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Dog’s odyssey in Duluth ends with happy reunion

Amara Jensen of Superior is happy to have her dog Bentley back after he was lost in Duluth’s Hartley Park and Woodland neighborhood areas for five days in some of the season’s coldest weather. Bentley is named for Bentleyville, where she and her boyfriend had their first date. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but perhaps sometimes it takes a village to find a dog.

“I just want to stress how thankful we are to the community and how awesome they were in helping us,” said Amara Jensen, with her 2-year-old Lab-shepherd mix, Bentley, stretched out in front of her in the Superior home she and her boyfriend share with her mom, her dad, her brother and sister and four dogs.

“I don’t think we would have been able to find (Bentley) had it not been for all of the awesome people that we encountered.”

Jensen was talking late on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after she was reunited with the medium-sized dog that had wandered in Duluth’s Hartley Park and Woodland neighborhood areas for five days in some of the season’s coldest weather.

For the first several days, Jensen was participating in the search from far away.

Jensen, 22, and a recent graduate of the College of St. Scholastica, was on a road trip in Pennsylvania with her friend, Erin Paul, last Wednesday evening when she got the call that Bentley was missing.

That morning, her boyfriend, Anthony Skubic, had taken Bentley and the couple’s other dog, a Bernese mountain dog named Hans, to a cousin’s home in the Woodland neighborhood to spend the day while he was at work. But when the cousin tried to put the dogs in the car to bring them back to Superior, Bentley bolted.

Amara Jensen gives her dog Bentley, a 2-year-old Lab-shepherd mix, a scratch on the head. (Bob King / News Tribune)A search party formed right away. “My cousins, my mom, my dad, my brother and sister — everybody started searching,” Jensen said.

The search continued the next day, and the family turned to social media. A posting on the Lost Dogs Minnesota Facebook page got 800 shares in two days. Jensen, still in Pennsylvania, sent in email out to everyone at St. Scholastica seeking their help.

Jensen contacted Jennifer Cadigan of Proctor, a volunteer case worker for Minneapolis-based The Retrievers, a nonprofit set up to help owners find their lost dogs. Cadigan provided the family with campaign signs repurposed for use as notices of lost dogs. They were heavily used.

“If you drove down Woodland (Avenue), you just saw Bentley everywhere,” Jensen said.

Sightings started to come in. People saw Bentley in the area from Dunedin Avenue to Woodhaven Lane.

On Sunday evening, family friends saw Bentley sleeping on a porch in the neighborhood, but the dog disappeared when they called to it.

The home’s owner agreed to let Bentley’s bed and food be placed on her porch, Jensen said. Bentley — or something — got the food, but didn’t stay.

Amara Jensen of Superior describes how neighbors and strangers helped find her lost dog, Bentley. (Bob King / News Tribune)Jensen had arrived home late on Sunday morning and was participating in the search. She had been concerned about her short-haired dog out in temperatures that bottomed out at 22 below zero on Friday.

More sightings were being called in, and on Monday morning Jensen took Hans to search on Hartley Park trails. It was a holiday with mild weather, and the trails were full of people, she said. Many reported seeing Bentley, but she was having no luck.  

“I’m getting real frustrated, and I started bawling,” she related. “And I walked out and I called my mom and I said, ‘Mom, everyone’s seeing him on the trails and I haven’t seen him, and I don’t know what to do.’ ”

At that moment, she saw Bentley on the other side of a creek. In her excitement, she threw her cell phone into the snow. “And my mom, I can hear her screaming on the phone: Are you all right? What’s happening?”

Following Cadigan’s advice, Jensen spoke familiar phrases. The dog started whining and wagging his tail — and trying to figure out how to get across the creek. Eventually, Bentley leaped across the creek and rushed to Jensen’s arms, whining and crying and getting dog kisses from Hans.

A passer-by took Hans’ leash and walked back with Jensen to her car while she carried Bentley, she said. Though excited, the dog obviously was weak and had lost weight — from about 53 to 45 pounds, it turned out. He was placed on antibiotics for a cut to the pad on one paw.

Jensen doesn’t know the names of most of the people who responded to the search for her lost dog, but she’s deeply grateful, she said.

“It was pretty remarkable the way the community came together, and I got so many calls and so many positive comments and positive thoughts,” she said. “He had so many prayers going out for him.”

What to do when you find a lost dog

Following your instincts might be the wrong thing to do when you find your lost dog.

A pillow at Amara Jensen's house aptly describes how the family feels about dogs. (Bob King / News Tribune)Jennifer Cadigan, a volunteer case worker for lost-dog finding agency The Retrievers, said a dog’s behavior can change when it’s on its own.

“Dogs go into survival mode, some relatively quickly,” Cadigan said. “The only thing they’re concerned with is finding food, water and shelter. Everything and everyone is a predator, even their owners. That’s why you can’t chase lost dogs. Chasing lost dogs is the worst thing you can ever do.”

Instead, get down low and make yourself as small as possible, Cadigan said. Don’t make eye contact, and don’t say the dog’s name.

You can quietly say familiar phrases, though, Cadigan said.

The familiar sounds, spoken calmly, can overcome the fear in the dog’s brain, as can familiar smells, she said.

Some dogs don’t respond, and The Retrievers has humane traps available for those situations, Cadigan said.

Dogs in the Duluth area have gone missing for as long as six months, she said.

Dogs are susceptible to bolting when the owner goes away and they’re left with someone else, Cadigan said. “An owner being gone is extremely stressful for a dog. They can’t understand that the owner is going to come back.”

Cadigan, who has been with The Retrievers for about a year and a half, said once she had a chance to talk with Amara Jensen and Anthony Skubic about their lost dog Bentley, they succeeded in putting her instructions into action.

“Bentley’s family, they’re so young and they were so dedicated,” she said. “Once we started talking, they did everything perfectly.”

Dogs can do a better job of surviving than most people realize, even in extreme cold, Cadigan said.

“Dogs are really smart, and … they know how to keep warm,” she said. “They will dig a den in the snow; they’ll find some trees to shelter them; they’ll lie next to houses when people aren’t around.”

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