One Indiana family is feeling grateful this holiday season after their beloved one-year-old Pug, Oliver was captured and returned home safely. He had been missing for months. Oliver's owner, Melissa shared his tale.

A Harrowing Adventure

To say that Oliver the Pug has had a harrowing adventure would be an understatement. The pup went missing on September 28th after slipping out of the gate with one of the family's other dogs, a Boston Terrier named Jedi. Thanks to the quick work of a nearby neighbor, Jedi was captured and returned to his owners. Unfortunately, Oliver was another story. He took off and it was days before anyone spotted him again.

Searching to No Avail

A few days after his disappearance, Oliver was spotted just down the road from his home, but despite the family's best efforts, they were not able to locate the Pug. Several more sightings came in, but the family wasn't able to find him.

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Oliver Had Gone Into Survival Mode

When the family was able to finally get eyes on Oliver, he took off again. This is common behavior for a lost dog. When finding themselves away from their home, and away from their family, dogs can and frequently do go into survival mode, putting them into a heightened state of fight or flight.

Fight or Flight Triggers the Sympathetic Nervouse System

Just like in humans, fight or flight is a stress response that triggers the sympathetic nervous system. Acting on survival instincts, many dogs will not recognize people who are familiar. Lost Dogs of America, explains that in survival mode food, water, and shelter become the hyperfocus.

<p>In survival mode, dogs may exhibit various behaviors, including increased alertness, hyper-vigilance, and an intense focus on finding water, and shelter. They may become more reactive and defensive, as well as more inclined to run away or hide from perceived threats. To increase their chances of survival, lost dogs may also engage in various behaviors that are typically associated with feral or wild canines, such as scavenging for food, hunting small prey, and digging dens or hiding spots. It is possible for a dog in survival mode to recognize their owner, but it is not guaranteed. When a dog is lost or separated from their owner, they may experience significant stress and anxiety, which can affect their behavior and perception of the world around them. -</p>
attachment-oliver rescue
It Takes a Village via Facebook

Scavenging for Cat Food

Despite Oliver's owner, Melissa setting borrowed traps near the coal mines in the western part of Warrick County, he was too cunning to get caught. Nearly a month after going missing, the family had found the location where Oliver had been scavenging his meals which consisted of cat food that had been left out for area strays. It was here that his owner sat down and attempted to lure him with food. Oliver was within four or five feet, just out of arm's reach, when a neighbor let their dog out. This startled Oliver causing him to run away and leaving his owner feeling defeated.

November 9th: Oliver Is Still on the Loose

Now armed with a basic knowledge of Oliver's whereabouts, and after the failed attempt to capture him, it was on November 9th, that his owners reached out to local animal rescue, It Takes a Village, to ask for help in bringing their beloved pup home. Unfortunately, the property owners where Oliver had been scavenging for food would not allow traps to be set to capture the missing pup.

Gunfire Scared Oliver Into Running Farther from Home

With it being hunting season in Southern Indiana, gunfire from nearby hunters scared Oliver even more prompting him to abandon his current food source and run even farther from home. He was spotted on November 15th, about two miles from where he had been eating cat food, and nearly four miles from his home,  near a neighborhood in Elberfeld, a small town in Warrick County, Indiana. It was here that family and friends canvased the area in search of the missing Pug, but Oliver could not be found.

December 2nd: The First Time Anyone Has Seen Oliver in 17 Days

It would be another 17 days before anyone would see Oliver again. It was on December 2nd that Oliver was spotted again near Elberfeld. Melissa tells us that she searched for him once again until dark. She says she left food for him and returned the next day in hopes of being able to bring him home. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to get close enough to the dog. Frustrated, but not giving up hope, she left more food for him before contacting It Takes a Village again. Leaving the food was part of the direction that she had been given by the rescue - setting up a feeding station creates a space where an animal in survival mode, like Oliver, will return in hopes of securing more food.

attachment-oliver rescue
It Takes a Village via Facebook

December 5th: It Takes a Village Mobilizes Rescue Efforts

On December 5th, she contacted the rescue again. It was then, after having established a feeding station, that a volunteer with the rescue named David went about setting up traps and motion-activated cameras in the area where Oliver had learned to come for food. It Takes a Village says the rescue efforts spanned approximately 150 acres of land.

ITV's rescue mission began immediately, and what followed was a remarkable journey full of hope, determination, and community spirit. Setting up traps and cameras, volunteer David went to work, including catching critters along the way and even one bobcat sighting on the camera!! However, Oliver, displaying his intelligence, eluded the traps. Undeterred, the team pressed on, fueled by the desire to bring Oliver back home. The village played a crucial role in Oliver's rescue, providing valuable sightings that guided the rescue efforts. With the information in hand, the team mobilized, creating a containment area of approximately 150 acres.  - It Takes a Village No-Kill Rescue

Watch the highlight video of the rescue efforts as shared by It Takes a Village below.

Multiple Oliver Sightings on Camera - and a Bobcat Too

That very night, still wearing the blue harness he had when he first went missing, Oliver was captured on video investigating the trap but sadly, he did not go into it. For days David would update Melissa with sightings of Oliver, both in person and on camera. A second trap was set on December 7th, after a bobcat had been spotted near the original trap the day before.

Bacon and Sausage Aren't Enough: Oliver is Too Smart

Even with the lure of bacon and sausage, Oliver was too smart to fall for going into the traps. Nevertheless, search efforts continued in hopes of bringing this pup home. David, the volunteer from It Takes a Village had even employed his dog Arlo, a former It Takes a Village rescue dog as Arlo has been used to help bring home lost dogs before. These efforts to capture Oliver also failed.

attachment-oliver rescue
It Takes a Village via Facebook

Moving on to Plan B: The ATVs and 4-Wheelers

Oliver continued to evade capture, even after one of the family's other dogs, an older Pug named Dexter, was brought out in hopes that Oliver might recognize his four-legged brother. At this point, rescuers were getting desperate. It was then, on December 10th, that they had decided to attempt to create a perimeter with four-wheelers and ATVs with the plan to run Oliver to the point of exhaustion in hopes that a tuckered-out pup would be easier to capture.

Things 'Got Crazy'

Melissa says that this was when things "got crazy." She said it felt like they were out in the muddy field for what felt like forever but that "in reality, I was told it was roughly twenty minutes." She says Oliver just kept going. After several attempts to grab Oliver, he continued to outrun their efforts.

attachment-oliver rescue
It Takes a Village via Facebook

Captured Safely

It was Melissa's husband who finally managed to capture Oliver, but she tells us that Oliver, as is common with dogs in survival mode, did not recognize the family. She says, "It broke my heart that he didn't recognize me but at the same point I was so beyond grateful that he was alive..."

Still in Fight or Flight, Oliver Did Not Recognize His Family Right Away

It wasn't until the family returned home that Oliver realized he was finally safe. Seeing the house broke him out of his fight-or-flight state. "Seeing me didn't trigger anything but seeing the house did." She says Oliver saw the house and he snapped out of survival mode. At this point he recognized Melissa and in what she described as a "beautiful moment," Oliver showered her with kisses and tail wags. Melissa says, "God had his hands in this one. There were so many prayers..."

attachment-Oliver the Pug
Melissa Bechtel-Pym

Oliver Got Checked at the Vet

The following day Oliver was checked out at the vet. He did have some small scabs, and a missing patch of hair on his ear, and he did lose a little bit of weight. Bloodwork has shown that his muscle enzymes are not where they need to be and his red blood cells were low as well due to malnutrition. Oliver is currently on a high-protein diet.

Positive for Lyme Disease

He did have some ticks on him after his 2.5-month-long adventure. Blood tests have shown that Oliver has tested positive for Lime Disease and is undergoing treatment for that. At this time he has not presented any signs or symptoms of the disease.

attachment-Oliver the Pug
Melissa Bechtel-Pym

Home for the Holidays: Oliver is a Christmas Miracle

Relief does not even begin to describe what Oliver's family is feeling now that he is home. There is no doubt that the strength and compassion of the community and their many prayers for Oliver played a vital role in this heartfelt reunion. It is going to truly be a happy holiday season for Oliver and his family as this pup's return was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

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Does your loyal pup's breed make the list? Read on to see if you'll be bragging to the neighbors about your dog's intellectual prowess the next time you take your fur baby out for a walk. Don't worry: Even if your dog's breed doesn't land on the list, that doesn't mean he's not a good boy--some traits simply can't be measured.

Gallery Credit: Sabienna Bowman

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