LINCOLN — On Oct. 15, Lila the cocker spaniel pulled her leash free from where it was tied to a tree branch near the Lueders-Dumont home in Lincoln. She vanished into the Green Mountain National Forest, dragging the leash and a broken piece of branch behind her. Despite persistent searching by her family, neighbors and friends far into the night, Lila did not return.
It took more than a month for the family — Jim Dumont, Karen Lueders and their children Jessica, Tim and Adrienne Lueders-Dumont — to find out what had happened to their beloved pet.
After Lila ran away, the Lueders-Dumonts were devastated. The perky dog and her brother Pippen had been part of the family for nearly six years, since they were puppies. Lila was so much smaller than the rest of her siblings that the breeder was hesitant to sell her. But Lueders, who was taken with Lila, convinced him to sell her once she’d gained a little weight.
Once the Lueders-Dumonts got Lila home, she settled in comfortably. She was still small — her brother is almost twice her size —but she set the rules of the house.
“Her brother knows that he can’t eat dinner until she’s finished, even though they have separate bowls,” said Dumont.
She’s figured out how to open sliding doors, and as soon as she goes outside her first thought is adventure.
“When she goes out in the backyard, she’s on a mission. She’s always got something in mind,” said Dumont.
But adventurous as she was, before that day she had always stayed right nearby, never running off on her own.
As the one-month mark passed since Lila had disappeared, the Lueders-Dumonts almost gave up hope of getting their feisty little canine back. It had snowed. It had rained hard. They had searched all over, shouted Lila’s name and put up signs all over town, but no one had seen Lila anywhere.
The family explained in a letter to the community that a “couple from Woodstock had come with their trained tracking dog, a Plott hound named Shiloh, and were able to track Lila to a beaver meadow about a quarter to half mile from where she was last seen. They concluded that coyote scat contained hair that matched Lila’s.”
So when the phone rang on Nov. 15 and a voice on the other end told them that Lila had been found, they weren’t quite sure what to think.
“We were afraid to hope that it might be true,” Dumont said.
But Tim Gratton, the Bristol resident who had managed to track the family down, did indeed have the dog.
He had taken her from hunter Aaron Labell, who found Lila weakened in the woods along the top ridge of South Mountain/West Hill, her leash entangled in a clump of saplings. During her time in the woods, Lila lost her tags and almost 11 pounds, down from 26 pounds in October. A laceration blinded her in one eye.
Labell freed Lila, fed her his lunch and carried her out of the woods. He drove down to The Big Wheel Store on Route 116, where Gratton was passing through and volunteered to take her and find her owner.
Gratton called Cubbers in Bristol, where a flier about the missing dog had been hung. He was lucky enough to speak with Amanda Lee, who remembered the signs about Lila that had been taken down a couple of weeks before. She located the contact phone number, and Gratton placed a call to the Lueders-Dumonts.
“We had received a number of these calls before and would get in the car, wanting to hope but not daring to hope, and of course, the dog was never Lila,” the family described in their letter to the community.
When they got to the Big Wheel, Dumont walked over to Gratton’s pickup and was amazed to see a much thinner Lila sitting on Gratton’s lap.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Gratton said.
Lila had her sixth birthday while she was lost in the woods, but now she is safely back at home and has regained several pounds. Last week she had surgery on her eye, and the veterinarians say that she will recover most of her vision.
And the traumatic experience didn’t dampen Lila’s spirits or her energy.
“She’s ready to go,” Dumont said.
The family is overjoyed to have their dog back. They are especially grateful to the community that came together to search, pass out signs and ultimately bring Lila back home safely.
“Thanks to Aaron, Tim and Amanda and to all of you who helped out,” wrote the family in a letter to the Addison Independent. “If it takes a village, that village is right here.”