Operation Teddy: Inside the Search for the Most Wanted Dog in St. Louis


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click to enlarge Fliers begged for clues.
Fliers begged for clues.

Carolyn and Mike had almost made it home to O'Fallon on the night of July 31 when a man called with a possible sighting.

It didn't sound promising. The man claimed Teddy was behind his apartment complex near River Des Peres, a little outside of the search area. Over the past four-and-a-half months, dozens of callers had claimed to have seen their missing dog. One guy was positive he'd seen Teddy on the side of the road, but when Mike showed up, it was actually a dead deer.

Still, this caller said he was sure. He and his daughter had driven past the Teddy fliers every day, and she'd persuaded him to call.

Mike and Carolyn thought for a couple of seconds, and then turned the car around.

"We're a young couple," Mike says. "We don't have kids. Our animals are like our kids."

The man wasn't around when they pulled into the Cedar Creek Lodge Apartments, but they stopped a couple of neighbors and showed them Teddy's picture.

Absolutely, they had seen him, they said. They'd been leaving out food for him for weeks. He was skittish, though, and seemed to be scared of people.

It sure sounded like Teddy. Carolyn and Mike decided they'd pick up some bug spray and Mike would spend the night in the parking lot in case the dog came back.

Before they could even make it to the store, the man called again. He could see Teddy in front of him, he said.

Carolyn and Mike raced back to the apartment complex and hopped out. It was dark, so they aimed their flashlights in the direction the man pointed. There at the edge of some trees was a ginger-haired dog.

"Teddy," they called. "Teddy Bear!"

Animal experts had warned them that a dog who's been in the wild for so long wasn't likely to respond to the sound of his name. Should they see him, Carolyn and Mike were supposed to sit down and act like they were upset or injured to play to the dog's empathy.

"Teddy, come to Mommy," Carolyn called, dropping to the ground.

"Come to Daddy," Mike echoed.

The dog zigzagged up the hillside, closing in slowly. Carolyn and Mike turned their flashlights on their own faces so he might recognize them.

Slowly, slowly, the dog crept to them. When he was an arm's length away, he hopped into Carolyn's lap and she wrapped her arms around him. Mike hugged them both, and they cried. Gone for 136 days, smelling like death, Teddy had come to them.

click to enlarge Teddy enjoys the spotlight at his welcome home party. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Teddy enjoys the spotlight at his welcome home party.

At the welcome-home party a week later, Team Teddy members wore T-shirts printed with Carolyn's text message from that night: "We have him!!!!!!!"

Over hot dogs and drinks, they laughed about the wild nights in the woods as storms hovered on the horizon. Diane Fitzgerald, the rookie searcher, recounted the time she had to jump over a snake while on patrol with Tina Roe. They were all still sort of stunned and giddy about what a bunch of strangers had been able to do together.

"The amount of miles put on their shoes," Roe says. "Oh, my goodness gracious."

Teddy, on a leash, worked his way through the crowd. He'd lost nearly twenty pounds during his woodland adventure. More than one of the volunteers said they just want to know what he was doing all those days. Did he see them coming? Was he watching from his hideout?

He's a little bolder since his return. The strangers didn't seem to bother him as they bent down to rub his ears or feed him a special dog cake.

They all vowed to stay in touch, and weeks later, new messages for pub crawls and Cardinals games continued to pop up on the secret Team Teddy Facebook page. Fitzgerald, who gave up her lunches to drive around looking for Teddy and became friends with animal advocates like Roe, posted a message on August 26.

"Just want to put it out there!" she wrote. "I really miss everyone!"

click to enlarge Team Teddy: A rescue effort has become a community. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Team Teddy: A rescue effort has become a community.
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