found Felix, Milburn said.
“It’s been an experience,” Milburn said. “We spent so many hours on this dog over the 24 days while he was missing. It was the most frustrating and disappointing thing I’ve ever been through with a rescue, just chasing leads, it not being him.”
Promoting Animal Welfare offered a $600 reward for his return.
“The local community of Emporia was so good to us,” Milburn said.
“They put up fliers everywhere in Emporia. Every week, someone would call saying they spotted him. We responded twice to a call and thought maybe it was him, but it turned out to be other dogs. We did rescue those dogs as well. We picked one off the side of the road who was roaming around.”
Each weekend during the search, Woodworth, and her friend Carol Greier, who also works at Watson Eye Associates, searched for the dog in the Emporia area.
“It was an adventure, for sure,” Greier said. Because she lived in Roanoke Rapids, she was asked to look into calls when someone thought they spotted Felix in Virginia.
“One Saturday night I went to Jarratt, Va.,” she said. “It is farther down from Emporia. Someone called and said they thought they saw him. I thought I’d check out the tip. Of course, it was not him.”
On one occasion, she said, the searchers went into a crime-ridden neighborhood hoping to find Felix.
“We got the cops to go with us that time,” she said.
The Operation Finding Felix Facebook page kept its followers abreast of the possible Felix sightings throughout the 24 days.
“Possible Felix sighting this A.M. at Georgia Pacific plant,” a Facebook posting on Feb. 23 stated. “Several people have said they have seen him in this area the last few days. We have a few people heading out to check it out now. If you are in the area please take a look for us!”
Truckers from the Emporia area who had seen fliers of the missing dog had become emotionally attached to the story and called the number on the flier to find out if the dog had been found, Milburn said.
Milburn said the volunteers became friends with several people in Emporia during the search process.
“The police chief’s wife was good to us. Another lady (they befriended) manages the Burger King,” she said.
It was the latter contact that eventually resulted in Felix being found.
The manager of the Burger King in Emporia posted fliers of Felix inside the restaurant.
On Feb. 24, one of the restaurant’s customers, Pat Holland, saw a flier with the dog’s picture as she was eating dinner. She said she quickly rushed home when she realized that there was a $600 reward on the stray dog she was trying to pet earlier in the day by her apartment.
“In the afternoon, I was sort of playing with him. He was friendly and came up close to me,” Holland said. “I had seen the flier at Burger King several times but hadn’t seen the dog until Sunday.”
After rushing out of the Burger King, she was hoping Felix would still be at her apartment complex, but figured the dog was gone.
Then, she saw him sitting on the porch of her neighbor, Marty Newkirk.
Newkirk said he had grown fond of the dog in the short time he had spent with him and had brought him inside his apartment for a while. He was planning to let Felix spend the night inside, as it was cold.
He also thought about contacting apartment management about additional deposits so he could keep Felix as his pet.
“(Felix) came up to my door. He looked like he was hungry, so I put some food out there for him to eat and put some water out there,” Newkirk said. “The next thing I know he was laying down at my door.”
Newkirk said when he found out from Holland about the $600 reward, he felt obligated to split it with Holland.
He said police showed up after they called about Felix being at his apartment.
“They were looking for the dog also,” Newkirk said. “Everybody in Virginia was looking for the dog.”
Newkirk said the reunion between the rescue volunteers and the dog was a teary-eyed experience.
“They started crying because they were happy to see the dog, Newkirk said. “I started crying because they were taking him.”