A tale of two dogs, a remarkable search

When an old yellow Lab and his 3-year-old companion went missing from their rural Grafton home, volunteers turned out on foot, in a plane and with drones to track down a family’s beloved dogs who finally found their way home
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press Staff

When Jason and Jen Staszko’s 13-year-old yellow Labrador retriever bolted from their Town of Grafton yard last month after being spooked by a storm, it was no surprise to them that their other dog, a 3-year-old black Lab named Murphy, chased after him.

“Murphy has always kept an eye on Truman because Truman is pretty old and deaf,” Jason said. 

But over the agonizing days that followed the disappearance of the dogs, there were plenty of surprises, not the least of which was a social media-fueled search that involved an airplane,  drones and people from all walks of life, as well as an against-the-odds story of survival.

“It was all pretty amazing,” Jason said.

Storms were bearing down on the Staszkos’ home on the night of Thursday, April 25, when Jen let the dogs outside. 

“Truman is terrified of storms,” Jason said, which is why it’s important that he be let outside before spending a stress-filled night indoors.

The family’s yard is rimmed by an invisible dog fence, but on this night, it was no match for a scared dog. 

“We think that Truman got spooked by a storm and bolted and that Murphy followed to keep an eye on him,” Jason said.

With Jason out of town for work, Jen started searching for the dogs immediately. 

“She was up all night trying to find them in the rain and the wind,” Jason said.

But the Staszkos live just south of Lion’s Den George Nature Preserve, where there are dozens of acres of fields and forests and ravines and Lake Michigan bluffs to swallow up two lost dogs.

When morning came, it was time to break the news that Truman and Murphy were missing to the couple’s three children, ages 6, 8 and 11.

“The kids were pretty sad,” Jason said. “Every day they would come home from school asking if the dogs had come home.”

Then on Saturday, two days after the dogs went missing, came cause for both celebration and concern.

“Some friends had come over to the house to help look for the dogs and one of them was hugging my wife when he said, ‘Hey, is that Murphy over there?’” Jason said.

The younger of the dogs had found his way home, but Truman was still nowhere to be found.

“We pretty much thought the worst, that Murphy had stayed with him as long as he could and that Truman, being as old as he is, wasn’t going to make it,” Jason said.

But the search continued. 

A friend of Jason’s who is a pilot searched the countryside by plane, then with drones. 

“The fire chief and police officers searched,” Jason said. “The amazing thing was just how many people tried to help us find our dogs, and it wasn’t just friends.”

Noting that their Facebook post about missing dogs was shared nearly 1,900 times, Jason said, “We had people constantly messaging us. They would say they searched this field or that section of woods or had driven these roads looking for the dogs.

“We didn’t even ask people to do this but they did anyway. We were blown away by the lengths to which people went to help find our dogs.”

There was still no sign of Truman when on Wednesday, May 1, Jason and Jen, who are both doctors, took the day off work to regroup. They were planning their day when there was a knock at the door, and there was Truman and their neighbor, who had found the worse-for-wear dog walking through the neighborhood.

“Truman was covered in mud, some animal had bitten his leg and he had lost about five to 10 pounds, but there he was,” Jason said. 

“If I were a betting man, I would say the odds of Truman making it back home were slim. He was gone for too long and it was cold and wet outside. This is a dog that has trouble getting up stairs, but yet he managed to survive and make it back home.”

Keeping their promise to their children, the couple called Woodview Elementary School in Grafton and asked that their children be told both their dogs were home safe and sound.

“The kids got off the bus running,” Jason said. “They were very excited.”

So was Murphy.

“Murphy is a big dog — about 105 pounds — but when he saw Truman, he literally started jumping straight up in the air he was so happy. It was crazy,” Jason said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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